THE DAY REPLAYED – The last day of the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013 served up a fitting final treat for the fans. All well as high-scoring matches, fantastic goals and an outpouring of emotion, there was a healthy dose of excitement and drama, and the usual stirring images of beaming winners and inconsolable losers at the end.
A memorable day opened with the match for third place between Sweden and Argentina. And after 90 absorbing minutes, it was the Scandinavians who were left celebrating. The Swedes crowned their maiden appearance at the U-17 World Cup by building on a string of increasingly convincing performances in the UAE, deservedly winning a fast-paced and high-scoring match against their South American opponents. The Europeans were again indebted to striker Valmir Berisha as the deadly marksman almost single-handedly sealed his side’s podium finish. The player will go home with a bronze medal and the top scorer's award too.
The final was another premium-quality affair in a worthy and pulsating setting. Nigeria snuffed out Mexican dreams of defending the trophy and comfortably sealed a fourth world triumph at this age level. Roared on by their boisterous support and inspired by play-maker Kelechi Iheanacho, the Golden Eaglets imposed their class for an ultimately merited victory.
Match for third place
Sweden 4-1 Argentina
Nigeria 3-0 Mexico
Taste of Chile whets appetite for 2015
Prior to kick-off, the good crowd at Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium were thoroughly entertained by a colourful and varied closing ceremony. The highlight involved a female acrobat rising into the skies and floating over the pitch suspended by hundreds of balloons in the colours of the UAE flag. Exactly 24 pearls represented the participating nations, who benefited throughout from the exceptional warmth and hospitality of the Emirati hosts. The grand finale centred on an appearance by a group of Chilean kids. The smiling representatives of the South American country set to host the next FIFA U-17 World Cup unfurled a huge flag and the message “See you at Chile 2015."
Berisha plays through the pain
Valmir Berisha was one of the outstanding players at this edition of the FIFA U-17 World Cup. The on-fire Swedish striker turned in another scintillating display against Argentina and helped himself to a hat-trick, taking him up to seven goals at the tournament and securing the adidas Golden Boot for the top scorer. Remarkably, Berisha has been struggling with a bruised foot throughout and the problem visibly caused him difficulties at times. But the prolific talent simply gritted his teeth and got on with it, although after his third goal of the day even he signalled to be substituted, in visible pain. It was not long before a smile returned to the face of the likeable Scandinavian, as he accepted the prestigious individual award to warm applause and generous cries of "Yes! Yes!" from the large Nigerian contingent in the crowd. In the circumstances, his pain melted away.
Better late than never for delighted debutant
The tournament also ended on a high for Berisha’s team-mate Jakob Bergman. The defender was Sweden’s only outfield player yet to make an appearance in the Emirates, but in the closing stages of the match for third place he too entered the fray for his World Cup debut. And when Bergman took over from Gustav Engvall he made no secret of his delight at finally making it onto the pitch. His broad grin spoke volumes, but despite the fact he only played the last few minutes and his team was already home and dry, Bergman put his back into it, even picking up a yellow card for his troubles.
Mexican motivation artists
The Mexican coaching and support staff came up with an inspired move to motivate their players prior to the final. They plastered the dressing room walls with large posters proclaiming messages such as "Viva Mexico" and "a whole nation is behind you," plus a banner displaying the World Cup trophy and an emotional rallying cry: "Realise your dreams, bring it home!." But for all the creativity, it was not to be on the day and the trophy is heading for Africa.
Explosive emotions and joy unconfined
The second goal that set Nigeria decisively on the way to victory prompted emotional fireworks at the stadium. Scorer Kelechi Iheanacho and his team-mates clustered at the corner flag and spontaneously broke into a dance of celebration, a routine quickly taken up by the crowd, including former Nigeria icon Nwankwo Kanu. When the dancing former Super Eagles striker was picked up on the stadium video screens, the African support broke out into thunderous cheers of delight, although they would ratchet up the decibel levels to new heights at the final whistle.
172 – The tournament in UAE goes down as the highest scoring in the history of the FIFA U-17 World Cup. The 52 games yielded a total of 172 goals, comfortably surpassing the previous record of 165 goals at the 2007 edition in Korea Republic.
“We hope to keep the boys together and make them a force to reckon with in the future.
They are good and need more work to make them better. It is the beginning of the journey for us and it is good that it is starting on Asian soil, where it began in 1985 when the first set of Eaglets won the cup in China,” Nigeria coach Manu Garba.