There was more than a hint of surprise about how the action unfolded in Group B, with Japan finishing clear winners of one of the toughest sections in the tournament. They will be joined in the last 16 by runners-up France, who advanced without hitting full stride, and Argentina, who will be desperate to rediscover form after coming in third and only just scraping through. As for bottom side Jamaica, they fared better than in their last FIFA U-17 World Cup campaign but could not prevent an early exit.
The final standings
1. Japan (7 points)
2. France (5)
3. Argentina (3)
4. Jamaica (1)
Japan-New Zealand, Wednesday 29 June, Monterrey, 18.00 (local time)
France-2F, Thursday 30 June, Queretaro, 18.00 (local time)
England-Argentina, Thursday 30 June, Pachuca, 15.00 (local time)
The tale of the teams
The first side to seal their place at Mexico 2011, Japan clearly made the most of their additional preparation time. The Samurai Blue simply went from strength to strength after the competition kicked off, beginning with a slender 1-0 success against Jamaica but following up with a more energetic display in a 1-1 draw with France. Their best was still to come, however, and they swept Argentina aside 3-1 to deservedly seal top spot and only Japan’s second knockout-phase berth at this level.
France were very much under the microscope after coming into the tournament on a run of five matches without victory, yet they rapidly rebuilt confidence with an opening 3-0 defeat of Argentina. That performance perhaps bred a little complacency, though, and inconsistency set in as they could only manage 1-1 stalemates with both Japan and section minnows Jamaica. Fortunately for the European side, the drop in tempo was not dramatic enough to end their adventure.
Lacking imagination going forward and fragile at the back, Argentina fell a long way short of their usual level, even if they were able to see off Jamaica 2-1 in their second outing. In their defence, the eruption of the Chilean volcano Puyehue delayed their arrival in Monterrey until the eve of the tournament and undoubtedly had a negative effect on their preparations. They can nonetheless begin planning for the last 16 after just about squeezing through as one of the best third-placed teams.
There were positives for bottom side Jamaica too as they finally collected their first ever goals and point in FIFA U-17 World Cup action. Zhelano Barnes’s strike against Argentina and the draw with France were breakthrough events for the Reggae Boyz, who face plenty more work before they can hope to go further in the competition.
From one volcano to another: Argentina’s hopes almost went up in smoke in Group B as a pair of volcanoes played havoc with their prospects. After an eruption in Chile delayed their arrival until the day before their opening game, they eventually touched down in Monterrey to find another ‘volcano’ lying in wait – the Estadio Universitario, given the explosive nickname 'El Volcan' due to its searing heat and vociferous crowds.
Benzia on the ball: After a year out of the international picture, Lyon forward Yassine Benzia had possibly given up all hope of contesting Mexico 2011 before being selected by Patrick Gonfalone to reinvigorate France’s misfiring attack. His inclusion has proved an inspired decision, the No20 having dazzled so far while plundering three of his team’s five goals.
Jamaican joy: This has been a tournament of firsts for Jamaica, who ended a run of four games without a goal at this level when Barnes opened their account against Argentina. They promptly added their maiden point in their very next encounter against France and can now start targeting another first: their first ever qualification for the knockout stage.
22 – Japan celebrated a first of their own as they became the only team from Asia to overcome Argentina in this event, thus ending a 22-year wait that included four wins for the South American side and three draws.
"The final standings reflect the quality of the four teams in Group B. Japan deserved top spot and their style of play is perfectly suited to the Mexican conditions,” France coach Patrick Gonfalone.