After losing out to the USA in their first match, Argentina never looked back as they laid claim to a fifth title at the fifteenth instalment of the FIFA World Youth Championship. Pre-tournament sensation Lionel Messi could only look on hopefully from the bench while his mates struggled against the Americans in their opener. But after coming on at the half, he made an immediate impact and never spent another minute off the pitch. The 18-year-old Barcelona prodigy proceeded to light up the Lowlands to become - for one summer at least - the toast of Planet Football.
Bagging both penalties in the final against Nigeria and top scorer and top player honours, the baby-faced Messi earned comparisons to none other than Diego Armando Maradona. His rip-roaring form in Holland was arguably the most individually influential since 'Dieguito' left fans gasping for air at Japan 1979. And as the team only won two of their seven matches by more than a one-goal margin, they needed every inch of their young talisman's inspiration.
An enthralling competition full of colour and wit, Netherlands 2005 will go down among the most enticing FIFA World Youth Championships on record. Though Argentina were deserved champions, they were made to suffer for their supper in a final against an inspired, organised and valiant Nigeria. Only Messi's cool head saw them through as he kept his calm to score twice from the spot and seal a 2-1 win.
Join FIFA.com for a look back at a month of high drama in Europe.
Hot hosts light up the finals
Led by the lively exploits of Arsenal youngster Quincy Owusu Abeyie, captain Hedwiges Maduro and defensive gem Ron Vlaar, Holland proved one of the form sides of the finals and had many thinking the title was theirs for the taking. Roaring to a perfect finish in Group A, sights were set on a run to the final after a 3-0 rout of Chile in the round of sixteen. But just as the host nation's imagination began to soar, Nigeria's Flying Eagles landed in town to knock them out after a record-tying 24-penalty shootout in front of yet another capacity crowd in Kerkrade. Though their finals journey came to a premature end, the youngsters on display promise much for the future of Dutch football. Two flying Dutchman featured among FIFA.com's top fourteen performers of the first round.
Toothless Brazil still bag bronze
After a peculiarly lethargic 0-0 draw with Nigeria in their first match, holders Brazil went on to take top spot in what many considered the toughest group at these finals. But without the panache and style many have come to expect from the wearers of the prized yellow jersey, it was a strange, uncommon Brazil. After struggling to beat Syria and Germany in the knockout stages, a date with archrivals Argentina proved a road too far. With talent the likes of Fabio Santos and Rafael in the side, the South Americans were desperately missing a pure scorer and a creator in the centre of the park. In the end, they suffered for it. But in a fitting close to their campaign, the Selecao stormed back late from a goal down to secure consolation bronze in Utrecht. The energetic Moroccans, bolstered by their energetic throngs of fans, had to settle for fourth. But with a slew of impressive performances in a surprise run of form, the young North Africans were a revelation.
* Dark days for Europe, North America*
With the competition back in Europe for the first time since 1991, no one would have predicted a last four without a single representative from UEFA. But after Italy, Spain, Germany and Holland were all eliminated in the quarter-finals, the Lowlands were treated to a last four comprised of two African sides (Nigeria and Morocco) and two South American teams (Brazil and Argentina). The final, disputed with pride by Argentina and outstanding Nigeria, may well sound a resounding warning to the Old Continent. Meanwhile, the New World's representatives from the North fared even worse than their European counterparts. Poor Honduras conceded 15 goals and scored none in three consecutive defeats. Second-timers Panama also struggled mightily and were sent packing early with zero points to show for their time in Europe. Of the three CONCACAF participants, only the U.S. managed to reach the knockout stages, where they were summarily sent packing at the first hurdle by the resurgent Italians.
*Australia, Japan, Benin, Netherlands, China PR, Panama, Turkey, Ukraine, Chile, Honduras, Morocco, Spain, Argentina, Egypt, Germany, USA, Canada, Colombia, Syria, Italy, Brazil, Korea Republic, Nigeria, Switzerland.
*Host stadia, cities:
*Vijverberg Stadium (Doetinchem), Emmen stadium (Emmen), Enschede Stadium (Enschede), Parkstad Limburg Stadium (Kerkrade), Willem II Stadium (Tilburg) and Galgenwaard Stadium (Utrecht).
No. of goals:
143 (average/game: 2.75)
*6 goals: Messi (ARG)
5 goals: Llorente (ESP), Aliiev (UKR)