THE DAY REPLAYED – Mexico looked like they might let the big occasion get to them in their opening Group A contest against Korea DPR at the Estadio Morelos. The reigning Asian champions stunned the lively home crowd with a goal in the third minute, but the hosts – with a stylish brand of interplay and attack – bounced back. Three goals paved the way for a decisive victory.  Up north in Monterrey, France – winners of the tournament in 2001 – had no such hardships to endure en route to their 3-0 win over Argentina. The South Americans looked tired and out of sorts, perhaps owing to their arduous, delayed journey to Mexico, and rarely showed glimpses of the class that got them to the finals.

Congo managed the shock of the day when they beat European champions the Netherlands, showing off a wide array of individual talent, like the irrepressible Mavis Tchibota, in the process. The 1-0 win sees the Africans into a share of top spot in Group A alongside the hosts. Tournament upstarts Jamaica failed to match the style and panache of the Congolese entertainers, however, losing out to Japan 1-0 in a Group B affair to forget. It is the fourth defeat for the Reggae Boyz in four U-17 finals’ games to date.

Mexico 3-1 Korea DPR
Congo 1-0 Netherlands
France 3-0 Argentina
Japan 1-0 Jamaica

Goal of the day
Sebastien Haller 38’, France-Argentina
France’s attacking triumvirate of Yassine Benzi, Sebastien Haller and Lenny Nangis caused problems all day in Monterrey, and the second goal they carved out was by far the prettiest of the lot. Three minutes after Benzi opened the scoring, Nangis, a terror on the right flank, beat his man and crossed brilliantly for Haller. The striker chested and slammed his volley home, all in one fluid motion, as the Argentinian rearguard looked on helplessly.

Memorable moments
DPR’s identity crisis
Someone forgot to tell the North Koreans they weren’t playing at home when they met hosts Mexico in their opener in Morelia. They saluted the crowd before kick-off, earning a polite, if grudging, round of applause from the capacity crowd. However, they lost any good will from the stands when they scored after two minutes. True to form, the visitors continued their host-act, performing the same dance that South Africa’s Siphiwe Tshabalala and his mates put on after opening their account at last year’s FIFA World Cup™. There was no applause, polite or otherwise, from the Mexican faithful this time. In the end, the actual hosts stood up to be counted, battling back for an impressive victory.

Congo court the Morelos

African participants Congo also did their all to ingratiate themselves to the Morelia faithful. The men in bright red, like Korea DPR, formed a chain of bodies around the centre circle before the opening whistle, with one player standing in the middle and saluting the fans in the stands dramatically. And with the Netherlands as their opponent, rather than their beloved Mexico, the crowd responded to the gesture with a hearty chant of “Congo, Congo, Congo!” The African side didn’t let their new fans down either, putting in a stylish second half to best the fancied Dutch.

Volcanic day in Monterrey

Nicknamed El Volcan (The Volcano) by fans of local club side Tigres, the Estadio Universitario saw France get off to a hot start. The temperature rocketed up to 37 degrees Celsius (98 Fahrenheit) as Argentina, whose arrival in Mexico was delayed by several days due to the smoke-spuming Cordon Caulle Volcano in Chile, surely felt the heat, losing out by an emphatic scoreline and putting in a forgettable performance. In the later game, a listless affair between Japan and Jamaica, the supporters finally gave up their good manners and surrendered to the heat of the day. A good-natured water fight broke out between hundreds of fans, all happy to get a bit of relief from the day’s blazing sun.

The stat
1 –
After Korea DPR scored one of the fastest goals in FIFA U-17 World Cup history against Mexico, their goalkeeper carved out his own milestone, however dubious and unwanted. Cha Jong Hun’s expulsion for taking down Marco Bueno en route to goal in the second half was the first-ever straight red card for a goalkeeper in the 14 editions of these junior finals.

Up next
19 June 2011
Rwanda-England (Pachuca 15.00)
Uzbekistan-New Zealand (Torreon 15.00)
Uruguay-Canada (Pachuca 18.00)
USA-Czech Republic (Torreon 18.00)