Fifa U-20 World Cup Canada 2007 – Aguero inspires Argentina
On 22 July, Argentina sealed their sixth world U-20 title in Toronto to mark the climax of an extraordinary tournament, whose 52 matches attracted record crowds totalling nearly 1.2 million.
The response was not long in coming. Less than two minutes after Martin Fenin’s stunning strike on the turn had put the Czech Republic into the lead in the FIFA U-20 World Cup final in Toronto, the ball landed at the feet of Argentina captain Sergio Aguero. With his sixth goal of the competition, slotted home like a seasoned pro, Aguero proceeded to change the course of the game, because it was followed, moments before the final whistle, by Mauro Zarate’s goal that handed the vastly superior Argentinians a sixth world title at U-20 level.
Aguero – who top scored and was voted player of the tournament by the media — was the driving force behind Argentina’s triumph. “I’m on cloud nine,” said the muscular striker, who moved from Independiente to Atletico Madrid in a EUR 20 million transfer in 2006. Moreover, Aguero, who at 15 became the youngest ever player to take to the field in his country’s top flight, was not the only ace in coach Hugo Tocalli’s pack.
Several other, less well-known, members of the Albiceleste squad also turned on the style. Goalkeeper Sergio Romero provided stability at the back and Maximilano Moralez was the perfect foil to Aguero up front. Meanwhile, Ever Banega was the team’s linchpin in midfield. Tactical astuteness, strong defending and pinpoint passing to the strikers were the trademarks of the 19-year-old, who had established himself in the first team at Boca Juniors only a few months earlier following the departure of Fernando Gago to Real Madrid.
The Czech Republic, who had drawn 0-0 with Argentina in their first match of the group phase, also had some outstanding players in their ranks. In addition to an extremely skilful and inventive striker in Fenin, the team could rely on the remarkable talents of goalkeeper Radek Petr and defensive leader Jan Simunek – a tall, elegant defender who had a good eye for initiating attacks.
SPAIN FAIL TO DELIVER
En route to the final, the Czechs twice emerged victorious in dramatic penalty shoot-outs, first in the round of 16 against Japan (after recovering from a 2-0 deficit in normal time thanks to two secondhalf penalties), then against a strong Spain team. In the latter encounter, the Czechs assigned two men to Spain’s tricky left winger, Diego Capel, a strategy with which coach Miroslav Soukup achieved the desired result. Soukup’s instructions had no doubt been prompted by the instrumental role Capel had played in the Spaniards’ success against Brazil in the round of 16. So it was that, after a threeyear unbeaten run since losing to France in the final of the 2004 European U-17 Championship, this Spain squad was eliminated far earlier than anticipated.
As for Argentina, their path to the final took in victories over Congo and a Mexico side led by young Barcelona star Giovanni dos Santos before a heated semi-final with neighbours Chile. The Chileans had travelled to North America as dark horses for the title and coach JoseSulantay’s players clearly indicated why they had been so hotly tipped before the tournament. Before playing Argentina, they had not conceded a single goal and cruised through the earlier rounds of the competition without breaking sweat, even though striker Alexis Sanchez was Suffering from back and shoulder problems and was, for the most part, only able to make partial appearances. Nevertheless, despite his limited time on the pitch, Sanchez showed why Italian top flight side Udinese had secured his services in 2006. The reticent striker’s fine dribbling and shooting were a sight to behold.
Bayer Leverkusen will be pleased with the performance of another member of the Chile squad. The German club’s new signing, Arturo Vidal, was the South Americans’ key player, thanks to his strength, versatility and tactical nous in midfield. However, he would be well advised to curb his aggression and comments to match officials.
The tournament’s surprise packages were Austria. While they left for the tournament without great fanfare, well-wishers gathered at the airport to celebrate their return — somewhat later than anticipated — to home soil. With less than a year to go until the nation co-hosts EURO 2008 with Switzerland, the fourth-place finish in Canada will provide a welcome boost after recent setbacks for Austria’s senior national team.
AUSTRIA SPRING SURPRISES
The architect of the team’s success was coach Paul Gludovatz, who is nicknamed “Reeds Menotti” in his homeland, due to his origins in Burgenland, an Austrian province that is famous for its wealth of reeds, and the gruff personality that he shares with Cesar Luis Menotti, the coach who led Argentina to FIFA World Cup™ glory in 1978. However, the Austrians were not negative on the pitch by any means. In fact, they played an entertaining game based on speed and skill on the ball. The team’s most memorable performance came against the impressive Freddy Adu’s and his USA team-mates in the quarter-finals when they came back from behind to record a 2-1 victory.
Gludovatz, whose sportsmanship won over many neutrals, rotated his strikers throughout the competition. Erwin “Jimmy” Hoffer, a sharp shooter with electric pace, and the tall Rubin Okotie, who was good on the ball and excellent in the air, alternated in the starting lineup. They were supported by dependable team-mates in the shape of midfielders Veli Kavlak, Michael Madl and Martin Harnik and the team was captained by Sebastian Prodi, an extremely composed defender who has already been called up for Austria’s senior national team.
Remarkably, all four African teams in the tournament reached the last 16. The story of Congo was a true fairytale, given that the team had been assembled only in 2005 exclusively from youngsters playing in the streets. Coach Eddie Hudanski and his backroom team since have worked wonders.
By contrast, hosts Canada were disappointing, losing all three group matches without scoring a single goal, although it must be said that they suffered wretched luck against Congo in their final game. Despite the failure of the home team, the fans’ enthusiasm remained undimmed. Canada, often seen largely as a football-free zone, set a new cumulative attendance record of almost 1.2 million for the event. Furthermore, the matches from the tournament were broadcast live in more than 200 countries. Moreover, TV viewers will surely sec many of the players who caused a stir in Canada in 2007 appearing on the world stage once again in the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa.