AIPS* / DUBAI: A wide range of talented individuals and teams vied for attention in the first round of the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013. AIPS Young Reporters chose a selection of the early stand-out performers who may well be back in the Gulf in the senior World Cup one day:
BEST PLAYER: Nathan (Brazil)
** He looks like a ordinary teenage schoolboy. But on the pitch Nathan is Brazil’s offensive magician. An attacking midfielder with a nose for goals, and most of all, eyes everywhere. With four goals and five assists Nathan have been involved in the most of Brazil’s impressive 15 goals collection from the group stage. Match after match he has deighted spectators with his dribbling skills. The playmaker is constantly creating scoring opportunities for his teammates, especially his Atletico Paranaense club mate Mosquito.
BEST TEAM: Japan
** Brazil have been the team destroying opponents without mercy. But, in terms of compact performance, Japan have shone as a football machine which does not depend on individuals’ contributions. The decision of coach Hirofumi Yoshitake to change eight of the starters who had defeated Russia in the opening game was a surprise.
But the Japanese have shown there are no starters or deputies but a squad in the full sense of the word. Subsequent performance were even better in defeating Venezuela 3-1 and then Tunisia 2-1 to secure a 100 percent win record.
Japan make up for what they lack in physical presence with a possession philosophy allied to tactical perfection. They press opponents from the first minute and close down space to retrieve the ball as quickly as possible.
BEST GOALKEEPER: Simone Scuffet (Italy)
** Simone Scuffet is the main reason why Italy enjoyed last Friday at Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi, rather than suffer an Emirates flight home to Rome. He stopped a penalty against New Zealand and his diving saves also helped Italy against Ivory Coast and Uruguay.
The son of a goalkeeper, Scuffet is Udinese’s third choice and one of the better young exponents of the Italian tradition. Scuffet has brilliant reflexes, like his idol Samir Handanovic. Scuffet told FIFA.com: “When I was a kid I made a bet with my father that I would be a better goalkeeper than him.” Time to collect.
BEST COACH: Hifofumi Yoshitake (Japan)
** Bobby Knight, legendary American basketball caoch, once said: “The key is not the will to win; everybody has that. It is the will to prepare to win that is important.” That insight describes the approach of Japanese Hirofumi Yoshitake who has built a unit strong enough to have won all their three first round matches. Only one of the other 24 teams achievd that: Brazil. Such a feat may appear logical for the South Americans with their tradition and talent but it underlines the quality of Yoshitake’s own work.
AND NOW FOR THE BAD NEWS:
SORRIEST TEAM: Croatia
** Croatia turned up as one of the favourites for the title but, after the three group stage games, their highly-rated players and coach Ivan Gudelj all had to pack their bags and go home.
The young Croats ended the finals with two defeats and one victory. Their performances, espacially in their opening 3-1 defeat by Morocco, was poor and lacking ideas.
Croatia were not much better against Panama though they won. In the final game Croatia needed only one point to reach the second round but, despite playing their best game of the finals, they lost 2-1 aginst Uzbekistan.
A team featuring players such as Alen Halilovic and Ante Roguljic should not expect to go home only after the group stage. One of the consequences of failure was the rapid appointment of a new under-17s coach in Luka Pavlovic.
SORRIEST COACH: Rashed Albedwawi
** Hosts United Arabic Emirates attracted less than welcome attention when coach Rashed Albedwawi – after their second defeat – accused other nations of fielding a host of over-age players.
Albedwawi said: “I am sure that 70 percent of the players participating in this World Cup haven’t the appropriate age. They are over-age and it appears from their size and the way they play.”
After FIFA explained its wrist scan checking system, Albedwawi made a U-turn, saying: “I apologise for that. As the host country, we want championships that are fine, without any trouble.”
UAE ended the group stage with no points and having conceded 10 goals. Only the New Zealanders suffered a worse fate, conceding 11 goals.
Rashed Albedwawi, resigned to the fate of all defeated coaches, said: “I had chosen the players, I had trained them and I was supposed to do everything. I am taking the blame on myself. This is my mistake alone.”
* AIPS, the international sports journalists association, is running a Young Reporters course at the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013 with the support of the local organising committee and FIFA
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