U-17s stroll into last 16 of World Cup in Nigeria

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U-17s stroll into last 16 of World Cup in Nigeria

After an impressive performance by the U-20 national football squad last month in Egypt, the U-17 team is following suit with a strong run of their own and is on target for its best ever finish since the 1987 World Cup.

Korea booked a spot in final 16 with a win over Algeria in their final group phase match early yesterday in Kaduna, Nigeria.

This is the 13th U-17 World Cup. Korea has managed to qualify for the cup four times, including this time.

The Korean players used speed to their advantage in the game yesterday. They got off to a quick start when Lee Jong-ho scored 12 minutes into the match. The early goal was enough to dispirit the Algerians, who had failed to score in their three matches at the tourney. Son Heung-min added another goal 10 minutes later to put the match out of reach.

“We defended very well, scored two early goals and I thought we put in a very professional performance. Now we can go into our next match against Mexico full of confidence. We would like to say a big thank you for the kindness the people of Kaduna have shown us,” said U-17 Manager Lee Kwang-jong on FIFA’s Web site.

Korea will advance out of Group F as the second placed seed with two wins and one loss. It’s the first time they have made it out of the group phase since the 1987 championship. That year the team made it to the quarterfinals.

To get a sense of how long ago that was, Seo Jung-won, the former international forward and the assistant coach for the current Olympic team, was one of the key players on the 1987 squad. Only 16 nations participated in the U-17 World Cup at the time and the first knockout phase match was the quarterfinals.

But Korea faces a tough test in their Thursday knockout match against Mexico. The Group B runner-ups have an identical record to the young Koreans. However, Korea has the edge when it comes to goal difference.

Korea has scored six goals and allowed in three. Mexico has scored three goals and allowed in two. While the Mexicans got off to a less than impressive start by losing to Switzerland 2-0 in Lagos, the team went onto defeat Brazil 1-0 and Japan 2-0 in their next two matches to climb to second place in their group.

The Mexicans won the U-17 World Cup in 2005 but then failed to qualify for the 2007 tourney in Korea. But they seem to be back on track this year. Led by Cesar Ibanez and Victor Manon, who have both already played in the Mexican First Division, Mexico not only cruised through the Concacaf regional tourney but has looked sharp in Nigeria. Korea has continued their speedy, attack-minded style since storming through the AFC U-16 Championship last year with four wins on 21 goals scored and six let in.

By Jason Kim [jason@joongang.co.kr]

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