It’s South America versus Europe

A cursory glance at Monday’s fixtures in the Capital and one would have hoped it was the semifinals. But, these four sides battle in what is the Round of 16 of the Fifa Under-17 World Cup.

By James Jose (james@khaleejtimes.com)

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Published: Mon 28 Oct 2013, 12:40 PM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 9:08 AM

The Brazilian players celebrate after scoring a goal.

As we step into the knockout stages of the competition, the two fixtures at the Mohammed bin Zayed stadium in Abu Dhabi on Monday night is sure to make the avid football fan salivate.

It will be South American flair in the form of Mexico and Brazil against the famed Italian defence and Russian efficiency.

Defending champions Mexico lock horns against Italy, while three-time winners Brazil take on Russia, with both worthy of being a final in their own right.

The two sides who come through unscathed from this will enter the last eight and a step closer to one of the oldest titles in world football.

Mexico almost wouldn’t have been here. The South Americans were in danger of being the first defending champions to be eliminated in the group stages of the competition after being swamped 6-1 by Nigeria. Though they eked out a 3-1 win over Iraq, it was all down to the last game where they had to beat debutants Sweden to finish as one of the top two teams to gain qualification.

They were four minutes away from booking an early flight home before Ulises Jaimes helped them to live and fight another day. The El Tri qualified as the second-placed team behind Nigeria. Sweden too qualified as one of the four best third-placed teams.

Meanwhile, Italy worked their way with solitary goal wins over Ivory Coast and New Zealand, the only blot being a 2-1 loss to Uruguay which meant they finished second in their group.

The only time the two teams met in the competition was in Kobe, Japan in 1993 when Mexico won 2-1. That time, a certain Francesco Totti had announced himself on the world stage by scoring for Italy. And at goal was another budding star who has gone on to become one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time — Gianluigi Buffon.

Mexico will be hoping that they can repeat that. As far as omens go, it is stacked in Mexico’s favour. Back in 2005 in Peru, the South Americans finished second in the same Group F, with the same number of points. They went on to win the tournament.

Meanwhile, a win for Italy will put them into the last eight for the third time. And they will be hoping to go all the way to winning that elusive title.

Later in the night, two former winners of the competition meet in what should be another interesting encounter in prospect.

Both teams had contrasting journeys into the Round of 16. While it was a walk in the park for Brazil, the Russians had all the work to do before their escaping act.

Brazil began with a 6-1 thumping of Slovakia before defeating hosts the UAE by an identical margin. They then beat Honduras 3-0.

Russia though lost to Japan and Tunisia and were in danger of making an early exit. But they managed to blank Venezuela and helped them qualify past Croatia on goal difference. This is the first time that the two teams are meeting in the competition. Brazil are in red-hot form with six of their players having combined to score 15 goals so far. And they look strong contenders to add a fourth title.


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