Making history is not exactly new to Egypt. This is a nation built on, and made legendary by, the extraordinary achievements of an ancient civilisation.
It should hardly come as a surprise, therefore, that Egypt’s hosting of the FIFA U-20 World Cup should bring about of a new chapter of football history.
Tournament records were rewritten, with more goals than ever before, and an unprecedented number of fans turning out to watch them. And, as you would expect from a competition that has given us the likes of Maradona and Messi, there was an abundance of promising talent on show. Yet, for Africa at least, Egypt 2009 will be not be remembered for any of these achievements. Instead, it will go down in history as the first time that a team from the mother continent came, saw and conquered all at FIFA’s second-biggest tournament.
Ghana were the team to inscribe their name in folklore, and worthy winners they were too. Led by the tournament’s top scorer and outstanding player, Dominic Adiyiah, theBlack Satellites combined strength and skill to devastating effect, scoring 16 times en route to the final. Even when the goals finally dried up in the decider against Brazil, Sellas Tetteh’s side merely took that as the signal to display another essential attribute of champions: character.
Holding the Brazilians at bay with ten men for 83 of the 120 minutes was impressive enough; finding the reserves of stamina and strength of mind to triumph in the subsequent penalty shoot-out was nothing short of heroic. The 70,000-strong crowd roared their acclaim, and rightly so. At a time when Africa has been thrust to the very centre of world football, Ghana – with the likes of Adiyiah, Andre Ayew and Ransford Osei all outstanding – had illustrated just why the continent is so confident about its future. As Tetteh told FIFA.com in the aftermath of their triumph: “We have brought joy to a lot of people.”
A tournament of surprises
If Tetteh’s Black Satellites were the stars of the show, the supporting cast was almost as impressive. It took the lottery of penalty kicks to deny Brazil the title and some will sympathise with Giuliano who, while praising Ghana, suggested after the final that the better team had lost. Nonetheless, the Brazil No10 – winner of the adidas Bronze Ball – was one of several impressive performers for A Seleção, with the likes of Alex Teixeira, Alan Kardec and Douglas all suggesting that they will be knocking on Dunga’s door before long.
Egypt 2009 was also, as FIFA vice-president Jack Warner pointed out, “a tournament of surprises”. Few would have guessed when the tournament started, for example, that the semi-final line-up would be completed by Costa Rica and Hungary. The fact that these sides began their campaigns by losing 5-0 and 3-0 to Brazil and Honduras respectively only made their progress all the more remarkable.
Hungary, led by their superb captain, Vladimir Koman, also needed penalties to edge Los Ticos in the battle for bronze, although a place on the podium was probably the least they deserved for their efforts over the course of the tournament. The Central Americans, meanwhile, head for home with their reputation enhanced by some superb performances from the likes of Diego Estrada, Esteban Alvarado and Josue Martinez, most notably in their last 16 triumph over the hosts.
For many, Egypt’s early exit ensured that, in the words of Local Organising Committee president Hany Abo Rida, the tournament was always going to be “tinged with disappointment”. Yet memories of the Cairo crowd’s celebrations as Trinidad and Tobago and Italy were beaten during the group stage will live long in the memory, as will the memorable cameo provided by Bogy against Gli Azzurrini.
The Italians had a couple of stars of their own in Andrea Mazzarani and Mattia Mustacchio, while Czech centre-half Ondrej Mazuch, Germany’s Lewis Holtby and Spain duo Aaron Niguez and Fran Merida all helped to keep the flag flying for Europe. Asian enthusiasts, meanwhile, will have noted that Amer Abdulrahman and Koo Ja Cheol were both shortlisted for the end of tournament awards, a well-deserved reward for their roles in UAE and Korea Republic’s success in reaching the quarter-finals.
All these players and more contributed to a new record tally of 167 goals, surpassing the tournament’s previous benchmark of 165 from Malaysia 1997. With 1,295,586 supporters clicking through the turnstiles, they too made history, comfortably oustripping the previous record attendance of 1,195,239 set at Canada 2007.
At the end of such a successful tournament, it is fitting that the final word should go to its star. He might have fired his team to the title, become the third-top scorer in the tournament’s history and been rewarded with the adidas Golden Ball and Golden Shoe, but Dominic Adiyiah was focused solely on the future. “I’m not going to rest on this,” he told FIFA.com. “I’m following in the footsteps of the likes of Messi, Saviola and Aguero and I want to emulate their careers – and I’ll work hard to do that. I’m preparing to get to the top.”
The world will be watching Adiyiah’s rise, and the ascent of his fellow Egypt veterans, with great interest.
Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Australia, Korea Republic, UAE, Uzbekistan, Czech Republic, England, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Spain, Costa Rica, Honduras, Trinidad and Tobago, USA, Tahiti, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Venezuela
4. Costa Rica
Alexandria, Cairo, Ismailia, Port Said, Suez
No. of goals
8 goals: Adiyiah (GHA)
5 goals: Koman (HUN)
4 goals: Niguez (ESP), Del Valle, Rondon (both VEN), Kardec (BRA), Osei (GHA)
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