Monday, July 16, 2007

U20 World Cup: Quarter-finals

Austria 2-1 USA (aet)
Spain 1-1 Czech Republic (3-4 on penalty kicks)
Chile 4-0 Nigeria (aet)
Argentina 1-0 Mexico

I finally got to see one of the games live: I went to USA v. Austria on Saturday. It was a great game to watch, too, aside from the fact that it rained the entire time. This is not fun in an open stadium. I'm sure the guys outside selling rain ponchos made a fortune that day.

Anyway, I sort of feel like I should apologize to YNBA and goalscoring robot for cheering for Austria and jinxing their team, but I really didn't think the Austrians were going to win. Especially not after they gave up a goal in the first 15 minutes. They pulled one back just before halftime though, with the US keeper spilling a shot (blame it on the rain, as both Milli and Vanilli would say) and Ruben Okotie pouncing on the rebound. That was pretty much the only useful thing I saw Okotie do all game; he had a terrible first touch, and I can't figure out why he started the game instead of Erwin Hoffer, unless it was deliberately planned so that Hoffer could do his super-sub thing once again.

Hoffer came on as a sub in extra time (and I should point out here that he has his nickname shaved into the side of his head, which is an excellent reason for y'all to make fun of him), and just as he did against Gambia, he bagged the winner for Austria. It had been a very physical game, with a total of 41 fouls and 12 yellow cards -- and two of those yellow cards went to the US left back Anthony Wallace, who was sent off in the 103rd minute. The resulting free kick pinged around the box before Hoffer scrambled it into the net, sending his team into the semi-finals.

I only saw bits and pieces of the other matches, but I did catch Spain reverting to form (i.e., choking) against the Czech Republic on Saturday night. Both teams failed to score in regular time, although Spain's Adrian Lopez missed a tap-in on an open net near the end of the game. In extra time it was much the same, with the score level at 1-1 and Spain again wasting a great chance to win the game. Instead they went to penalty kicks, Manchester United's Gerard Pique had his shot saved, and the Czechs won their second straight game on penalties.

Chile and Nigeria were also scoreless after 90 minutes, but then the game exploded in extra time. Jaime Grondona scored what would be the winning goal for Chile just five minutes in, but the Chileans also scored a penalty in the 114th minute and followed it up with two more goals, just to pour salt in the wounds, as Nigeria pushed forward desperately in search of a goal.

Argentina v. Mexico was the only quarter-final match that didn't go to extra time. The two teams largely nullified each other, with the decisive goal coming from the pocket-sized Maxi Moralez (seriously, he's shorter than I am; that is short) just before halftime. These were two of the best teams in the competition so far, and the Mexicans may feel they were unlucky to meet in the quarter-finals. But it'll be Argentina v. Chile in Toronto on Thursday, while Austria fly to Edmonton to take on the Czechs on Wednesday.

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