By Samindra Kunti in Kolkata
October 26 – England made history by reaching their first ever U-17 World Cup final as Rhian Brewster broke Brazilian hearts with a hat-trick in a commanding 3-1 semi-final victory. The Young Lions will face European champions Spain, who eliminated Mali with the same scoreline.
Earlier this year England won the Toulon Tournament, the European Under-19 Championship and, most famously, the Under-20 World Cup, England’s first World Cup win at any level since 1966, and Steve Cooper’s charges prolonged England’s golden year of youth football.
Brazil vs England was an outstanding game showcasing the best youth football has to offer. England were rewarded for playing enterprising football. Cooper’s youngsters didn’t hold back in a game that was end-to-end with rhythm, pace and invention. Brewster’s second goal was a hammer blow to Brazil just before the break. In the second half England kept their shape and played the smarter game against a skilful Brazil.
Not even Brazil’s new introductions, Yuri Alberto and Helio Junio, could unlock the English defence, who kept sitting deep and killed Brazil’s attacking impetus. England showed the maturity and composure to see out the game and booked their historic place in the U-17 World Cup final.
Individually, two players stood out. Brewster has come of age this tournament. Prior to the semi-final, no one had scored against Brazil in 540 minutes; Brewster took just 38 minutes to do so twice. While Brewster provided the goals, Manchester City’s Phillip Foden was the beating heart of the team demonstrating great versatility and game intelligence as the motor behind England’s attack.
In Saturday’s final in Kolkata, England will face Spain, who cruised past African champions Mali to win 3-1. The Malian team coached by Jonas Komla will feel hard done by though: first, they had to play Ghana on an unplayable pitch in their quarter-final at the weekend in Guwahati and against Spain Cheick Doucoure’s second half goal was controversially disallowed. Did the ball cross the line or not? Replays were shown on the big screen in the stadium and infuriated Komla and his players, who were convinced the goal should have stood. At the U-17 World Cup FIFA is not using goal-line technology.
With Spain leading 2-0, Ferran Torres added a third in the 74th minute to end Mali’s World Cup dreams in the dry heat of Mumbai. Spain’s high brand Tiki Taka game ultimately proved too much for the defiant African champions. In the first half, Barcelona’s Abdel Ruiz had been key for Spain, scoring twice. The Eagles rallied late after a goal from their top scorer Lassana N’diaye, but a miracle was not to be. Mali will have to settle for the third place play off against Brazil.
For one last time, India and Kolkata will throw their weight behind the U-17 World Cup and all four teams can expect a rapturous reception on Saturday at the Salt Lake Stadium.
Indeed, India is set to become the best-attended FIFA Under-17 World Cup, breaking the record of 1,230,976 fans set by China in 1985 during the first edition of the ‘Youth’ World Cup. With two matches left, the six venues across India have welcomed 1,224,027 fans. The attendance in India breached the million mark in the last round of 16 match on October 18.
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