By Samindra Kunti in Kolkata
October 29 – England’s wonder kids completed a miraculous 5-2 comeback against Spain to lift the U-17 World Cup. Philip Foden, the player of the tournament, and Rhian Brewster, the golden boot, starred in a remarkable second-half comeback, the culmination of a successful first World Cup on Indian soil.
England – Spain was a staccato encore from last May’s U-17 European Championship final when Abdel Ruiz scored the match winner from the penalty spot. This time both teams were vying for a maiden World Cup title at the U-17 level and the Lion Hearts’ supreme application and fitness ensured a magnificent end to a splendid campaign in India, crowning England world champions for the first time at U-17 level.
The Young Lions confirmed England’s renaissance in international youth football. 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. England reversed roles from the U-17 European Championship last May. Meanwhile England’s Under 23s showed progression, being knocked out at in the semi-finals of the U-23 World Cup in South Korea.
In Kolkata, England were high on confidence following a vintage win over Brazil in the last four. They lined up in an identical 4-2-3-1 formation to Spain, with Brewster and Ruiz battling it out for the Golden Boot, but, notwithstanding a few forward-prancing opening minutes from England, the Spanish teenagers were more cunning and clinical in the first 30 minutes, carving England open time and again. Sergio Gomez scored twice, tapping in his second after an intricate build-up from his teammates.
England goalkeeper Curtis Anderson, so secure for much of the tournament, suffered a dramatic start and England were shaky, but on the brink of halftime it was inevitably Brewster who gave Steve Cooper’s team a lifeline with a powerful header past a fumbling Spanish goalkeeper Alvaro Fernandez. This ending to a thrilling half of topsy-turvy football was but the prelude to a remarkable English turnaround.
After the break England outclassed Spain in every department of the game. The Young Lions were everything England’s senior team isn’t, playing with maturity, composure and daring. The English teenagers exuded a good self-confidence and desire. Under Cooper England played a modern brand of football, excellent in transition and with a sense of purpose.
Morgan Gibbs-White equalised with a simple tap-in. England accelerated and never looked back with an imposing Foden orchestrating his team to World Cup glory. La Rojita, with four players from Real Madrid and four players from FC Barcelona, were on the racks, proving less sharp and less fit than their English counterparts. They were overwhelmed by the guile, speed and quality that England offered over the 90 minutes.
\At the end of the night Foden and Brewster, who scored nine goals, rightly took the accolades of best player and top scorer.
England won the World Cup as the tournament’s leading scorers, playing open, attractive football. “The results and the winning is amazing, but the football we have played — the belief and the identity,” said Cooper. “We have played the way that we want the England team to play. 2-0 down and to win 5-2 in a World Cup final and not one long ball. Pass, pass, pass. We have a plan that we can do at the very best and against the very best. Phil’s got player of the tournament, but all the boys have got the gold medal. You don’t win a World Cup as individuals.”
“Young footballers in England, the ones we are bringing into our teams, are a credit to the generation,” emphasised Cooper. “Sometimes they get a tough stick with too much too soon and attitude. But that will happen in any walk of life. I believe in the academies developing not just good footballers but also good people. I am really proud of every team that I have worked with, been with these boys for two years. But sometimes a wrong impression is made of the young footballers in England.”
Still, for all the trophies galore, England’s future at the senior level is not guaranteed: how will the success at junior level translate at the elite level? Can these teenagers not only overcome the daunting transition to the senior game, but win a regular first-place in Premier League teams? These are questions English football and the FA must carefully consider to ensure these triumphs have an enduring legacy. At least, for now, English youth football can claim to be the best in the world.
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