By Samindra Kunti in Sao Paulo
November 15 – In a dramatic semi-final Brazil upset favourites France 3-2 to reach the final of the U-17 World Cup on home soil against Mexico. The Mexicans eliminated Holland after a penalty shoot-out.
The French had been sky-high favorites going into the last four following an empathic 6-1 win over rivals Spain in the quarter-finals. They had demonstrated ample pace and penetration in the final third of the field to destroy the Spanish, racking up a total of 19 goals in five games, but France’s mercurial play unravelled against the hosts. Even though the French were the superior team they ceded a 2-0 lead in a madcap second half that was punctuated by a flurry of goals and tight VAR checks.
Within 13 minutes of kick-off France took a double lead through goals from striker Arnaud Kalimuendo-Muinga, who returned to the side following the Spain win, and winger Nathanael Mbuku. The French tore the Brazilian defence apart with such ease and precision that a big result seemed on the cards again for the Europeans. The hosts struggled to deal with their opponent’s pace.
But instead of dealing Brazil a death blow by scoring a third, France preferred to protect their lead. That strategy would backfire after the interval. Just before the pause the VAR chalked off a penalty for Brazil. Guilherme Dalla Dea’s team applied pressure throughout the second stanza and in the space of 13 minutes got back on level terms through goals from striker Kaio Jorge, his fourth in six matches, and dainty winger Veron.
The real drama was deserved for the waning minutes of the game when French central defender Chrislain Matsima had his far-post header correctly ruled out for offside. From the ensuing goal kick Matheus Donelli launched a ball over the top and substitute Lazaro latched on to the ball to twist and turn inside the French box before scoring the winner. Lazaro had previously been restricted to just a 30-minute against Canada in the opening winner.
Despite six minutes of added time, this time there was no way back for the French. The dramatic turnaround sparked scenes of delirium among the 13,587 supporters at the Estadio Bezerrao in Brasilia. Just 1,122 fans had watched the first semi-final between Mexico and the Netherlands a few hours earlier at the same stadium as the tournament continues to suffer from low attendances when the hosts are not involved.
Mexico and Holland played out a 1-1 draw in a game where the fear of losing trumped the desire to win. The European champions demonstrated enough nifty skills in and around the box to claim superiority, but could only make that dominance count in the 74th minute when Youri Regeer bundled the ball into net. The Dutch didn’t enjoy their lead for long however. Five minutes later, Efrain Alvarez netted a superb free kick to level the score.
Regeer, the Dutch goalscorer, would ultimately turn from hero to villain missing the deciding penalty in the shoot-out as Mexico triumphed 4-3 to set up an all-American final with Brazil.
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1576124787labto1576124787ofdlr1576124787owedi1576124787sni@o1576124787fni1576124787