By Samindra Kunti in Brasilia
November 18 – Brazil have won the U-17 World Cup on home soil, coming from behind to defeat Mexico 2-1 in dramatic style, a considerable feat as the Brazilians had initially failed to qualify for the tournament. Substitute Lazaro was Brazil’s hero again with a 93rd-minute winner.
Mexico led until the 84th and were inching closer towards a third world title courtesy of a slow-motion header by Bryan Gonzalez, but in a stirring finale Brazil completed another remarkable turnaround to clinch a fourth U-17 World Cup title, their first since 2003, and break Mexican hearts. First, striker Kaio Jorge equalized from the penalty spot after a soft call from the referee before a cool first-time finish from Lazaro in the 93rd minute sent the partisan crowd wild in the Brazilian capital and handed Brazil the gold medal.
In the semi-finals Brazil had come from behind to win 2-0 against France and it was Brazil’s urgency in the final ten minutes of the match that proved too much for the Mexico whose rigid organisation and lethal counter-attacking frustrated the hosts.
The feat of winning the tournament unbeaten was all the more remarkable as Brazil hadn’t qualified for the U-17 World Cup in the first place. At the continental U-17 championship earlier this year in Peru, Brazil finished outside of the top four, but Peru were stripped by FIFA from hosting the tournament over a lack of adequate preparations and the tournament was moved to Brazil.
Thus Brazil had not been expected to go all the way in the global finals. Expectations around the Mexican team had also been limited and so the final was a victory for pragmatic teams, who played level-headed and at times reactive football.
After a nervous start under the gaze of FIFA president Gianni Infantino, who will tour Central America later this week, Conmebol boss Alejandro Dominguez and CBF supremo Rogerio Caboclo Brazil established some measure of authority with winger Veron torturing the Mexican defense and number ten Peglow clattering the bar with a rasping attempt from the edge of the area.
The Mexicans very much applied the template that brought them success in the semi-final against Holland, playing cautiously while lurking on the counter. Their top scorer Efrain Alvarez, a substitute against the Netherlands, threatened from a set piece and whenever the Mexicans moved forward they emanated danger.
Brazil have never beaten Mexico at the U-17 level. In fact, in the last U-17 final Brazil played in 2005 the Mexicans prevailed 3-0. Marco Ruiz’s team grew in confidence before left-back Patryck had a shot saved and Veron’s fifth attempt was deflected into corner.
After the break the hosts remained more dangerous, even if Mexico restricted Brazil largely to rushed attempts. Ruiz hauled off his main marksman and from a rare attack Gonzalez headed home the opening goal in the 66th minute. Against France, the Brazilians came back from the brink and those heroics were to be repeated.
Brazil coach Guilherme Dalla Dea threw the dice with substitute Lazaro, the semi-final hero, and with a lot of urgency the Brazilians pressed Mexico back. Daniel Cabral rattled the crossbar with a ferocious long-range volley, but Latvian referee Andris Treimanis pointed to the spot for a fault in the preceding play. It was a soft call: Treimanis believed that Alejandro Gomez had caught Veron in the box. Jorge coolly converted the penalty in the 84th minute for the Bezerrao to explode.
The hosts went for the kill and it was Lazaro who popped up in the box in the third minute of injury time to score an elegant winner. The Mexicans, so well organised and committed, had cracked at last.
“I’m sure a lot of these athletes will play for the senior team,” said coach Dea. “Of course, they will also appear in their clubs as high-quality athletes.”
Yet, the Brazilians never truly inspired in this tournament or at least never reached the heights of the teams that had been eliminated in the last four. In the third-place play off, the French breezed past the Netherlands 3-1 with leading roles for PSG-based midfield metronome Adil Aouchiche and hat-trick hero Arnaud Kalimuendo-Muinga. The first stanza however hadn’t suggested another impressive French victory. The European champions and their opponents failed to reproduce any of the scintillating football that had propelled both sides to the semi-final in a half that largely passed in classic bronze-medal match mode.
The game had little edge, bereft of France’s zeal and the dominant possession football of the Dutch. In the 15th minute Mohamed Toubani opened the score with a deft chip over the French goalkeeper from a Kenneth-Taylor pass over the top. The Dutch’s lead was soon erased when France passed its way through the Oranje defense and Arnaud Kalimuendo-Muinga equalized from inside the box seven minutes later.
The French turned dominant and ran away with the game in the second half in a repeat performance of their Spain quarter-final. Aouchiche orchestrated the play in midfield and his assist provided Kalimuendo-Muinga with his 4th goal of the competition after a lax clearance by Dutch goalkeeper Clavin Raatsie in the 54th minute. France’s number seven completed his hat-trick soon after when Aouchiche rattled the cross bar and he headed home the rebound.
In the end the French comprehensively defeated the reigning European champions, scored 24 goals in seven matches, possessed arguably the player of the tournament in Aouchiche and will be left to ponder how on earth they didn’t get passed a limited Brazilian team in the semi-finals having been two goals up.
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1603653527labto1603653527ofdlr1603653527owedi1603653527sni@o1603653527fni1603653527