Breathtaking, fascinating, resilient, fearless — one would run out of adjectives to describe England’s comeback and their eventual annexation of the FIFA Under-17 World Cup. Breakneck pace was the highlight of the final. Quality had been top-class. Tempers flared in dying moments, when Spain became frustrated and resorted to occasional roughshod. In the end, a turnout of 66,684 serenaded the Salt Lake Stadium with ‘Foden, Foden’ and ‘England, England’ chants. You were forgiven for mistaking this as a senior World Cup and now a colts’ show.
Amid the confetti blasts and the mobile phone flashlights in the stands, the Young Lions celebrated as skipper Joel Latibeaudiere collected the coveted prize from the FIFA president Gianni Infantino. The lap of honour began. “The kids are better than the seniors,” said a Twitter post. The U-17 World Cup triumph capped a brilliant year for the England juniors. They had earlier won the U-20 World Cup and the U-19 European Championship. The U-17s had reached the European Championship final in Croatia where they lost to Spain on penalties. Kolkata witnessed a sweet redemption.
The best team of the tournament lifted the crown; a side that offered Phil Foden’s quality, Rhian Brewster’s marksmanship, Callum Hudson-Odoi’s versatility, Morgan Gibbs White’s heart, George McEachran’s industry and a good defensive organisation anchored by Latibeaudiere and Marc Guehi. “We have a new Golden generation. Well played boys, well played,” Gary Lineker tweeted.
Foden was the jewel in the crown, scoring twice tonight and setting up Gibbs White’s goal. The Manchester City starlet made a serious impact in the tournament and ran away with the Golden Ball — the player of the tournament award. Brewster won the Golden Boot — top scorer’s prize with eight goals. England rallied and took Spain to the cleaners, winning 5-2 in the final.
A little over an hour ago, however, they looked to be returning empty-handed. Spain were 2-0 up after 31 minutes, playing smart football. They allowed the opponents to dominate the ball — England were having 58 percent possession — but La Rojita were clinical on the counters. The Barcelona trio of Abel
Ruiz, Juan Miranda and Sergio Gomez combined brilliantly to score Spain’s first goal on 10 minutes. Ruiz played a lovely ball to Miranda on the wide left. The latter’s cross was headed down by Cesar Gelabert to Gomez for a simple tap in. It seemed to be a controversial decision at first, with Gomez looking offside. But the replays showed he was played on by right-back Steve Sessegnon.
Gomez was on the scoresheet again after 31 minutes. A cross from the right evaded the England centre-halves and from a tight angle, the Spain forward unleashed a left-footer into the top corner. A world-class strike that would have beaten any goalkeeper.
Spain took firm control and if the Salt Lake Stadium pitch was a canvas, they were painting a picture.
England looked down but they refused to be out. Foden came close to scoring, following up a Brewster shot from the left. The England midfielder got a knock from behind, with Miranda closely marking him.
But penalty was not given. Then, Hudson-Odoi drove down the left and pulled the trigger, but the woodwork denied the Young Lions. In the context of the game, it was a turning point of sort. England started to believe again.
Brewster — who else? — scored on 44 minutes, heading home a brilliant cross by Sessegnon from the right. He was the guilty party in Spain’s first goal but made amends with this brilliant assist. Brewster nearly scored again on the stroke of half-time, but his free-kick from 20 yards out was acrobatically tipped over by Alvaro Fernandez.
On a warm evening, fitness was going to be the key in this contest. The England colts looked fitter and grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck in the second half.
Foden broke Spain’s defensive organisation with a lovely through-ball to Sessegnon on the right. The latter laid it to Gibbs White and England equalised. They started to up the ante and Spain panicked.
On 69 minutes, Hudson-Odoi surged down the left and whipped in a superb cross inside the area. Foden was at the back post to slot home. Guehi made it 4-2 on 84 minutes, being set up by his defensive partner Latibeaudiere’s header from a free-kick. Four minutes later, Foden’s brilliant first touch mesmerised the whole Spanish defence, and exhilaratingly the youngster scored. 5-2, game over.
England’s fightback was down to their fearlessness. While these players don’t get first-team opportunities at their respective clubs — understandably so — this may change now. “Been class throughout the tournament,” Wayne Rooney eulogised on Twitter.
“The feeling is… I’m speechless. The feeling is a little bit surreal. I think it might feel a little better tomorrow once we realise what we have done. The players were fantastic all throughout the tournament, the staff. In my opinion, we are worthy winners of the tournament; the way we played, the goals we scored, ones we conceded. The football that we played — individual talent, team identity and the character and personality we showed. So for me its recognition of where English football wants to go,” England coach Steve Cooper said after the match.
His Spanish counterpart, Santiago Denia, rued the first goal that his team conceded.
Future is here and now
Brewster at it again: After conceding twice, England managed to pull one back in the 44th minute. Rhian Brewster — the tournament’s highest goalscorer — was in perfect position to guide home a cross from the right flank to score his eight of the World Cup.
Sublime Sessegnon: The right wing-back managed to pull off his best performance when England needed it the most. He first provided an pin-point cross to Brewster for the first goal and then again for the equalising goal, scored by Morgan Gibbs White.
Hudson-Odoi’s pace: Blessed with pace, Hudson-Odoi had seamlessly replaced Jadon Sancho. His free-kick through which Marc Guehi eventually scored the fourth, and a long ball across field that set Foden up for England’s fifth were the highlights.
Fantastic Foden: England’s no. 7 once dribbled past five defenders only for his effort at goal to fall straight at the custodian. He then played a perfect through ball for Sessegnon who crossed for Gibbs White’s equalizer before scoring two goals himself.
Golden ball & Boot: Phil Foden was deservedly named the player of the tournament while Liverpool striker Brewster secured the tournament’s golden boot with the goal that put the game back within reach for England. Brazil’s Gabriel Brazao won the Golden Glove.
Youth charge: The win caps off a remarkable year for England’s youth sides. They won the U20 World Cup in June and the U19s won the Euros before the U17s announced their arrival on the big stage. Their U21 side lost in the semis of the Euros.