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Phil Foden lay face down and kissed the turf. Curtis Anderson, the England U-17 keeper, who saved a penalty and then scored one in the shootout, was in the arms of his team-mates. Nya Kirby started doing a jig after scoring England’s winning ‘goal’ from the spot. At the other end of the pitch, Hinata Kida was inconsolable. His penalty miss proved to be the difference between the two sides as England progressed to the U-17 World Cup quarterfinals after beating Japan 5-3 in the tie-breaker of their Round-of-16 match at the Salt Lake Stadium on Tuesday.
Shootouts make England iffy, across age-groups and levels. Before this game, they had bungled 11 out of 15 penalty shootouts in tournament football since 1990. Just four-and-a-half months ago, Steve Cooper’s U-17 side had come second best in the European Championship final against Spain. This game was refreshingly different. With over 53,000 fans screaming and supporting Japan — they were the underdogs — the Young Lions showed superb technique. Every penalty found the bottom corners. At the pre-match press conference, Cooper had spoken about “changing the mindset, thriving at penalty shootouts and being confident”. The colts responded brilliantly to break England’s penalties jinx.
“We talked about it (shootout) yesterday. Part of my work is to develop all parts of international football. Players will develop the longer they stay in the system. It’s the harshest way to lose when you lose on penalties. You have to thrive, plan for it,” Cooper said after the match.
Rhian Brewster, Callum Hudson Odoi, Foden, Anderson and Kirby converted from the spot for England after a goalless 90 minutes – no extra time at the U-17 World Cup. For Japan, Yukinari Sugawara, Taisei Miyashiro and Soichiro Kozuki scored. Penalties, despite being a harsh way to determine the winners in football, is an integral part of knockouts and England deserved this victory, although they were not at their fluent best during open play.
Jadon Sancho’s departure had weakened England. Hudson Odoi, playing out of position on the left wing, tried his best. He made some incisive runs but Sancho’s X-factor, his precise crossing, was missing. In Sancho’s absence, England tweaked their formation a little. Angel Gomes took the captain’s armband. But width was compromised.
Emile Smith Rowe replaced Gomes on 64 minutes, as Cooper tried to stretch it to the flanks. But Japan kept their organisation and save the last quarter of regulation time, when England became a little leggy, they seemingly played for the shootout.
Japan had their first corner on 62 minutes. England by then had five. But in the last 15 minutes, when the Asian side had wrested the initiative, they added six more to their tally. They finished almost on par with England on attempts also; 13 against 14. But Japan never looked like winning this game until England’s déjà vu moment, shootout, arrived. But the East Asians eventually fell short.
Compared to England’s group fixtures, this was a boring game. They were allowed very little space to manoeuvre. Foden still sparkled on occasions. Brewster hit the woodwork from a tight angle on 27 minutes. Kirby’s shot from close range was blocked by Yuki Kobayashi six minutes from time. But England’s usual tempo was not there – or rather Japan didn’t allow them to be fluid – and the final ball was missing.
QuarterFinal: England v USA