By Debayan Mukherji
Kolkata, Oct 27 (IANS) England and Spain will have their eyes firmly trained on the history books waiting to christen them as first-time champions of the FIFA U-17 World Cup when the two footballing hotshots renew acquaintances in the hotly-anticipated final here on Saturday.
In the first all-European final of this competition, England, who have never gone beyond the quarter-finals and are looking to emulate the U-20 boys, will have revenge on their minds while European champions Spain — runners up thrice — aim to brighten their trophy cabinet with a World Cup crown.
It was only in May this year that Spain colts, known as La Rojita, pipped England 4-1 on penalties to bag the UEFA U-17 European Championships in Croatia.
That was the third meeting of the two teams in the final of the European Championships with Spain triumphant in 2007, and the Young Lions exacting revenge three years later.
The Spaniards once more emerged victorious in May, but only after a nail-biting climax. England went ahead twice and frittered their advantage, with Spain’s second equaliser coming in the sixth minute of stoppage time. Spain went on to win on penalties.
Cut to India, where England have been perfect leading up to the summit clash, with Spain peaking at the right time, it promises to be a lip-smacking affair at the colossal Vivekananda Yuba Krirangan, expected to be packed to the rafters.
It has been a landmark year for England so far, who since the Booby Moore led team’s World Cup win in 1966, had failed to achieve any sort of success at the international level .
The jinx was broken in June, when the U-20 side lifted the World Cup beating Venezuela in the final.
The U-19 team picked up from there, bagging the UEFA European U-19 Championship crown a month later.
With Steve Cooper’s side registering a clinical 3-1 victory over three-time champions Brazil in the semi-final here, they became the fourth England youth team to reach a final in the calendar year.
Since the 4-0 bossing of Chile in the u-17 tournament opener, England have made it clear who the trailblazers would be.
Mexico threatened to rein them in with a quickfire second-half blitz from Diego Lainez while Japan frustrated them even further, dragging the round of 16 game to England’s most dreaded penalties. On both occasions, the boys in white showed composure which Cooper feels belies their age. Iraq were also dealt with 4-0.
They were head and shoulders above the US in the quarter-final in Goa — the only game they played out of Kolkata — and dictated a flair-filled Brazil. England are the only team in the tourney to have won all their games leading up to the final.
In Spain though, they face their sternest test yet.
Santiago Denia’s boys have gone from strength to strength in the tournament and look unrecognisable from the team that lost the first game to Brazil 1-2 in Kochi.
After registering two facile wins over Niger and Korea DPR in Group D to qualify for the knockout stages, Spain underlined their title credentials with a strong 2-1 performance against in-form France.
They bettered their showing against Iran who had defeated Germany 4-0 in the preliminary round and in the semis, sent Mali packing 3-1.
At the heart of their display was skipper Abel Ruiz who led from the front.
Scoring six goals in six games, the FC Barcelona youth striker alongwith Valencia’s Ferran Torres, who plays down the right channel, and Real Madrid’s attacking midfielder Cesar Gelabert form a formidable trio up front for Spain.
England will bank on Liverpool’s Rhian Brewster who is currently the tournament’s leading marksman (7 goals), having scored back-to-back hat-tricks against the US and Brazil.
Manchester City’s Phil Foden has been a live-wire in creating chances while George McEachran has no replacement as a holding midfielder who can also unlock rival defences with his jinking runs down the middle.
In defence, skipper City’s Joel Latibeaudiere has been a rock.
Since the Brazil loss, Spain have not floundered much while it would be hard to put a finger on any chinks in England’s armour. A battle of attrition awaits.
England: Curtis Anderson, Josef Bursik, William Crelin; Timothy Eyoma, Joel Latibeaudiere, Marc Guehi, Jonathan Panzo, Lewis Gibson, Steven Sessegnon, Morgan Gibbs White, Tashan Oakley Boothe; Conor Gallagher, Angel Gomes, Nya Kirby, George McEachran; Callum Hudson Odoi, Philip Foden, Emile Smith Rowe, Rhian Brewster, Danny Loader
Spain: Alvaro Fernandez, Mateu Jaume, Juan Miranda, Hugo Guillamon, Victor Chust, Antonio Blanco, Ferran Torres, Mohamed Moukhliss, Abel Ruiz, Sergio Gomez, Nacho Diaz, Pedro Ruiz, Marc Vidal, Alvaro Garcia, Eric Garcia, Diego Pampin, Jose Lara, Cesar Gelabert, Carlos Beitia, Victor Perea, Alfonso Pastor.
(Debayan Mukherji can be contacted at [email protected])
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