A wounded lion is said to be more ferocious. However, the lion does not attack the person who inflicted the wound. Time to rewind the clock to where it all began. The u-17 Euros has five spots for qualification to the u-17 World Cup. However, the qualification part did not matter to England and Spain as they were playing in the finals. The stakes were much higher. It was a chance to gain a place in the history books. A chance to start your legacy at the grass root level. The u-17 Euros took place in Croatia. The stadium of Varazdin was selected to host the final. Although, hardly anyone would have predicted the last few minutes which unfolded in the most dramatic way possible.
The stadium of Varazdin saw an attendance of 8,187 people. They were about to witness the most scintillating and audacious moments of fortune and bad luck together. England concedes a corner at the 80+5 min. One must note that the new regulations laid down by UEFA and FIFA made it mandate that the matches be of 80 minutes. Jose Alonso steps up to take the corner. Jose Alonso a wing back, brought on at the 60 min mark, delivers the ball into the box. Nacho Diaz, a player brought on at 78 min mark, grabs the opportunity and scores a header which draws Spain level.
The moment the ball crossed the line , England hearts all around the world shattered. So close yet so far. The effort and stroke of luck continued as the match moved on to penalties. Spain saw all their four players score from the spot while England only scored once in the shootout. Moreover, their top scorer, Rhian Brewster was denied by the post. The England captain, Latibeaudiere, saw his shot go over the crossbar. And England were victims of their bad luck, while Spain went on to lift the trophy.
Fast forward to today, both teams know their opponents inside out. Spain and England both tend to know the Achilles’ heel of the opposition. The teams got to this stage, each facing their Goliath. Spain faced Mali in the semi-finals. Mali had made the most attacking opportunities in the whole tournament by a mile. They had a staggering 157 attempts on goal, out of which more than 60 were either saved or blocked. Spain had a rugged defence which saw them brush off the Mali attack. However, one may recall decisions which one can say were not made in a sound mind. Nevertheless, Spain booked their place in the final.
The second semifinal saw England face the daunting task of keeping Brazil at bay. A cheeky characteristic of Brazilian teams in recent World Cups has been that of them not playing without their key striker due to some reason or the other. Brazil was without their striker, Vinicius Jr. throughout the tournament as he was not given permission by Flamengo to join the Brazil u-17 squad. This, however, did not stop England as they put Brazil to their misery, courtesy of Rhian Brewster’s hat-trick.
The hat-trick saw him propel to the top of the goalscoring charts and England to the final. The stage is all set as Kolkata, the land of Tagore and the epitome of Indian football will host these teams and witness either a case of Déjà vu or Karma. Let us analyse the key players for each team, who can prove vital as they ply their trade for an all European affair.
England, courtesy of the Manchester City youth system, have found a jewel for England. He may be a long-term solution for the Three Lions, between the sticks , but only time will tell. Curtis Anderson has played 5 matches where he has 19 saves to his credit. He has the highest save percentage in the tournament saving 82.6% of all shots on goal(min. 3 matches). He also played a key role during the shoot-out against Japan as he saved and scored a penalty. The second player to watch out for is Phil Foden. Another product of the Manchester City youth system, the player at such a young age was able to impress Pep Guardiola. At the age of 17, very few have the ability to impress a manager of such stature.
He was also part of the City squad for the ICC Champions League, held in USA. He was given a nod and he repaid the faith as he performed extraordinarily, running circles around defences and he has been doing the same in the u-17 world cup. The player whose shoulders’ bear the hopes of England is Rhian Brewster. Brewster is a product of the Liverpool academy and seems to be developing well under Gerrard. In 5 matches for England, he has 7 goals, 1 assist and has scored 1 penalty. A statistic worth mentioning is that England have scored the most goals in the tournament scoring 18 goals, 14 from open play and 4 from set pieces. They have become an unstoppable force and they certainly intend to revenge for the u-17 Euros.
The Spanish on the other side join the party as underdogs. But they have fought the lion, and have lived to tell the tale too. Spain had defeated England in the final, courtesy of two substitutes. It’s evident that Spain like to perform in the last moments of the game. The Spain u-17 team is a combination of Real Madrid and Barcelona youth players primarily. Their 23 man squad consists of 10 players who are part of these arch-rivals. And the strongest possible Spain u-17 have all them playing together. It is the fluidity and the understanding which these players possess which makes them a good team. During the UEFA Euros u-17, Spain had 5 players in the team of the tournament, England had 6. The Spanish have some serious raw talent and firepower which has brought them to this stage.
Leading from the front is their captain Abel Ruiz. Ruiz is a La Masia product and has led the team in the Euros as well as the World Cup. Abel is their top scorer scoring six goals and has a chance to catch up with Rhian Brewster and take the top goalscorer award. He has his teammate Sergio Gomes by his side who has fed the goal scoring beast throughout the tournament. Sergio has racked up 2 assists and intends to be a game changer for his team in the final.
The “Red Fury” have a backbone which consists of sturdy defenders and a shot-stopper who has convincingly owned the position for the Spanish u-17 side. Spain have Victor Chust and Mateu Morey. Both these defenders were also penalty takers during the shootout at the final successfully completing the task at hand. They have fresh memories of a win and will be hoping to do it again over England.
England already were shown the face of defeat when they faced Spain in the finals. However, they were close and kept them at bay before the last few moments of unexpected wild action.Despite having beaten England, Spain know that they had to work very hard and it was a stroke of fortune which led to the equaliser. They may not get the chance to do it again as teams tend to learn from their mistakes. This will be an enthralling match as the saga to find the victors of the u-17 world cup boils down to this. The world, and India, in particular, has witnessed wonders but the greatest wonder of all is yet to take place.
Feature Image via Indian Express
Rhian Brewster Image via Daily Mirror
Abel Ruiz Image via Twitter