THE DAY REPLAYED - And then there were two: South America’s Brazil, fairly comfortably, after defeating Colombia 2-0 in the first semi-final in Tampere; and Europe’s Spain, heroically and sensationally, after coming back from two goals down to beat Argentina 3-2 in Helsinki. The names of Abuda, who struck both goals for the Selecao, and Cesc, whose second stunning goal of the evening, happened to be a 117th-minute golden goal for the Furia Roja, are likely to become much more familiar in the coming years.
Many had predicted Argentina versus Spain would be a mouthwatering encounter but no one could possibly have imagined how delicious it turned out to be. It was the joint highest goalscorers, Spain (13), versus the meanest defence, Argentina (0). There was the added spice of the two coaches, Spain’s Juan Santisteban and Hugo Tocalli, meeting again after the Argentine had masterminded his country’s 4-2 victory two years ago that effectively knocked out his adversary in the group stage. And it was both teams debut on the Töölö turf, a surface they would need to win twice on to claim the U-17 world crown for the first time.
Cesc sends Spain deliriously into the Final
Unlike the other games in the knockout stage, it was always going to be close too. Before the match, both coaches had said the result could depend on as little as the mood of the players when they awake in the morning. What followed in the match’s 117 minutes proved that the footballers on show had definitely got up on the right side of the bed.
The second semi-final of the day had it all: high-level skill, technical brilliance, goals, controversy, a comeback and a golden goal winner. They had already come from behind in three of their previous four games in the tournament, but few people could have expected the Europeans to turn around a 2-0 deficit at half-time against a team like Argentina who had not let in a single goal during the whole finals.
However, the new Spanish crop once again proved they have the resilience as well as the ability to achieve great things. Led by the superb attacking trio of Xisco, Cesc and Jurado, they cancelled out first half goals from Argentina’s best outfield players, captain Lucas Biglia and elegant sweeper Ezequiel Garay, and still had the drive, determination and courage to score a winner with three minutes to go before the dreaded penalty shootout.
I cannot praise my players enough,” said the experienced Santisteban who will compete in his second junior Final after Spain lost to Ghana at Italy 91. “I truly admire them. They have the ability and will to fight even when a cause is seemingly lost. This is a great quality and this team has it.”
So, Spain and Europe versus Brazil and South America. But Santisteban has casualties for the big match. Right-back Ruz is banned after being sent off and left-back Raul Llorente was taken to hospital after twisting a knee. Even more worrying, perhaps, is the way Xisco hobbled off in extra-time clutching his hamstring. With all the talk about David before the finals, the Villarreal teenager has made the striking spot his own with his strength, movement and goals.
“Brazil are perhaps the best team in the world at every category of the game,” he said. “We will be without our two full backs and after playing extra-time, the boys are likely to be exhausted, but we are going to give it our best shot.”
For Tocalli and Argentina it was more heartache at the penultimate hurdle against a European team after falling to eventual champions France in Trinidad & Tobago to years ago.
“I thought we had the game under control,” he said. “At half-time, I told them to be careful because Spain would come out with all guns blazing in the second period. But they are 16 and 17-year-olds, and they make mistakes just as adults do.”
Argentina will now be looking to go one better than last time when they take on fellow South Americans Colombia in the third-place play off game on Saturday.
In the first semi-final, Brazil, twice winners of the competition, returned to the place they had called home for the group games, while Colombia’s trip to Tampere’s Ratina stadium was the first time they had set competitive foot on turf that was not artificial in Finland.
Abuda’s brace has Brazil Final-bound
Colombia had defeated Brazil 1-0 in the South American qualifiers – a shock result that indirectly led to the young Selecao giving up their first U-17 crown in five editions. But once striker Abuda had glanced in a beautifully flighted Jonathan cross from the right in the 15th minute, it was Brazil who held the upper hand.
hat duel under the Bolivian sun had been a hard-fought contest and in the cooler northern climes of Finland no inch was given as both teams battled for each and every ball knowing that the ultimate prize – a place in the world Final - was at stake. Having already reached their best position at a junior tournament, the competition’s joint top goalscorers Colombia (13 goals) desperately searched for an equaliser behind the stingy Brazilian defence, who have conceded just one goal in the finals. But despite the promptings from central midfield of captain Fredy Guarin – the man who back In May had scored the goal to end Brazil’s incredible streak – and the technical brilliance of Jose Otalvaro, they could not quite pierce Brazil’s backline.
With the midfield threesome - Jonathan, Junior and Arouca – solid as a rock, it was left to the ultra-talented attacking trio of Evandro, Ederson and, of course, Abuda to apply the elegant and clinical. The latter grabbed his second (he had earlier hit the crossbar) and his fourth of the tournament with just over a quarter of an hour left to put Brazil into their fourth world junior final.
The striker could not hold back his tears after the match.
“Thank God for making all of this possible,” he said emotionally. “We are not just footballers. The team is like my family.”
When the final whistle blew, the Selecao squad and coaching staff took a mini lap of honour to salute the adopted Brazilians who had backed them throughout the tournament and made Tampere a second home.
The result was the prefect present for Brazilian coach Paqueta, who was celebrating his birthday.
“Colombia always attacked and never gave up but it was our day,” he said still soaking wet after his players had dumped a bucket of water over his head.
Eduardo Lara, who had taken Colombia to their best ever finish in a junior event, expressed his pride at having reached the semi-finals. P>“It’s great to be South American,” he said simply.
But Saturday’s Final, a first stop for the Selecao on the Töölö turf, could also bring joy to Europe. With two matches left of Finland 2003 and three goals needed to break the record of most goals in a junior finals, Spain versus Brazil looks like being a wonderful way to wrap up a truly terrific tournament.