Brazil claimed a record third title at junior level after defeating Spain 1-0 in the Final of the FIFA U-17 World Championship Finland 2003 in Helsinki on Saturday. A seventh-minute strike from defender Leonardo was the only goal of a competitive and highly skilled game in which many of the performers seem set to go on to bigger things.
One more goal was needed in the finals to equal the record set at Egypt 97, and it arrived within three minutes of the kick off. Captain Joao’s 25-yard curling free kick struck the inside of the far post and rebounded to Leonardo, who smashed the ball high into the roof of the net (1-0, 7’), sparking off the familiar Brazilian drum beat.
Spain had started the game where they had left off in their semi-final against Argentina, caressing the ball around the slick Töölö turf. However they almost went two behind moments later when, in a similar fashion to the opening goal, Ederson’s sweet half-volley was saved by Mandaluniz to the feet of Abuda. Brazil’s joint top marksman could only manage to slam the ball against the crossbar from six yards.
The chance spurred strikers Evandro and Ederson into showing off their awesome skills for a while, and the latter almost extended their lead when his flicked header was cleared off the line. But it was Spain, with Valencia midfielders Sisi and Silva swapping wings, who were beginning to dominate possession and the skilful Jurado came close twice before half-time.
Marshalled by the impressive Joao, the Selecao defence, which had conceded just one goal in the finals, was again looking impenetrable. Jurado appeared the most likely for Spain after the break. Twenty-five yards out, the Real Madrid midfielder turned and struck a left-footer inches over the bar (54’).
After a slow start to the second period, the game suddenly came to life. From another free kick, Joao curled an effort inches wide (55’), then Bruno pulled out perhaps the save of the tournament to deny Xisco’s strong back-post header (62’). The Furia Roja had the bit between their teeth for the first time in the match and, encouraged by the packed Töölö crowd, they pushed forward for the equaliser. Silva headed over from a corner (66’), and from the left Xisco shot too close to Bruno (71’). p>But Brazil, now playing on the break, almost sealed the game when Abuda, getting behind the Spanish rearguard, sent over a tantalising cross for Evandro to head into the grateful arms of Mandaluniz (76’).
Spain continued to press though. Cesc, who had been kept quiet after his semi-final heroics, stole some room inside the box after another wonderful defence-splitting move, but the Barcelona teenager’s left-foot shot flew well wide (78’). Having come on as a substitute, striker David then volleyed into side netting when well positioned (81’).
With the match moving into injury time, Cesc shot into Bruno’s arms. The keeper then stretched to tip over Arzo’s header. But it was not to be Spain’s day and Brazil and their fans celebrated wildly at the final whistle.
Afterwards Brazil’s coach Paqueta said it was the perfect reward after two years of hard work: “It was not our best performance of the finals –perhaps we scored too early. But today the result was more important than the show.”
A proud Spain coach Juan Santisteban, who also lost out in the Final 12 years ago, claimed his side had deserved more from the game.
“It was Spain who played like Brazilians,” he said, responding to a question about Brazil’s style. “We had so many chances in the second half but just couldn’t put the ball away – but that’s football. I hope some of these players can now go on to become the stars of tomorrow.”