It is one of football’s harshest truths that the best team does not always win. That was certainly the sentiment expressed by Julen Lopetegui after his Spain side lost their FIFA U-20 World Cup quarter-final to Brazil, the coach adamant that justice had not been done. His might not be the most objective opinion, but even if La Rojita did not serve up the better football in a high-quality match, they were far from being second best.
“It was a really exciting game for the fans,” said Spain midfielder Koke after the penalty shoot-out loss, taking time to speak with FIFA.com despite his obvious disappointment. “Both teams tried to play attractive football and that produced a lot of great moments.” Several of them came from the gifted Atletico Madrid player himself, but for all their efforts the European side could only find the net twice in 120 minutes: “We really had some good chances, but we weren’t able to finish them and their goalkeeper had a great match. It’s down to him that they went through.”
A scorer in Spain’s 4-1 group-stage defeat of Costa Rica, Koke - or Jorge Resurreccion, to give his full name - found it hard to shake off a sense of regret, feeling Spain ought to have progressed further in the competition. “We came here with the goal of being champions, so to go out in the quarter-finals is not what we expected,” he explained, his team-mates filing sullen-faced out of the Estadio Hernan Ramirez Villegas behind him.
“We were up against a very good team and both sides knew that one of the best teams in the tournament had to be eliminated. This match would have been the ideal final. We could have won it in normal time or on penalties, but we didn’t and anything can happen in a penalty shoot-out. Both teams deserved to win, but today it was Brazil who did.”
Although unable to oust their South American rivals, Koke and Co can nonetheless console themselves on having continued a trend evident at senior level for several years now. Brazil remain adept at spectacular attacking play but they have been overtaken by their rivals from the Spanish school in a number of areas, to the extent that it was the players in yellow who felt the need to move forward on the break. The days when mesmerising Brazilian magicians kept jealous guard of the ball, tormenting their opponents and thrilling crowds in equal measure seem long gone, with Spain now assuming the mantle of world football’s great entertainers.
“I want my players to be proud of what they’ve done because they managed to dominate Brazil,” said Lopetegui in his post-match press conference. “Believe me, given that the players were also tired after the game against Korea Republic, it’s a sign of this team’s quality that they had more of the ball than Brazil.”
Koke added: “We produced some fantastic stuff and this tournament has been a great experience. I hope I get the chance to make the most of it and play in the senior team one day. We’re disappointed to be going home, but we can only blame ourselves and analyse what we did wrong, so we can learn lessons from it for the future.”
Koke backs Brazil for trophy
The future undoubtedly looks bright for a healthy percentage of Lopetegui’s charges, but before they settle back into life at their clubs, there is the more pressing issue of the future of this competition itself. Spain’s exit has removed one of the favourites from the equation, and for Koke that has cleared up the overall picture.
“I think Brazil have everything it takes to win now,” he predicted. “It won’t be easy for them because there are still some very good sides, but they’re the team to beat now. Winning against Spain has got to have boosted their confidence and I think they’ll go all the way.”
The Brazil players will no doubt appreciate the encouragement. In fact, they would surely have sung a similar tune had the fine margins of their shoot-out success been reversed.