As the curtain prepares to close on FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013, there is one last piece of important business for both France and Uruguay to take care of before heading for home. Having played six games each of the tournament's 51 prior to the final in Istanbul, the pair's quest to claim their first-ever FIFA U-20 title is just one step away from completion.
While both nations command a great deal of respectin the world game, neither were seen as favourites to reach this stage at the tournament's outset. Both had finished third in their respective continental qualifiers and were seen as being tough opposition, but outside the top tier of challengers.
Inconsistent group stage showings from both sides cemented this early perspective, but the pair kicked into gear as the tournament went on, showing flair and tenacity against some of the best sides at Turkey 2013. France took a grip on the title of tournament top scorers, so far at least, with four-goal tallies against hosts Turkey and Uzbekistan, before seeing off a valiant Ghana side in the semis, with a mix of slick interplay and some quality finishing. The golden boot-chasing Yaya Sanogo is no doubt grateful for the support he has received from Messrs Pogba, Kondogbia, Thauvin, Digne and Bahebeck in unlocking opposing defences.
Uruguay on the other hand have shown their battling qualities in the knockout stages, striking late against Nigeria, in extra-time versus Spain and taking Iraq to penalties after another last-gasp goal. This hard-to-beat quality has been built on the spine of captain Gaston Silva and the uncompromising Sebastian Cristoforo, with the flair of Diego Laxalt and Giorgian De Arrascaeta providing a delectable counterpoint. While somewhat more unpredictable, and maybe slightly less fancied, than the French, Juan Verzeri's side have what it takes to go head-to-head with anyone at this level.
27 – Uruguay have only led for 27 minutes during the knockout stages, the least by any team to reach the final since 1979. La Celeste were in front for four minutes and six minutes during their 2-1 win over Nigeria, while they added 17 minutes more to their cumulative tally against Spain. They still remain ahead of all other contenders even when you take into account the fact those prior to 1997 were only 16-team tournaments, where the knockout rounds began at the quarter-final stage.
The player to watch
So often holding midfielders can be overlooked in the crucial role they play to a side's success. While not as flashy as De Arrascaeta or as headline-grabbing as Nicolas Lopez, Cristoforo has been a huge asset in Uruguay's fight to the final. While hard-working in the engine room of Los Charruas' midfield, he has also been known to spray passes from deep that Xabi Alonso would be proud of. With France's movement – of bodies and the ball – in the middle being one of their most impressive features of the tournament, the Penarol midfielder will have to be at his best to limit their potency.
“We have a small country but we have a great footballing passion. It’s Uruguay's second world final in a row, after the U-17 in Mexico. It proves we’re doing things well in youth football. France are also working well and have a very strong team. But this time we don’t want to end up with another disappointment. If we’re in the final, we're there to win it.”
Gianni Rodriguez, Uruguay defender
"Bravo little Bleus, a bit shaky at the end, but you're in the final, looking forward to Saturday." Former French international Sylvain Wiltord
— Sylvain Wiltord (@sylwiltord) July 10, 2013