Playing in their first-ever FIFA World Youth Championship quarter-final, brave Canada did themselves proud against European champions and finals favourites Spain in front of 15,000 fans in Abu Dhabi. But in the end their efforts were in vain, as the ten-man Iberians hung on to take the laurels with a dramatic golden goal from substitute Arizmendi after Iain Hume had equalized Iniesta’s opener. Spain will now take on Colombia in Dubai on 15 December for a place in the Final.
Amazingly, it was the Canadians who got the first real chance of the game. After a bad giveaway at the Spanish back, Hume intercepted and laid the ball into the path of Josh Simpson – racing in on goal. It was all Spanish centre-back Melli could do to get a toe to it and poke out for a corner (4’). The ensuing corner saw Spanish keeper Riesgo ready for his first action of the night, going to ground to grab a 20-metre snapshot from Jason Ditullio.
But slowly the Iberians’ professionalism and style began to shine through. Juanfran, Spain’s gifted right-sided midfielder got the better of left-back Winston Marshall and fired a low cross to Sergio Garcia. Under heavy pressure, the side’s top finals scorer could only smack lamely wide of the post (19’).
And when brilliant Iniesta’s long ball picked out Barca team-mate Sergio racing in behind the Canuck backs, it looked like a goal was in the making. But after the striker cut brilliantly to his left he could only fire his snapshot over the bar (28’).
However, persistence paid off for the Spaniards as the Canadians were made to pay up for their inexperience. Captain Melli’s perfect through ball found Iniesta racing into space behind the defence. A brave slide, risking some pain with keeper Alim Karim coming off his line, and the wispy, little marksman steered the ball into the back of the net (0-1, 35’).
Spain nearly got another before the interval when Sergio Garcia picked out Gavilan at the corner of the box. The Valencia man, though, could only smack his cracker against the post (42’).
The Spaniards came out from the half in firm control of the proceedings…or so it seemed. After a flurry of attack, Hume picked up a misplayed pass from Vitolo near midfield. A few quick touches and the Tranmere Rover fired a rocket to the far post and past Riesgo to even the score from just outside the box (1-1, 52’). Then, only minutes later, Hume’s free kick from 20 metres splattered off the post and Chris Lemire somehow failed to knock home the rebound (54’).
Suddenly it was a whole new game, as the North Americans – bolstered by the equaliser – poured forward into attack. And things looked to be going from bad to worse for the Europeans as they were reduced to ten men when Vitolo was shown his second yellow for a foul on Sita-Taty Matondo (66’).
Shortly after, a snapshot from Matondo following a bit of fine dribbling in the Spanish area nearly signaled the arrival of Canada’s second. But the midfielder could only fire into the waiting arms of Riesgo (79’).
With the Canadians unable to take advantage of their numerical superiority and Spain happy to let the clock wind down, the finals saw yet another extra-time session.
The Spaniards, with their big-game experience did not take long in putting an end to the affair. After some confusion in the Canadian penalty area, substitute Arizmendi snuck in, rounded the brave Karim and poked the ball into a gaping net (1-2, 95’).
After the match, Spanish coach Jose Ufarte was brimming with pride. “The first ten minutes we made many errors especially in making passes,” he said. “But after that we showed why we are we are doing so well here at the finals. The red card in the second half complicated things a bit for us, but we showed what we are made of. I am really proud of my players - they showed all the heart in the world today to reach the semi-final.”
Canada coach Dale Mitchell was equally proud of his brave young underdogs. “I couldn’t be more proud of my players’ performance today,” the ex-international said. “But it’s been a great experience to make it this far. It would have been better to go one step farther. Today I think the better side won…but they had a hard time doing it.”