An 86th-minute Andres Iniesta penalty was enough to send Spain jumping for joy into the Final of UAE 2003 after they overcame an impressive Colombian outfit in a well-balanced game at the Rashid stadium, Dubai on Monday. The Europeans will meet Brazil in Friday’s Final - a repeat of the FIFA U-17 World Championship Finland 2003 main event – while Colombia face Argentina in the third-place match on the same day.
Spain, playing in all white, had a chance within the first minute. Iniesta was accurate with his first touch but had not quite turned on full power and his top-corner bound effort was plucked from under the crossbar by Hector Landazuri (1).
Two minutes later the Barcelona midfielder was sending Sergio Garcia through on goal but his club-mate could not get any height on his chip with Landazuri off his line (3).
Colombia were having more of the ball in the early stages but Jose Ufarte’s young charges continued to create the better chances. From near the corner flag, Iniesta bent wickedly another free kick that the busy Landazuri was at pains to keep out, back-pedalling fast to fist over (12). Then, Juanfran released Sergio Garcia after a fine run, but Spain’s lone striker fired over from a tight angle (19).
The South Americans were dominating possession but save for wayward or blocked efforts from Edixon Perea and Victor Montano had little to show for it. However their fine technical skill and ability to keep the ball was slowly frustrating Spain. And after spinning inside the box following fine work down the wing by Yulian Anchico, Perea’s near-post shot finally had Riesgo bending his back (26).
A rash of fouls and stoppages seemed to slow the Cafetero momentum and the Europeans took advantage. Juanfran snatched at a chance when well placed (31) before Iniesta brought a fine save from Landazuri with a low grass-cutter (33). Sergio Garcia next had a couple of chances as Spain built up a head of steam. He volleyed into the side netting with the first after taking a long ball down well on his chest (36) and, from a good position, fired straight at the keeper following fine work from Gabi (38).
From hanging on, Colombia hit back before the break as Riesgo watched well a moving 25-yarder from Oscar Briceno (42) and with the last and perhaps best chance of the half, Perea saw his low shot blocked after a fine flowing move had unlocked the Spanish defence (43).
Colombia started the second period brightly and once again had a fine chance to take the lead. Swivelling unmarked eight yards out, Abel Aguilar could only blast over with Spain failing to clear a corner (50).
The chances were fewer but clearer as the pressure mounted. A Gabi rocket was bravely and brilliantly headed over his own crossbar by the impressive Colombian captain Jose de la Cuesta (52). And Riesgo was next to pull out a stunning save when substitute Javier Araujo hit a low effort destined for the bottom corner (68).
Breaking fast and able to retain possession, the South Americans were now well on top. Montano almost got his third goal of the tournament but, not for the first time in the match, a Spanish leg came from nowhere to block the effort (73).
Ufarte’s boys had lost their earlier swagger as well as their shape but just as it seemed the game was going to penalties, Iniesta, balancing on the edge of the box, found a Colombian hand with his pass and the referee pointed to the spot. The Barcelona starlet stepped up to send the keeper the wrong way to the joy and relief of the bench (1-0, 86).
Rueda’s players had spent everything and while their staunch supporters continued to bang their drums, they collapsed to the ground at the final whistle while Iniesta and co. jubilantly ran over to the Spanish corner of the ground.
“We didn’t take our chances today,” said a disappointed Colombian coach, “But my players can take many positives from the tournament. Reaching the semi-finals may have surprised a few people and I’m sure many of these players will go on to play for the full national side.”
Ufarte complimented the quality of the South American opposition before going on to talk about his own team.
“Many of the players are unknown in Spain and they have come here very enthusiastic ready to make a name for themselves,” he said. “It was a hard-fought win and the experience of appearing in a final against Brazil will do them no end of good.”