The Final of the FIFA World Youth Championship UAE 2003 will be the spitting image of the world U17 event staged in Finland last year. The Samba Boys out-danced their eternal rivals Argentina in Abu Dhabi, while Spain outmanoeuvred the valiant Colombians in Dubai. So after an eight-year absence, the Seleçao go through to their sixth youth tournament final, while the Furia Roja are one game away from repeating their triumph of four years ago in Nigeria. Spain and Brazil’s big title fight will take place on 19 December in Abu Dhabi, while the Argentines and Colombians will contest the consolation prize of third place on the podium.
Abu Dhabi, 6pm, Brazil 1 Argentina 0
The players and coaching staff from both sides had been unequivocal in their assertion that the clasico would be a fiercely contested match, and they were as good as their word. One only had to witness Brazil coach Marcos Paqueta at the start of the match, positioning his magnetic pawns on a football pitch shaped like a scheming chess grand master. Or Javier Mascherano in the thick of things, his countenance bloodied after being caught by an elbow with barely fifteen minutes gone.
The result was an excessive emphasis on tactics, reminiscent of a display game at times. But at least the atmosphere was superb, in a Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium bursting at the seams with South American supporters, not to mention numerous locals, their loyalties evenly divided between Argentina and Brazil. Unsurprisingly in view of the deadlock, the breakthrough came courtesy of a dead ball situation, when Dudu rose highest at the near post to send the ball into the back of the net with a fine flicked header (1-0, 65’). The goal, his fourth of the event so far, was the signal for the Samba Boys to sit back and defend like seasoned professionals.
But the Albicelestes kept on believing right to the end, and the side which have come from behind to snatch three of their five matches so far very nearly pulled off another heist. Deep into added time, Franco Cangele struck the post, while Hugo Colace lashed a half-volley into high into the stands. But fortune did not favour the brave Argentines on this occasion, and when the final whistle sounded, Dudu’s tears of joy contrasted starkly with those of sadness shed by Mascherano. Brazil had qualified for their sixth FIFA World Youth Championship Final in 13 attempts, while Argentina were dethroned. p>Dubai, 9pm, Spain 1 Colombia 0
All of which made a striking contrast with the scene at Dubai’s Rashid Stadium, where the stands had a more sombre tone than at Abu Dhabi and less of an all-round hothouse atmosphere. The tiny band of Colombian supporters could nonetheless lay claim to being the tournament’s liveliest, as throughout the ninety minutes they continued to dance, sing and drive their team onward to the rhythm of their drums.
On the field of play though, the contest had a more open aspect than the one in Abu Dhabi. The Spanish dominated possession of the ball and carved out a string of chances, due in no small part to the inventiveness of Sergio Garcia, scorer of two goals so far in the event. But the Colombian keeper Hector Landazuri produced another goalkeeping masterclass, providing a firm foundation for the counter-attacking game which his teammates have down to a fine art. Several promising chances consequently came the way of Edixon Perea, but his end-product lacked the necessary precision.
In the second half, the Colombians came out of their shell a little more, which led to gilt-edged opportunities for Abel Aguilar and Javier Araujo, but they failed to convert. Just like in Abu Dhabi, it was a dead ball situation that eventually shattered the stalemate. After a mix-up in the Colombian area, Frank De Bleekere awarded a penalty to the Spaniards for handball. Andrès Iniesta stepped up to score his third goal of the competition, sending his side through to the Final in the process (1-0, 87’). Cue unbounded joy in the Spanish ranks, but deep despair among the Colombians. But that’s football…