A Fernandinho headed goal late in the day at Abu Dhabi's Zayed Sports City stadium sent Brazil whooping and leaping to their fourth FIFA World Youth Championship title and left the Spaniards shaking their heads in dismay at what might have been. Marcos Paquetá's young thoroughbreds had a fight on their hands to wrestle the trophy from a valiant Spain, who showed tremendous pride and self-belief to stay in the running despite being a man down for almost the entire game.
Neither side were taking prisoners in a first half full of surprises - especially the Spaniards, who in a matter of minutes had lost their captain and defensive mainstay. A long through ball from Daniel Carvalho put Nilmar in with a chance to go one-on-one with Riesgo. Melli's overzealous attempt to put a stop to the move ended with the Brazilian on the floor and Spaniard heading for the earliest of early baths (4').
"It was a harsh decision to my mind. I really don't understand why the referee showed him the red card. My players didn't deserved to be punished like that," said a disappointed José Ufarte after the Final.
The South Americans set about making the most of the difference in numbers and almost went ahead thanks to wonder wing-back Daniel. The defender, who plays for Spanish side Sevilla CF, leapt acrobatically to whip out a spectacular overhead kick inside the box, but Riesgo showed lightning reflexes to push the ball onto the crossbar (7'). José Ufarte's brave charges replied on the counterattack and soon it was Brazilian keeper Jefferson's turn to show his stuff and drop comfortably to gather a Sergio Garcia shot (8').
The Auriverde pressure was taking its toll on a jittery Spain still reeling from the unexpected body blow. Riesgo and Carlos Garcia made a meal of a harmless aerial ball and came close to giving away an own goal (11'). Soon after, Carvalho showed a clean pair of heels down the left and put in a cross that picked out Nilmar, but the forward fluffed his lines and the chance went begging (15').
With the storm subsiding, the Iberians looked to slow things down and saw more of the ball thanks to the silky skills of Andrés Iniesta in the centre of the park and Juanfran's incisive incursions down the right flank. "We came close a few times and we had our chances, but it's a tough call to go a man down in the Final," the Barcelona playmaker was to say afterwards.
It was brief respite, however. As both coaches had predicted in the run-up to the big day, a dead-ball situation almost opened the scoring. Daniel sent over an in-swinging corner identical to the one that led to the semi-final goal against Argentina, but Adailton's header smacked against the bar as a stranded Riesgo could only look on (28'). "If people paid more attention to these little things, they'd see that 52 per cent of goals come from set pieces. We do a lot of work on that aspect," Paquetá said after the game.
Iniesta hit back for the Spaniards with a breakaway run down the left, but his shot was gathered by a well-placed Jefferson (33'). Kléber had the last chance of the half, but his header from six yards only found Riesgo's safe hands (42').
The second 45 minutes began with the Brazilians piling on the pressure in much the same way they had before the break. However, Jefferson was the first keeper to be called upon, getting down well to a Vitolo missile heading for his bottom left-hand corner (49'). Kléber teamed up neatly in the Brazilian attack and broke through at the other end, rounding Riesgo as he scurried off his line. The South American had pushed it too far, though, and was left without an angle. His chip back across goal was safely smothered by the Spanish keeper (59').
he Iberians were running hard to compensate for the loss of their captain, but still found the strength and imagination to trouble Jefferson some more. FC Barcelona buddies Iniesta and García are clearly on the same wavelength when it comes to the beautiful game and made life hard for the Brazilian defensive line. First the forward, and then the gifted playmaker, had two clear runs on goal, but neither good get shots in before their markers closed them down.
The drama stepped up a gear as the Final wore on, with the Spaniards looking increasingly shaky under the Brazilian onslaught. The Iberians, however, drew appreciative applause from the neutrals in the stadium with their dogged spirit and heroics on the break. Substitute Gavilán slipped free down the left and knocked it back for the oncoming Gabi. Eduardo Alcides tried to clear from the resulting ricochet and almost put the ball in the back of his own net (79').
The match had extra-time written all over it, but the Brazilians pounced to snatch victory just when everyone present thought UAE 2003 was going to be settled by sudden death. A corner kick swung over from the left by Daniel found substitute Fernandinho among a mass of players at the near post. The Atlético Paranaense player wrestled free of his marker and with a carbon copy of Dudu's header in the semi-final, finally got one past Riesgo (0-1; 87'). The number 19 went suitably wild, but his joy was to be short-lived. Only seconds later he was given a red card for his part in a tussle involving several players from both teams (90').
Try as they might, the Spaniards were out of time. First, substitute Manu, and then Gavilán after him, both missed opportunities that could have changed the course of a Final that was almost always going Brazil's way.
"I'm not happy about the team's performance, but all that has all been erased by the absolute joy this triumph gives us. Having said that, we must congratulate Spain for the huge effort they put in," said Paquetá with the World Championship trophy now in the bag. Ufarte, meanwhile, was upset at the referee's decision, but preferred to stress "the dedication and self-esteem displayed by my boys."