Latibeaudiere looking ahead as final looms
Joel Latibeaudiere missed his penalty in the UEFA U-17 EURO final against Spain
He will captain an England side looking for revenge in the India 2017 final
"It's a moment that perhaps made me stronger," he says One phrase has cropped up more than any other during England press conferences, repeated almost like a mantra by coach Steve Cooper: "I believe in my players." With his side now through to the final of the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017, that show of faith has clearly been vindicated.
As England prepare to tackle Spain for the trophy, Cooper returned to his favourite theme during his final pre-match media briefing. "I believe in all my players, and my relationship with each of them is just as strong in the bad moments as in the good ones," he said. "Not only because they're good players, but also because they're good lads. Joel is the perfect example of how we want an England player to act, during both the highs and lows."
The "Joel" in question was Joel Latibeaudiere, his captain, sat next to Cooper in front of around 50 journalists. The centre-back dropped his gaze to the floor with a touch of shyness as he listened to the compliment, perhaps recalling some of those standout moments – the "highs" including his six excellent performances on Indian soil. As for the "lows", Cooper was surely referencing England's defeat in the final of the UEFA European U-17 Championship earlier this year, when Saturday's opponents Spain prevailed.
The Young Lions led 1-0 and 2-1 in that game only to concede an equaliser in the sixth minute of added time – before they let the title slip from their grasp on penalties. Latibeaudiere was one of just two England players to fail from the spot that day, along with Rhian Brewster. "Missing a penalty was obviously a tough moment, but the rest of the team gave me a huge amount of support," explained the Manchester City player. "It's a moment that perhaps made me a better player today. I feel tougher mentally."
"It made him stronger," added Cooper, whose belief in Latibeaudiere remains undimmed. Should Saturday's reunion also go the distance, the England coach would happily turn to his skipper once again.
***England and penalties in India:
One shoot-out victory, in the Round of 16 against Japan
One penalty won and converted by Rhian Brewster A philosophy: "Penalties are a part of international football. That's just something the players and staff have to go through. They're a piece of the jigsaw and part of the overall performance. The only thing you can do, like with any other aspect of the game, is to be prepared and know how to overcome the obstacle. If it happens tomorrow, we'll be ready. If it happens later down the line in the next tournament, we'll be ready as well." – Steve Cooper
Not that anyone in the England camp wants to linger on that heartbreaking shoot-out loss to La Rojita* in Croatia. "We learned a lot in that match, and looking back we're proud of how we played and what we achieved because we were at the same level, but that's history now," said Cooper. "We never look back. We only look ahead to what's in front of us."
Should Latibeaudiere find himself placing the ball down on the spot against Spain, he too will only look ahead. And beyond a goalkeeper awaiting his kick, he may just make out the thrilling prospect of revenge and a taste of World Cup glory.