- Dominic Solanke scored twice against Italy to send England into the final
- Despite conceding early in the semi-final, Young Lions fought back to win 3-1
- Solanke puts disappointment of losing to Gli Azzurini in the European qualifiers behind him
The Jeonju World Cup Stadium fell almost silent when Italy’s Riccardo Orsolini scored against England just two minutes into yesterday’s semi-final. The muted reaction stemmed from the team dressed head to toe in white having played two of their group games at that very stadium. Jeonju was effectively home turf as even the neutral fans ardently cheered on the Young Lions.
Conceding early is never ideal, but the burden was intensified for England as they were in uncharted territory, having not fallen behind in any of the five of their previous matches at the tournament. Moreover, their opponents were Italy: the very team that had denied them in the 2016 UEFA European Under-19 Championship semi-final. Despite this latest setback, England initiated wave after wave of attack, yet failed to find an equaliser, as the first half ended 1-0.
“The atmosphere in the dressing room at half-time was calm,” Solanke told FIFA.com after the match. “We were losing but were ahead in possession and the game was far from over. We’d been able to create many chances despite going behind, so we believed we could win if we kept playing the way we had been,” he added.
As predicted, Paul Simpson’s young charges continued to probe the Italian defence and were finally rewarded with two goals from Solanke. Ademola Lookman struck in between as the forward's second in the dying minutes completed the 3-1 victory. Both the scoreline and statistics confirm this was indeed an emphatic win, but how exactly has this England side generated such resilience and fighting spirit?
“I think the key is our determination,” explained Solanke. “We never gave up, even though we were losing. Also, as we clearly remembered the disappointment and frustration of our elimination from last year’s U-19 Championship, we really believed we could win this time. It’s not that we were determined to get revenge [against Italy], but having played them before we knew we'd have a difficult game, so we pressed on and tried our hardest to find a way to win.”
Very few could have predicted how emphatically England have swept aside their opponents en route to the final. However, the country’s historic, maiden appearance in the final of a FIFA U-20 World Cup was not achieved overnight. Rather, it came from years of concerted effort from a core generation of players.
“Though a couple of the lads [from the European qualifiers] couldn’t be here with us today, the current squad is performing so well that we're still able to get good results. The squad was strengthened even further by the players from last year’s European U-17 Championship, so we're looking at nothing short of winning the trophy at Korea Republic 2017,” said Solanke, himself the scorer of four goals at the tournament.
“I’ve seen a couple of Venezuela’s games and, now that there are just the two of us left, I’m sure the upcoming fixture will be very difficult. The plan now is to recover properly and do our homework ahead of the final,” the 19-year-old said.
With Suwon World Cup Stadium set as their next destination, Solanke underlined his resolve and that of everyone in the England camp by saying: “The manager hasn’t said anything different to us yet. He just told us to forget the previous game and focus on the next one - the way we’ve done so far - because if we win this one last game we’d be crowned U-20 champions."