England’s incredible year in youth competition continued on Saturday as the Under-17’s pulled off a remarkable victory against Spain in the final of the World Cup in India. The trophy will join a host of others collected in 2017 so far including the Under-19’s European Championships and the Under-20’s World Cup.
The match was an exact repeat of the Under-17’s European Championships that took place in May. England looked certain to win the match as they were 2-1 up but six minutes into injury time substitute Nacho Diaz scored a header forcing the game into extra time.
Neither team managed to find the back of the net and so the game progressed to a penalty shootout. Naturally, fans became nervous at the sight of spot kicks, knowing only too well how badly the men’s team seem to perform in them. Just like the Under-21’s side in the Semi-Finals of their European Championships in June against Germany, the Under-17’s lost, only scoring with one of their penalties.
After picking themselves up and training for a few months it was then time to travel to India for the World Cup. A competition that had never been won in this age bracket by England. Their group draw was fortunate in being quite straightforward, playing games against Iraq, Mexico and Chile. The two favourites, Brazil and Spain, found themselves fighting for the top spot in their group.
After the dust settled on all three games England found themselves top of their group with nine points out of a possible nine. 11 goals were scored by seven different England players and expectations began to grow with the side truly looking like challengers for the title.
Controversy struck before their game against Japan as one of England’s star players, Jaden Sancho, was recalled by Borussia Dortmund. Formally a Manchester City youth player, he left the club in the hopes of playing first team football. This sparked a massive debate about whether England youth products should move to leagues that will better nurture their talent and give them crucial play time.
Sancho missed the remainder of the tournament and his reward for doing so was six minutes at the end of a 2-2 draw with Eintracht Frankfurt. The team played on but failed to find the back of the net in regulation or additional time and the game went to penalties. With the memory of the defeat to Spain still fresh in their mind they scored the penalty winning 5-3 and progressing to the Quarter-Finals.
When the team arrived in Margao it was the United States who waited for them. Unlike England though the US had already lost a game so far in the tournament to Colombia. As the full-time whistle blew they lost another one and were eliminated as the three lion’s roared to victory 4-1. Liverpool’s Rhian Brewster scored a hat-trick with the third, a penalty, being scored six minutes into injury time.
Not wanting to outdo himself Brewster scored another hat-trick in the Semi-Final against Brazil in a 3-1 win. England had less possession and fewer opportunities in the game but took their chances when they got them, knocking out one of the favourites.
And so they travelled to the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata, where 67,000 fans packed in to see the game. For many of the players on both sides, this will be the biggest game they will ever play. Their opponents, Spain, arrived confident they could repeat the result earlier in the year.
The game initially looked like it was heading for disaster. Two goals in the opening 30 minutes by Serio Gomez pointed to a potential hammering for England. As half-time approached they needed something positive to take into the dressing room and once again Rhian Brewster came to the rescue just before the whistle blew to bring the game back to 2-1.
In the second half England looked a changed team, with Spain unable to cope. 12 minutes into the second half Steven Sessegnon provided his fifth assist, linking up with Morgan Gibbs White to tie the game up. The team knew that if they kept up the same quality they would emerge victorious and before the game ended three more goals were scored; Marc Geuhi got his first goal of the tournament and Philip Foden grabbed two.
Spain didn’t have a response and England ran out 5-2 winners. The World Cup was a tremendous success for both the England youth team and for football in India, with a whopping 1.3 million people attending the games, the highest in history.
The question now is can these youth successes be translated in men’s national trophies? The answer to that solely depends on how many first team games they can play. Tottenham’s Harry Winks and Liverpool’s Joe Gomez are both becoming staples in their respective teams’ sides, but not all Premier League sides are as nurturing of youth talent. Perhaps more players should take the same risk as Sancho, choosing foreign leagues for a higher chance of taking their game to the next level.