English challenge for Spain

Euro champs will have to be on their toes to clear final hurdle

English challenge for Spain

In what will be a repeat of this year’s U-17 European Championships, England will lock horns with fellow Europeans Spain in the final of the FIFA U-17 World Cup at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan on Saturday.

Neither of the teams has won the world title at this level and that could probably act as an extra motivating factor as they look to join the exclusive club of champions alongside Nigeria, Brazil, Ghana, Mexico, Soviet Union, Saudi Arabia, France and Switzerland here.

The Young Lions sent the three-time champions Brazil packing at this venue to reach their maiden final on Wednesday while Spain beat last edition’s runners-up Mali by an identical margin in Mumbai. If those two matches are anything to go by, one can be assured of a cracking contest on Saturday.

In the semifinal, it was Rhian Brewster who took the Brazilians by storm with a sensational hat-trick, his second in as many matches, as England handed the pre-tournament favourites a thumping 3-1 defeat to cruise into their first-ever final at this level.

Brewster, who had also scored a hat-trick in his side’s decimation of the United States in the quarterfinals, will be the key for Steve Cooper’s side if they are to lay their hands on the trophy. The Liverpool academy player relies heavily on his speed and vision to run behind the defenders and get into goal-scoring positions. Moreover, his off-the-ball movements make it easy for his team-mates to feed him with quality opportunities.

The triple strikes in the last two games mean Brewster leads the race for the golden boot with seven goals to his name and the London-born player will be eager to wrap up the competition in style.

However, having tasted defeat to Spain at the U-17 Euros, England should know that it won’t be easy to get past the Spanish side if they allow the La Rojita’s to control the midfield. It won’t be a surprise if England throw numbers into the midfield and try to beat Spain at their own game. But at the U-17 World Cup, the Spaniards looked to have evolved as a team. They play a hybrid of tiki-taka where the short sleek passing game is combined with pacy attacks from the flanks.

Their wingers Cesar Gelabert and Ferran Torres tend to hug the touchline to spread the game and make the most of their pace to beat their marker and spray in juicy crosses for a waiting Abel Ruiz in the opposition’s box. And with an ever-improving defence, Spain will be a tough nut to crack.

Against a physically imposing Mali in the semis, the Spanish defence played out of their skin to stop the likes of Lassana N’Diaye and Hadji Drame. Playing a high line to avoid the Malians get anywhere close to the goal and cramped them in the midfield with players pouncing on free balls at the first instant.

If this trend continues, one can expect a perfect exhibition of quality football in what will be a fitting finale to the first-ever World Cup to be held in a country that feeds off English and Spanish football.

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