Kolkata: A riveting contest is on the cards when England and Spain lock horns in the first-ever all-European summit clash of the FIFA Under-17 World Cup which will have a new champion today after a record-breaking tournament.
After three weeks of high intensity and top quality football, only England and Spain remain in contention for the top honour. And both sides will be seeking their maiden title when they come out in front of the full-capacity 66,000-odd crowd at the Salt Lake Stadium today.
A goal feast can be expected from two of the most aggressive sides in the tournament. While England have scored 18 goals so far, Spain have 15 to their credit. England are playing in their maiden final in their fourth appearance while Spain have featured as losing finalists on three earlier occasions in 1991, 2003 and 2007. It will be a repeat of the European U-17 Championship match in Croatia in May when Spain had emerged winners on a penalty shootout after a 2-2 stalemate in the regulation time and the Three Lions will be looking for revenge today.
A win for England will also herald an unprecedented year for their colts as their Under-20 team had won the World Cup in Korea earlier this year while their Under-19 side were the European champions. In its bid to wake up a “sleeping giant”, the FIFA had allotted this U-17 World Cup to India in December 2013, but this edition is turning out to be record-breaking one in terms of most spectator attendance and number of goals.
With two matches — the third place playoff and the final– remaining, the total number of spectators from the 50 matches so far has already logged 1,224,027 which is a mere 6949 less than the earlier record attendance of 1,230,976 in the first edition of the tournament in China in 1985.
With the Kolkata crowd expected to turn up in large numbers in the third place match between Brazil and Mali as well, this tournament is set to become the most attended of any FIFA U-17 or U-20 tournament. It is likely to go past the 13,09,929 spectator mark that turned up in the 2011 Colombia edition of the FIFA U-20 World Cup. This India edition is also set to become the highest scoring tournament with 170 goals from 50 matches so far, just two goals behind the earlier highest of 172 during the 2013 edition in the United Arab Emirates. With three more goals from the remaining two matches, this edition will have the best goal average since the format was changed in 2007 to a 24-team affair from the earlier 16-team participation.
On form, there is very little to differentiate between the two though England may start slight favourites having shocked pre-tournament favourites Brazil in the semifinals while also having played all but one of their six earlier matches at the same stadium.
England also is the only unbeaten side in the tournament while Spain had lost to Brazil in their campaign-opener. England’s only blemish so far had been their inability to beat Japan in the regulation time in the pre-quarterfinals though they won through penalty shootout. Spain and England have now met three times in the final of European U-17 Championships. The ‘La Rojita’ were triumphant in 2007, before the Three Lions took their revenge three years later. The Spaniards once more emerged victorious in May, but only after a nail-biting climax.
In the European final, England had almost won the title but Spain grabbed an equaliser from the last kick of the match in the injury-added time before prevailing over their opponents in the penalty shootout 4-1. Both sides enjoy possessing the ball for long but Spain, famous for their tika-taka style, will no doubt have more possession as they have been doing all through the tournament.
There will also be some individual battles to fight between star England striker Rhian Brewster and his Spain counterpart and captain Abel Ruiz both of who have single- handedly taken their sides to the final.
Brewster, who sent Brazil packing with his second hat-trick of the tournament, and Ruiz, whose double strike against Mali sealed a summit clash spot for Spain, have scored seven and six goals respectively and they are in the running for the Golden Boot Award.
England are expected to play their tried and tested 4-2- 3-1 formation with Curtis Anderson between the sticks behind the back four ably marshaled by captain Joel Latibeaudiere, Marc Guehi, Jonathan Panzo and Steven Sessegnon.
Coach Steve Cooper is expected to start with Tashan Oakley Boothe and George McEachran at the central midfield while putting Callum Hudson Odoi and Philip Foden at the flanks. Morgan Gibbs White should be behind center forward Brewster.
Spain, packed with players from famous academies of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, started with 4-3-3 formation against Brazil and continued it till the pre-quarterfinal match against France. But coach Santiago Deni later changed it to 4-2-3-1 formation – the same as England — in the quarterfinals and semifinals.
Juan Miranda, Hugo Guillamon, Victor Chust and Mateu Jaume Morey have been the preferred back four for coach Deni while Cesar Gelabert, Antonio Blanco and Mohamed Moukhliss would be at the midfield to support center forward Ruiz and wingers Sergio Gomez and Ferran Torres.
Valencia starlet Torres has been in great form with his mesmerizing runs down on the right flank while Real Madrid youth team player Gelabert has been the assist master of his side. Ruiz scored both his goals against Mali in the semifinals from assists by Gelabert.
England: Curtis Anderson, Josef Bursik, William Crelin; Timothy Eyoma, Joel Latibeaudiere, Marc Guehi, Jonathan Panzo, Lewis Gibson, Steven Sessegnon, Morgan Gibbs White, Tashan Oakley Boothe; Conor Gallagher, Angel Gomes, Nya Kirby, George McEachran; Jadon Sancho, Callum Hudson Odoi, Philip Foden, Emile Smith Rowe, Rhian Brewster, Daniel Loader.
Spain: Alvaro Fernandez, Mateu Jaume, Juan Miranda, Hugo Guillamon, Victor Chust, Antonio Blanco, Ferran Torres, Mohamed Moukhliss, Abel Ruiz, Sergio Gomez, Nacho Diaz, Pedro Ruiz. Marc Vidal, Alvaro Garcia, Eric Garcia, Diego Pampin, Jose Lara, Cesar Gelabert, Carlos Beitia, Victor Perea, Alfonso Pastor.
Match Starts at 8pm.