Revenge, it is said, is a big motivator in sports. If so, England have plenty of motivation on their plate as they seek to win their first-ever Fifa Under-17 World Cup in Kolkata on Sunday.
Their Iberian opponents, Spain, also looking for a maiden title at this level, have already one-upped England, pipping them to the U-17 Euros held in Croatia earlier this summer.
On that occasion, it ended 2-2 in extra time with Callum Hudson-Odoi and Phil Foden scoring for the English while Mateu Jaume and Nacho Diaz responded for the Spanish. Spain’s hero that day was Nacho Diaz, who came off the bench to grab the equalising goal with the last kick of the game but he has barely featured in India.
Joel Latibeaudiere, captain of the England team and Rhian Brewster, striker supreme, missed a penalty each, resulting in a 4-1 reversal on spot-kicks. Come Saturday, both will have a point to prove.
An intriguing battle
“It made me stronger as a player, and the team was around me to help. We learnt from the game, that’s gone, and now we are looking for the game tomorrow and we are preparing for that,” said a pensive-looking Latibeaudiere ahead of what promises to be a cracking final.
This English team is not all just about the attack, but a team looking to express themselves on the pitch. Marc Guehi and the Manchester City youngster, Latibeaudiere, have kept it tight at the back, and have acted as enablers, allowing the likes of Phil Foden to seize control in the middle of the pitch.
Spain’s style, by contrast, hasn’t been the smoothest; more a case of overload, less of tiki-taka. There have been fantastic goals, with Ferran Torres scoring a contender for goal of the tournament against Iran in the quarter-finals.
Antonio Blanco and Mohamed Moukhliss have been quietly solid, but not spectacular in midfield as Spain’s front four have been scrappy at times, always managing to get the goals though.
Ruiz vs Brewster
Indeed, Spain haven’t had the most perfect of tournaments, a 2-1 loss in their opener to Brazil and needing a last-minute penalty against France to sneak through to the quarters. They have scored three in their last two matches, however and a large part of that is down to their opportunistic striker, Abel Ruiz.
The no. 9 from Barcelona is part of a front four and has found himself in good positions, capitalising on tiny mistakes to punish opponents. He has six goals and will be ably supported by Cesar Gelabert, Sergio Gomes and Torres.
Opposing Ruiz will be Rhian Brewster, who leads the golden boot race with seven goals, including two hat-tricks in his last two games. Unlike Ruiz, the Liverpool youth product Brewster is more explosive with a neat turn of pace and has the ability to stretch the play.
Shadowed by Jadon Sancho until the arrival of the knockouts, Brewster came into his own against US and Brazil as Steve Cooper’s team have scored three goals on five separate occasions. Spain will have to keep Brewster and the English out but that is easier said than done.
Flair vs Tiki-Taka
In terms of playing style, England have earned lavish praise from one and all, some choosing to compare them to Brazil while others have indicated that their pass-and-slice approach resembles more of a Spanish template followed at senior levels.
When asked if the English played a version of possession domination, Santiago Denia, the 43-year old coach of Spain said, “They play good football. England has picked players who can play with the ball. No pressure for us and we are challenging ourselves to take it up a notch. We have to play better than semifinals and we are working on it. We have to attack better and defend better and vice versa.”
The Spanish must not be discounted as they have overcome some difficult tests with flying colours. Against a physical Mali in Navi Mumbai, La Rojita scored two early goals to put the Africans to the sword. The west Africans never truly recovered from that.
Spain have lost the final thrice in 1991, 2003 and 2007 and will be looking to buck the trend. In 2003, a certain Cesc Fabregas lit up the tournament, winning the Golden Ball and Golden Boot, only to fall to Brazil by a solitary goal.
England have never made the final before but in a summer where they have won the Under-19 Euros and the Under-20 World Cup, the Welshman Cooper will hope that the trend remains in their favour.
They will start favourites, only by the tiniest of margins and form, but count Spain out at your own peril. As this tournament in India has shown, it is futile to predict any outcome.