The FIFA Under-17 World Cup has taken India by storm, and be it Goa's Fatorda stadium or the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi, thousands of spectators are flocking to the venues to watch the finest youngsters from around the globe create an enthralling footballing atmosphere.
However, with big guns like Brazil, Spain and Germany taking their time to acclamatise, fans' enthusiasm hasn't been rewarded with much sustained aesthetic football. Until England took to the pitch at Kolkata's Yuva Bharati Krirangan on Sunday, that is.
All eyes were on Jadon Sancho, the 17-year-old winger whose participation in the tournament had been a doubt until the last minute, and the Borussia Dortmund player did not disappoint. Chile started the first attacking move of the evening, with left winger Antonio Diaz creating a half-chance for surprise inclusion Mauro Morales, who fluffed his shot.
Unfortunately for 'La Roja', that would be their only sniff at goal in the first half as the 'Young Lions' took control of the narrative from the fifth minute onwards. Sancho, with the ball at his feet for the first time, pulled away four Chilean defenders towards himself, and set up an unmarked Callum Hudson-Odoi. The Chelsea youngster calmly slotted the ball past a diving Julio Borquez and England took an early lead.
Coming into the tournament, England was an outside contender, on the back of a strong showing at the U-17 European championships, but their performance against Chile indicated why the other football powerhouses must take them seriously.
Chile's midfield seemed non-existent at times — although Hernan Caputto's side were wasteful in possession and the ball inadvertently ended up with English players. But the ease with which the likes of George McEachrahn and Phil Foden circulated possession among themselves proved that their competency has been honed far beyond their years.
The link-up play between Hudson-Odoi and Sancho was surreal, with the two interchanging positions with ease and opening up space for Rhian Brewster to exploit, though the Liverpool forward was off his game on Sunday and mishit a few easy chances.
England played a fluid 4-3-3, which allowed them to dominate the midfield channels; McEachrahn's passing range and Foden's vision meant there kept picking pockets of space between the opposition's defence and midfield. Combine that with Panzo's overlapping runs on the left flank, Sancho's guile with the ball and Hudson-Odoi's strong physical presence up top, and any defence in the world would be a little wary.
And Chile weren't doing themselves any favour, with lapses in concentration and careless passing; only Gaston Zuniga and Antonio Diaz even attempted to take the game to England. The fact that the scoreline read 1-0 at half-time was testament to Borquez's goalkeeping ability and Brewster's inefficiency in front of goal.
The gulf in class was reflected in the scoreline in the second half, when Sancho doubled and then tripled England's lead within a span of 10 minutes. Although Chile seemed more settled in the second half, England kept creating chances and the introduction of Angel Gomes only widened the gulf between the two sides. With less than 15 minutes to go, the Manchester United prodigy found Brewster with a gem of a pass. The latter beat the offside trap, and with only Borquez in his path, looked set to score. But the Chilean goalie's lunging tackle stopped him 25 yards from goal. It came at a dearer cost for Caputto’s side though — Borquez saw a straight red and left the field in tears, and Chile, having already used up all three substitutions, were forced to play out the rest of the game with 10 men and striker Branco Provoste in goal.
Gomes took the ensuing free-kick himself, and his stunning strike made it 4-0, with Provoste rooted to the spot.
The game was won. Chilean players already had their shoulders slumped, waiting for the full-time whistle, but the English kept creating chances deep into stoppage time. Gibbs-White even hit the post in the dying stages of the game.
Steve Cooper was visibly pleased and proud of his team. "We played in the style that we want our England teams to play. We got the result we intended to get, so there are lot of positives from the game. We scored some great goals but we also kept a clean sheet," he said.
England also proved their performance at the U-17 European championship earlier this year was no fluke, and that a dizzying array of talent all across the pitch is coming through the English youth ranks. While the senior squad keeps getting berated by fans and pundits alike for their repeated failures on the international stage, the youth side is capturing the imagination.
In a week marked by dreary displays by the England senior squad, as they huffed and puffed to 1-0 victories in their two final FIFA World Cup qualifiers, the U-17 side showed how it is done.
Published Date: Oct 09, 2017 01:35 pm | Updated Date: Oct 09, 2017 01:35 pm