FIFA U17 World Cup final: Step up and roar - England show how good their squad is with title on the horizon
The Young Lions showed their collective strength on their road to the final eclipsing missing players.
England have always been a team of big players and big personalities, from the days of the majestic Gary Lineker and Paul Gascoigne to the present day Premier League stars in Wayne Rooney and co, standout names have always been a common thing in an English side and there wasn't much alteration to that norm in this Young Lions squad for the FIFA U17 World Cup either.
Even before the tournament had started the hype and frenzy was an all-time high among the media and the crowd, especially around one of their star names in Jadon Sancho. Sancho, who had just made a £8 million switch from Manchester City to Bundesliga outfit Borussia Dortmund on transfer deadline day, was in the eye of the proverbial media storm since day one, since Dortmund had refused to let him play for his country beyond the group stages.
The Dortmund man, who had yet to make a senior appearance for his club, justified why the German side were so adamant in getting him back and early, as he started the tournament in blistering form, scoring for fun, creating havoc in opposition defences and dazzling the crowd with his performances in the process.
Sancho scored three and assisted a few more in the process outshining most of his teammates and as expected when it was time for him to bid goodbye, coach Steve Cooper was pretty disjointed.
"A little bit disappointing to see him go back home. I can only imagine Dortmund get him back to play for the first team. because I cant think of any other reason to take a player away from a World Cup,” Cooper had said on the eve of their pre-quarterfinal against Japan. But since his first day talking to the media there was a certain point, the coach had been stressing on and it was his belief in his team's talent as a whole to stand out rather than any particular individual and as the tournament progressed he went on proving his point, but with Sancho gone, it was time for another big star to shine, Manchester United's talented academy product Angel Gomes.
Gomes too like his compatriot was under the media microscope since day one, having already made his debut for the United first team and in turn become the youngest ever to play for the club. The attacking midfielder who had made an instant impact coming off the bench in England's first match by scoring a beautiful freekick consequently was played as a super sub in the next match too, before finally starting in the final group game.
After Sancho left, naturally everyone looked up to Gomes to fill his position in the team, but the midfielder wasn't able to justify his start in the knockout match against Japan which the Young Lions later won on penalties, as he struggled to make impact, a game, which he later agreed wasn't one of his best.
It seemed all downhill for England, losing their star man and their best midfielder failing to make an impact. But it was here that Cooper made everyone stand up and take notice of his side as a whole and not scourging for individual talents. The collective strength of the side as a whole stood out against the USA and Brazil on their road to the finals. An amazing display of performances from the back to the front. While defenders Marc Guehi, Jonathan Panzo, Steven Sessegnon and captain Joel Latibeudiere stood as a brick wall throughout the tournament and showed their true strength as the held off attacking threats one after the other, it was England's midfield, boosted further by the grit and determination of their striker Rhian Brewster, which took centre stage.
The likes of Phil Foden and George McEachran stood out as architects in the midfield creating chances at a plenty and dictating the game, while the bursting runs from Hudson-Odoi, Gibbs-White and Oakley-Boothe acted as the perfect support down the sides. Upfront, it became the Brewster show, the Liverpool striker who started off a bit slow in the tournament found his form as the tournament progressed.
An opportunist of a striker, Brewster has great positioning sense and takes up spaces between defenders before exploiting his pace and making a burst through. While he was failing to convert his chances initially, a fact that irked him very much, he went from just one goal to seven in the span of two matches, with two consecutive hattricks.
It wasn't just the starters, Cooper's substitutes too made great impacts. Be it Nya Kirby holding the ball in midfield to Emile Smith Rowe scoring or assisting whenever he got on the pitch, these Young Lions proved that the pack as a whole roared louder than the individual.
The English stepped up and shined with every chance they got, as their grit and guile took them further and further with every match.The side created history by becoming the first England U17 side to ever reach the World Cup final and are now one step away from glory.
If they win the World Cup, they'll etch their name in English footballing folklore, but what stands before the pack are familiar foes in Spain. These two sides have met each other earlier this summer at the U17 Euros, where the Spanish triumphed over them on penalties. With revenge on the cards now, the FIFA U17 World Cup could be all set for a classic finale.