FIFA U17 World Cup: Spain send France home from their "homeground" in Guwahati
Penalty specialist Abel Ruiz's last-minute spot-kick ends France's World Cup journey, as Spain set up a quarterfinal clash with Iran.
Spain eliminated France from the FIFA U17 World Cup in the Round of 16 as they defeated the Les Bleus 2-1 in Guwahati to seal a quarterfinal spot. The game began brightly with end to end action happening in the first few minutes. After the early adrenaline rush was over, both the teams seemed to be more settled and tried to play their normal game but it did look like both the teams had a cautious approach to the game.
It was the 32nd minute when the deadlock was finally broken and the French went ahead by virtue of a Lenny Pintor goal but the lead wasn't sustained for a longer period as Spain equalised within 12 minutes via a Miranda header from a Ferran Torres cross to make it 1-1.
Both the teams went into the lemon break at even-stevens with the scoreline reading 1-1. The second half began on a bright note for the Spanish as they seemed to be having more of the ball and were able to slice open the French defence with relative ease. Had Spain not missed some sitters, the scoreline would have been telling a different tale right now.
With the game destined to be heading towards the penalty shootout, both the coaches seemed to be making arrangements according to it, but it did seem that Spain wanted to end the game in regulation time more than their opponents.
Then came the dreaded moment for the French defence. It was the 90th minute when Spain’s number 17 Jose Lara was brought down inside the penalty box by the France number 4 Oumar Solet. The referee didn't hesitate to point towards the penalty spot and the Spanish skipper Abel Ruiz, the prolific striker from Barcelona, didn't miss the chance to book his team’s place in the quarterfinals.
“This is the most important penalty I have ever scored,” an ecstatic Ruiz said after the game. The La Masia product even mentioned that since he scored a penalty against France in their last encounter in May during the quarterfinals of the UEFA U17 Championships in Croatia, it was a sort of déjà vu moment for him as the goalkeeper was the same and he was playing against the same French team.
He also provided an insight into his mantra for penalties: “I just pick up the ball, place the ball, look into the 'keeper's eye, and do what I always do.” Ruiz did mention that he isn't overconfident before penalties as he has missed some too, the most recent of them being in the semifinals of the UEFA U17 Championships against Germany. The Spanish record holder for most number of goals in the U17 age group did say that he doesn't have any problem adjusting to the system of the national team or going back and adjusting to the Barcelona system as in both the system he has a similar role (that of a centre-forward).
The French coach Lionel Rouxel looked a dejected man as his side were beaten by the Spanish twice within five months but he did mention that it was a closely fought game: “The gap in quality between the Spanish team and my team is reduced, compared to what it was in May.”
When asked about his thoughts on being beaten by the Spanish twice inside a year and if there was a big gap in quality, he added: “This Spain team is going to go a long way in this World Cup as they have a perfectly balanced squad.”
Rouxel did mention that Spain kept possession of the ball much better than his team, specially in the second half, which in turn made his charges do more of the running which had an effect on the players as they were tiring towards the end of the match and that could have been a factor which led to the Spanish being awarded a penalty late on in the game. Overall the French coach seemed satisfied with his team performance in the tournament and hoped to see some of his players play professionally very soon.
“As long as we keep creating chances, I will not worry about the finishing, as I have faith in my forwards to score goals,” the Spain gaffer Santi Denia said when asked if he was worried about the conversion rate of his forwards as his team’s strikers missed some sitters.
“Our changes made us win the game as Jose Lara won us the penalty,” was what the Spanish coach had to say when asked about the numerous changes that he made during the game. He went on to add that these small changes are what helps a team win a World Cup as these changes help the team adapt to the situation that they are in.
He did say that the loss to Brazil sort of helped the team as the whole team got together had a chat and focused more on winning the tournament.
He even brushed aside claims that Spain were trying to avoid the shootout, which was evident as they threw the kitchen sink at the French during the dying moments of the game. Denia explained that it was all figured out in which they had planned to attack the French defence with more force with a hope of scoring a winner but there was no sort of negative feelings regarding the shootouts as in games of this stature penalty shootouts can happen and they were mentally prepared for it.