It’s the semi-final encounter the Indian public are so enthusiastic about, more than ONE MILLION fans logged on to try and purchase tickets. But for the U17 Brazil and England teams, Wednesday’s meeting in Kolkata is just another high hurdle standing between them and their dreams of standing on top of the world. As they have progressed serenely through their World Cup campaign, more and more football fans back home have taken heed of the achievements of England’s Young Lions.
Now these youngsters face by far their toughest test to date out in India, a romantic last four meeting with Brazil, the nation who have lifted this trophy three times in their history though not since 2003. The winners will face either Spain or Mali in Saturday’s final, also to be held in Kolkata and over 66,000 fans – the lucky minority who managed to get tickets – will be packed into the Salt Lake Stadium.
Here’s everything you need to know about the mouth-watering semi-final that kicks off at 5:00pm in India.
Initially, the venue for the match was Guwahati. But the England players and the Ghana coach lodged complaints on the conditions. So the semifinal was shifted to Kolkata. Torrential rain wreaked havoc on the pitch and rendered it unplayable.
Steve Cooper’s England won all three of their group stage matches. They opened with a 4-0 thrashing of Chile, earned thanks to goals from Callum Hudson-Odoi, Jadon Sancho and Angel Gomes. In their second match against Mexico they cruised into a 3-0 lead thanks to Rhian Brewster, Phil Foden and a Sancho penalty. But Mexico fought back and scored twice to give England something to think about.
Having qualified for the last-16, England’s final group game against Iraq was a dead rubber. But they were professional in their approach and a much-altered team won 4-0 thanks to Gomes, Emile Smith-Rowe and 2 from Danny Loader.
Their last-16 meeting with Japan proved the stiffest test so far as England were held goalless and taken to penalties. There, they converted all five of their spot-kicks before keeper Curtis Anderson saved one to win it.
Paired with the United States in the quarter-finals, England produced a sensational performance, with Brewster scoring a hat-trick in a 4-1 win. Morgan Gibbs-White added the other.
Brazil also emerged from their group with a 100 per cent record, beating Spain 2-1, North Korea 2-0 and Niger 2-0. They started to hit their stride with a 3-0 win over Honduras in the last-16 but had to fight back from a goal down to defeat Germany 2-1 in a tricky quarter-final on Sunday.
Brazil have won the Under-17 World Cup on three occasions. Ronaldinho was the star turn of their 1997 squad that beat Ghana 2-1 in the final, while their 1999 triumph came on penalties against Australia. Their last win came in 2003, with a 1-0 final victory over Spain. They were runners-up in 2005 and finished fourth in 2011.
The Liverpool forward scored a sensational hat-trick against the United States in the last round. Brewster will be one of England’s principal goal threats against Brazil. The 17-year-old joined Liverpool’s academy from Chelsea in 2015. He also scored a brilliant free-kick against Mexico in the group stage.
Foden will need to be on top of his game if England are to break down the Brazilians. Possessing tight and tidy control, the left-footed wide midfielder likes to glide past opponents and dribble the ball. City are certainly excited about the 17-year-old. He even impressed Pep Guardiola in the club’s pre-season tour of the United States. He got on the scoresheet in the win over Mexico and tucked away his penalty in the shoot-out with Japan.
Sao Paulo have rated him so highly that he has a £45million release clause in his contract. Brenner has certainly looked sharp at this tournament with three goals so far. His two strikes against Honduras in the last-16 carried Brazil to victory. Despite being just 17 years of age, he has already appeared in the Sao Paulo first team in league matches.
Paulinho has been in excellent form at these championships. He has scored three of Brazil’s goals, including the winner against Spain in their opening group match. The 17-year-old creative player is also one of the most experienced in the squad. To put it in perspective, he has made 11 first-team appearances for his club Vasco.