The FIFA Under-20s World Cup: Last 16 To Last 4

by | Jun 7, 2017

So, for all my talk of the diversity of successful nations at the FIFA Under-20s World Cup, we have one all-European and one all-South American semi-final. But what larks we’ve had getting there…

Second Round

Venezuela 1 Japan 0 (after extra-time, score at 90 minutes…well…guess)

A match between two such intricate passing teams produced a winning goal of shocking simplicity, Yangel Herrera’s 108th-minute header from a corner with no defender on the post.

Japan started slowly, as per, giving Adalberto Penaranda ample space for his trick-and-flicks. They MUST have spotted him, with all that peroxide-blond hair. And he NEEDS spotting. “Owned by the Pozzo family,” he is “technically a Watford player,” which sounds oxymoronic given Watford’s season. On-loan at Malaga since January, these finals are a bigger shop window for him than for anyone else.

Japan’s star, Ritsu Doan, hit the bar with a terrific 29th-minute free-kick. But the major contributors were their fans. For those tired of semi-atonal non-stop “singing,” the poor second half was a godsend. “Even the Japanese crowd has gone to sleep,” Eurosport’s Russell Osman noted, as extra-time loomed.

And Venezuela deservedly prevailed. Senior manager, Rafael Dudamel, is the Under-20s manager too, showing how seriously their federation is taking these finals. To good effect.

Korean Republic 1 Portugal 3

Without warning, Portugal became another “golden generation,” to dismantle the hosts. Xadas and Bruno Costa, from 25 yards, turned the crowd noise off by the 27th minute. And the game benefited hugely from Portugal defending their two-nil lead by trying to increase it. This, and Korea’s energetic efforts, produced a fantastic second-half.

Xadas became Lionel Messi on 69 minutes (mazy run through the defence and pinpoint-precision left-foot shot). But while Lee Sang-Heon’s curling 81st-minute shot sparked genuine comeback hopes, Portugal constantly threatened on the break. No taking it to the corner flag for them. And a win as merited and stylish as it was unexpected.

Uruguay 1 Saudi Arabia 0

A rare stinker. I could barely remember this game’s decisive moment, Nicolas de la Cruz’s 50th-minute penalty after Abdulrahman Aldosari’s handball. After previous promise, Uruguay have, alas, become typically Uruguay. Well-organised with a hint of menace and a bald, nuggety midfield destroyer (de la Cruz). While the less-menacing Saudis lacked the expected intensity from a team on the brink of a rare international tournament quarter-final…until an almighty bundle on 85 minutes.

Video technology took three minutes to decide that 19 Saudi accusations of “flailing” Uruguay elbows were as unfounded as you’d expect when most were from keeper Amin Albukhari, 45 yards away.  And eventually only one, Saudi, player was cautioned.

Anything else, I’ve forgotten.

England 2 Costa Rica 1

A failure to make technical, physical and organisational superiority count nearly gave limited Costa Rica a shot at extra-time, after England conceded their first goal of the finals that wasn’t pinged into their own net from 46 yards by their centre-half. And there may have been extra-time but for some top-notch Video Assistant Referee (VAR) work.

Ademola Lookman put England ahead on 35 minutes. And the unexpectedly English-sounding Ian Smith unexpectedly “equalised” after half-time. Not for the first time, the VARs correctly aided England, as Esteban Espinosa was offside by a deep breath. Lookman was equally close to a hat-trick, slamming a free-kick against the bar before his composed, semi-cheeky left-foot finish on 65 minutes, which summarised England’s confidence.

They were a bag of nerves late-on. And Randall Leal’s 89th-minute penalty rebound after Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ duff handball and Freddie Woodman’s penalty save, made stoppage-time implausibly uncomfortable, although England would surely have re-asserted control in extra-time. Best overall display of the second round, though.

Zambia 4 Germany 3

You gotta love Zambia. Their attacking flair, their comically impetuous long-range shooting and their ability to lose a 3-1 lead on 89 minutes yet STILL win in extra-time.

They recklessly let Jonas Arweiler complete mediocre Germany’s startling comeback with normal time’s last kick, although Suat Serdar’s backheel to make it 3-2 was unstoppably outstanding. But only Zambia would carry on regardless during extra-time…yet take the ball to the corner flag with FIVE extra-time minutes remaining…and STILL nearly be denied by another German last kick.

Philipp Ochs’ surname aptly described Germany’s attacking prowess. But his goal separated the sides at half-time before Zambia swept into a merited 3-1 lead on 86 minutes. Cue mayhem.

Extra-time was a rare advert for the concept of extra-time. Germany, creditably, didn’t play for penalties, though perhaps they should have. Yet if Serdar’s instep was lethal as his backheel, it would have finished 4-4. Instead, Shemmy Mayembe, the seventh different scorer, thumped home as good a winner as the match it won. You gotta love Zambia.

Mexico 1 Senegal 0

It was “caught-on camera” cheating. Mexico’s Uriel Untuna clutched his face after being hit on the chest, suggesting he’d skipped anatomy lessons at school, before looking up to check that his “assailant,” Senegal’s Alioune Gueye had received the sought-after punishment. All seen on telly and therefore by the VARs. Yet no action taken.

Gueye’s 72nd-minute dismissal considerably enlivened a previously cagey/crap contest. Not backing themselves to hold on for penalties, Senegal went for it, leaving the cliched “gaps at the back” which Mexico’s Ronaldo Cisneros eventually exploited in the 89th-minute.

Senegal were a bit sawn-off by the goal too. Ibrahima Ndiaye’s free-kick a minute earlier was deflected narrowly wide…for a goalkick. And as the VARs could review incidents back to “how possession was gained at the start of” the relevant “phase in play,” maybe they should have.

Mexico had needed two goalkeeping howlers and a 94th-minute winner to overcome Vanuatu. And now they were quarter-finalists. Blimey.

France 1 Italy 2

The seeds of multi-talented France’s shock defeat were sown after their goal. Jean-Kevin Augustin semi-scuffed a poor penalty under Italian keeper Andrea Zaccagno, yet began a staring contest with the beaten custodian, who was properly unimpressed. Thus, when the second half briefly became an Augustin/Zaccagno shot-and-save battle, there was only going to be one winner, Zaccagno going batshit-crazy after a fabulous save Augustin’s literally “best shot.”

Augustin’s “Pannenka” penalty against Vietnam’s crossbar was a perfect exposition, and should have been due warning, of his and his team’s over-confidence. However, it was not heeded

The increasingly impressive Riccardo Orsolini superbly volleyed Italy ahead on 23 minutes, 14 before Augustin’s leveller. Yet France only sought top gear after Giuseppe Panico belied his name in front of goal again, eight minutes after half-time. Thereafter, France were superb, driven initially by Augustin. Better still, it was too late, as Italy defended the old “Italian way” and Zaccagno declared “No Paseron.” In Italian, mind.

The 3,300 in Cheonan and Eurosport Player’s “audience,” watching while nonentities played already-forgotten tennis matches on Eurosport 1 & 2, possibly wanted “another half-hour of this.” But Italy serving the arrogant French right was probably just as satisfying.

United States 6 (SIX) New Zealand 0

Argumentative and…ahem…’direct’ though New Zealand were, they did not deserve to go out like…THIS.

The TV cameras were back on Jurgen Klinsmann as he watched son Jonathan watch this game largely from a distance, while his outfield colleagues queued up to score; the ease with which the USA picked off the visibly-tiring All-Whites, who were only one-down after an hour, summed up by goal number five.

Wonderfully-named sub Auston Trusty was furious when James McGarry denied him a goal with a stunning last-ditch tackle. So, he decided to score from the resultant corner and hurtle towards the TV cameras while doing that “cool” dab celebration. Coach Tab Ramos had his head in his hands, in wonder at the goal or in horror at Trusty’s antics, or both.

The ease of this victory meant little beyond how colossally-awful Honduras were to DESERVEDLY lose to New Zealand. However, you couldn’t but like a team with “Glad” and “Trusty” among their scorers.


Venezuela 2 United States 1 (after extra-time, 0-0 after 90 minutes)

But for Klinsmann, Venezuela would have been certain semi-finalists about an hour before they were. All jokes about effective Klinsmann diving aside, Jurgen’s boy was nearly a match-winner, as USA centre-back Erik Palmer-Brown headed the 90 minutes’ last touch wide of a semi-gaping goal, after Klinsmann won his personal battle with Venezuela’s beanpole-striker Sergio Cordova.

Cordova actually DID “everything but score,” hitting the bar, Klinsmann’s left-hand glove, Klinsmann’s right-hand glove and, in his darkest thoughts, possibly the VAR who called him offside when he netted on 20 minutes. But, Robson noted, “it can’t be a co-incidence that he’s missed so many chances.”

Until the prospect of extra-time grabbed his attention, Robson’s phrase of the day was “their starting position is all wrong,” which described the States’ perma-sloppy defending, as full-backs failed to cut out crosses, or make them difficult, and centre-backs got the wrong side of whoever arrived in the penalty box.

Klinsmann’s first two saves were from Nahuel Ferraresi and peroxide-king Penaranda, who were the eventual extra-time scorers. A plethora of Venezuelans ran halfway down the tunnel celebrating their second goal, on 114 minutes. And they were still there metaphorically when Jeremy Ebobisse headed home in the next attack.

A USA win would have been a bigger smash-and-grab than Trump’s election victory, though. And no electoral college was going to deny Venezuela.

Portugal 2 Uruguay 2 (after extra-time, 1-1 after 90 minutes, Uruguay win 5-4 on penalties)

Eurosport’s Wayne Boyce did well to squeeze in a reference to Uruguay being “impressive defensively” before Portugal’s Xander Silva destroyed the narrative after 55 seconds. And with his crib sheet torn-up, Boyce was fortunate that the subsequent game wasn’t a stinker.

Uruguay levelled within 15 minutes and defended “normally” until another “surprise” Portuguese goal just before half-time, the previously sense-of-directionless Diogo Goncalves locating the top corner from 22 yards.

Uruguay levelled again just after half-time when accidentally standing on someone’s foot became a foul (more on that later) and wayward spot-kicker Nicolas de la Cruz made way for Federico Valverde to net the resultant penalty. But the game petered out dismally, letting Robson whine, as per, about extra-time, despite commentating on an exciting 30 minutes in the previous quarter-final

The shoot-out was worth the wait, with the, yes, “ABBA” format (sides taking two consecutive penalties after the first kick) adding slivers of drama to the sought-after fairness.

Eight mostly-clinical, successful kicks preceded four honkers. Unfeasibly large Uruguayan Rodrigo Amaral VISIBLY gained weight since playing earlier in the tournament. His passing during his substitute appearance here was sublime. Alas, “putting his weight behind it” nearly sent his penalty to Japan.

Uruguay’s not-at-all-annoying keeper Santiago Mele leapt along his line like he was on Amaral’s weight-loss programme. And, eventually, Mele bumped into two Portuguese penalties before Santiago Bueno’s winning kick…two players named after Chile’s capital sending Uruguay through.

Italy 3 Zambia 2 (after extra-time, 2-2 after 90 minutes)

What do you give the game that had everything? Its own article. Two hundred-ish words couldn’t do justice to the half-time interval, let alone this feast of fabulous football. It had the lot, bar a streaker taking a winning shoot-out penalty and no-one objecting or noticing. Stunning goals, stunning goalkeeping, VAR controversy-and-a-half, non-VAR controversy, late drama, even later drama

And if Zambia kicked-off as many neutrals’ favourites, Italy made the transition of support relatively easy with a brave, tactically astute recovery from an early goal and, mega-controversially, a man down for the final 76 of the 120 minutes.

Full report later, then. An excuse to watch the while game again? You betcha.

Mexico 0 England 1

England rarely get this far. Only once, indeed, without Eurosport’s Stewart Robson in the team, he KEEPS telling us. But for 70 minutes they seemed gripped by a quarter-final “phobia,” which would have proved their downfall if Mexico weren’t gripped by an equally-ruinous goal-phobia.

For 15 minutes, England displayed their now-trademark confidence. Then, until half-time, nothing. Presumably fired by a half-time, changing-room rocket, England could/should have had three goals between 47 and 50 minutes. Perhaps fortunately, one was enough.

Dominic Solanke converted Lewis Cook’s, well…anybody’s, pass of the tournament. Joaquim Esquivel cleared Alan Cervantes’ inadvertent deflection of Keiran Dowell’s shot off the line. Josh Onomah’s fired against the post. Then, until the potential game-changer, nothing. From England, that is.

Mexico did little with lots of possession. Then, on 73 minutes, Onomah glided inside Juan Aguayo, accidentally trod on Aguayo’s foot and…received his second booking of the game, remarkably the ONLY two bookings of the game. Onomah’s suspension aside, the worst consequence of this was letting Boyce reference “a Mexican wave of pressure.”

England defended in their reduced numbers and relied on their counter-attacking forte.  Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s finishing was why he started as a sub. But Mexico’s goal-phobia struck. Ronaldo Cisneros turned to jelly ten yards out, Francisco Venegas lifted his shot towards SAN Francisco, and his next pass should have put the lively Uriel Antuna clean through…but didn’t. Although Antuna would probably have missed anyway.


England look likely tournament winners, more so since playing relatively badly against Mexico yet being the only quarter-finalists to win in 90 minutes. Italy’s Riccardo Zaccagno is goalkeeper of the tournament, though, and England’s Adam Armstrong will need more accuracy in his shooting (i.e. some) to beat him.

You’d fancy Venezuela, except for the two extra-time periods they’ve endured, on top of the xx games in xx days everyone has played, and the two suspended centre-halves they’ll miss. Uruguay are Uruguay, which could be good, bad, ugly or all three. Or not. But if Rodrigo Amaral is the passer of the tournament, so his…cough…’surprising’ weight in the quarter-final might not matter.

England to beat Venezuela in the final, then. Italy to beat Uruguay in the third-place match. No, YOU bloody hell, don’t tempt fate.

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