Tactical astuteness of Steve Cooper and the audience play a huge role as a man-vs-man technically better England brushed aside Spain from a 2-0 lead to a 5-2 win.
The FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017 ended on real high thanks to a thrilling finale between European heavyweights England and Spain, with the Three Lions announcing themselves as the best national youth team in the world with an amazing 5-2 thrashing of La Roja. It wasn’t an easy road by any means for Steve Cooper’s team, who were rattled by an early Spanish onslaught and went 0-2 down in 31 minutes, but mounted a surreal come-back to score four in the 2nd half and end the tournament with the trophy.
Spain read the English gameplay in the beginning
England started the match with a lot of momentum from their thumping victory over Brazil on Wednesday in Kolkata and almost scored in the 1st minute itself! The young Lions looked full of energy and kept pressing high up to regain possession which looked to be their downfall in the first half.
Spain decrypted their game quickly and allowed the opposition to waste their stamina as the minutes wore on, with the Three Lions having no answers to Spain’s counter-attacks at a point in time. La Roja scored two in a matter of twenty minutes through Sergio Gomez and another devastating counter-attack in the 20th minute was only undone by the heavy touch of Mohamed Moukhliss.
In reality, England showed some of their inexperience in wasting all their energy in trying to intercept the ball high-up in the pitch from the Spanish team, whose “tiki-taka” style of football perfectly neutralizes something like that. Steve Cooper’s team were being denied time and again by the Spanish team and when Gomez scored a stunning volley to make it 2-0 in the 30th minute, not many could’ve comprehended the come-back that was to come.
The tactical astuteness of Steve Cooper
England were shaken up by those two goals but started to get back their rhythm towards the end of the first half, when Steve Cooper made one of his important tactical changes. He took a gamble in letting Steven Sessegnon, who was having a nightmare defending against Gomez and the over-lapping Spanish left-back Miranda, overlap and produce a brilliant cross for Rhian Brewster to head in and get one back for the Lions.
Cooper’s astute tactical changes came to full effect once the second half kicked-off when England were not that eager to win the ball all around the pitch anymore. Unlike the first half when they chased after almost every ball, they were patient and were happy with letting Spain get some possession and only press them once La Roja entered their third. This allowed them to produce counter-attacks of their own and draw the Spanish team forward as well.
The Positional brilliance of Hudson-Odoi and Phil Foden
The most vital tactical changes in the second half were that revolving around the wingers, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Phil Foden. Both wingers were being marked out of the game in the first half (Hudson-Odoi only had one real chance when his shot struck the post) but a bit of tinkering to their game-plays proved to be an extremely fortuitous for the Three Lions.
Hudson-Odoi was looking more intent on cutting in and taking shots in the first half as compared to the second period when he decided to take on the Spanish right-back Mateu Jaume and rather than drifting in, he tried to go past him wide left and create opportunities.
Hudson-Odoi quickly proved to be too quick and strong for Jaume, with the Chelsea youth academy product going past his man almost every single time and proved to be a vital cog to the miraculous comeback. Another important tactical change was to bring Phil Foden, who was finding it difficult on the right-wing, to a more central role as he was now working in the hole and trying to support the midfielders and create opportunities for the team.
The Attacking mindset that took the game away
Steven Sessegnon would then be deployed as a make-shift wing-back for England which proved to be a terrific choice as the right-back delivered another amazing pass for Morgan Gibbs-White to equalize from, with George McEachran and Taylor Oakley-Boothe just making sure that Spain couldn’t threaten on the counter-attack. Foden was revelling in his new free role as he was becoming impossible to mark for any Spanish player and surprised everyone with his darting run to complete the come-back for the Three Lions.
Kolkata added leverage to the Three Lions
The conditions obviously played its part in determining this result, as England were well-adapted to the conditions of Kolkata having played 5 of their 6 games in the city. Many fans may think Kolkata is a “mini-Brazil” in terms of support, but England made the city their home in these few weeks and perfectly blended into the conditions which played to their advantage. Spain hadn’t played a single match in the awfully humid conditions of Kolkata and their exhaustion and lack of concentration towards the end was quite evident.
Hudson-Odoi and Foden played creator and scorer for the 4th and 5th goals of the game which just made it a trashing of La Roja, proving how amazingly well their tactical tinkering at half-time had worked out as compared to their inability to impress in the first half. The Three Lions attacked through the wings which proved to be too hot for Spain to handle with these young lads proving how well they can adapt to different challenges in tough conditions.
All in all, it was definitely an English masterclass for the major period of the match and even after falling flat in the first third of the match, The Three Lions roared back to prove how much of an amazing batch of players England has in its hands right now and the stunning pay-off of the tactical changes by Steve Cooper in the second half, which resulted in four goals in the second half proved that the future of English football is looking brighter than ever.