An opening clash between the best of Brazil and Spain at the U17 level did not disappoint and shows that the tactical future of football is on the right path
Dubbed as “The Match”, the Group D opener in Kochi had everything one could wish to see in a football contest involving the young players. Brazil versus Spain means free flowing football versus tiki-taka.
Traditionally, Brazil is known to be the country that excels in playing “with the ball’. After the meteoric rise of Barcelona and subsequently of Spain, ball-possession became more important in Spanish football.
Spain lost the game 1-2 but showed glimpses of what they will do with other opponents in the group. They started the match in a hurry in both halves and rattled the Brazilian defence, especially using the right flank where the Brazilian left back Weverson, probably the weakest link in the Selecao defence, had a torrid time dealing with the Valencia product, Ferran Torres.
Namesake of the more famed Fernando, Ferran had two defence-splitting passes for his teammates inside the first five minutes. His captain, the La Masia trainee Abel Ruiz was denied by the brilliant Brazilian shot-stopper Brazao from the first pass. And the second went in when Wesley, under pressure from Mohamed Moukhliss, hurriedly put the ball in his own net, in an attempt to clear.
The tone was set. The initial nervousness of the Brazil colts vanished. They took the control of the ball intelligently. Their two midfielders, the No10 Alan and the No8 Antonio, started orchestrating the show with two talented forwards Lincoln and Paulinho operating dangerously in the Spanish attacking third.
In the absence of his more famous Flamengo-mate Vinicius, Lincoln was offered a chance to equalise from a terrible mistake by Spanish forward Diego Pampin inside the box and he obliged. In the added injury time of the first-half, Antonio delightfully split the Spanish defence and Paulinho lofted the ball over the Spanish goalie Alvaro in the nick of time.
The European champions had a wonderful second half. They had 11 corners in the game and two free kicks from dangerous positions just outside the 18-yard box on which they failed to capitalise. The Spanish coach did acknowledge that they have to improve their set piece planning. You cannot defeat Brazil if you cannot take these opportunities, simple.
What do you want to see in a youth World Cup?
How the budding footballers execute their skills in a real match, to be precise. That was on the plate in ‘the match’. Secondly, how they perform under pressure: in both these aspects, ‘the match’ truly lived up to its billing.
In the middle of the first half when suddenly the Brazilians were all over the field, players from Barcelona, Valencia and Real Madrid played six or seven quick passes so confidently among themselves, the paying public could not hide their joy. Perfect tiki-taka from the Spanish colts.
Despite the win, Brazil have to be worried about their left-back and defence overall. They did not concede a second goal, but they allowed the opponent to run the show which, under normal circumstances, is unlike Brazil. Spain’s only worry lies converting chances into goals. Those intricate passes and the runs and the dribbles, most importantly, the will to play football, not sky-ball, differentiates the Southerners from the Northerners in football.
Kudos to the youth of Brazil and Spain who literally showed that football is and will continue to be under the control of a safer pair of technically excellent legs.