The venue may have changed due to the weather, but the expectation is the same at the U17 World Cup in a semifinal clash between two classic sides
“The greatest betrayal in sporting history”, say the Merseysiders.
The semi-final between England and Portugal at the 1966 World Cup was controversially shifted from Goodison Park to Wembley at the last moment. Everton fans still lament the fact that they were denied the opportunity to see the clash by their own officials.
Stanley Rous was the FIFA president then. The change of venue at the last moment was an effort to unsettle the Portuguese team, led by Eusebio’s stupendous performances on the field. And the hosts, England, were successful in their endeavour since Portugal had to go to London by bus from Liverpool – a five hour journey – to play a World Cup semifinal. They did not even have time to practice, before the all-important match.
Change of venue in U17 World Cup
It was necessary. The pitch at the Indira Gandhi Stadium in Guwahati was unplayable following torrential rain in the North-Eastern State of Assam. Both the teams saw the pitch and were against playing on it, especially Brazil. FIFA officials were convinced. Kolkata was the best alternative available.
Vivekananda Yuva Bharati Krirangan (VYBK) in Kolkata had already successfully hosted eight matches and is easily the best venue for the ongoing U17 World Cup. It has the biggest capacity of more than 66,000. From Guwahati, it takes only around an hour and 20 minutes to reach Kolkata. The officials had no hesitation in shifting the venue.
Their only worry was to hand over tickets to the fans in Kolkata within 48 hours and they tried their best to do so. Supporters were ready for the challenge. They were in the e-queue for hours and then in the stadium counter from Tuesday morning to get their confirmed tickets to see the semifinal.
Change in England’s style
Traditionally, English football has preferred to be direct with long balls, inviting crosses from both flanks, long clearances from the goalkeepers as well as the defenders and so on.
But the colts at the U17 World Cup appeared to be affected by English football’s ‘continental-virus’. Not only had they earned their passage to the final four for the first time but also did it in a perfect ‘southern’ style of football.
England began the tournament against Chile with 64 percent ball possession and continued with 56, 63 and 62 percent respectively versus Mexico, Iraq and Japan. The three lions had 556 passes compared to Japan’s 337 in the round of sixteen. Emerging talents from the academies of the more famed Premier League clubs seem to be more influenced by La Masia.
The youngsters scored 15 goals, the highest so far in the tournament (with France and Mali) and conceded just three in five matches. The only team they have failed to score against is Japan, when the match went to penalties which England won 5-3.
The changed semifinal will be their fifth match in Kolkata, the highest by any team in a single venue in this World Cup.
Brazil more organised in defense
Twice Brazil have faced European opponents and twice they have come back from a goal behind to win 2-1, versus Spain and Germany respectively. Brazil plays a classic 4-3-3. Wing-backs assist the midfielders and the forwards in attack.
As usual, Brazil have their angles right while splitting the opponent’s defence. But more interestingly, this Brazil team is quick to be reorganise their defence and win back the control of the match. Against Spain in the second half and against Germany in the first 45 minutes, Brazil looked vulnerable, yet did not concede more than one goal in each of those halves.
1-day advantage for England?
The English are the least travelled team, playing only the last match against the USA in Goa. In 1966, however, they had played all seven games at Wembley and if they are in the final, they will have played six at the VYBK.
The schedule has been hectic for Brazil. They had one less day of rest for the quarter-final as well as the semi-final. Having played against Germany late in the evening, they took a morning flight to Guwahati on October 23 and had to come back to Kolkata boarding another flight at 22.30 hours. Rest was surely the last thing in their minds during these Kolkata-Guwahati-Kolkata flights on the same day.
In the senior World Cup, the last two ties between these two teams in 1970 and 2002 respectively, one of the English goalkeepers – Gordon Banks – became famous for an astonishing save from a Pele header while the other – David Seaman – was remembered for an infamous blunder from a Ronaldinho free kick.
Both goalkeepers from these colts will have to be at their best in the semi-final to help their respective teams book a place in the final on the same ground, three days later.