The final awaits a dazzling Brazilian side and an unlikely opponent in a steely Portugal squad.
Mexico were unable to follow in the footsteps of the country’s U-17 side who were recently crowned world champions as they bowed out to a somewhat fortunate Brazilian team. The game was goalless for 80 minutes but was by no means a bore. Both sides played well, with Brazil eventually playing with the typical swift interchanging of the ball between players after a troublesome start.
Gabriel in the Brazilian goal got a kick in the head as he swooped in to steal the ball away from Erick Torres’ feet. The Mexican could have avoided making contact and was booked for his actions. The swollen eye did not hamper Gabriel’s vision however, as he produced a strong save from Ulises Davila after a short corner enabled the Mexican to take a speculative effort from out on the wing.
The Mexican’s could not capitalise on a sluggish start by the Brazilians but they did manage to get the ball in the net. Erick Torres got his head on the ball in the middle of the area, putting it into the corner beyond Gabriel. However, the Chivas youngster was marginally offside and the goal did not stand.
Mexico continued to press but they struggled to finish their chances and paid the price late on. Against the run of play, Brazil took the lead through Henrique. The Sao Paulo striker got to Negueba’s cross ahead of his marker and edged Brazil closer to an appearance in the final.
The game was secured only 4 minutes later after a terrific ball by Danilo cut through a whole in the defence as the Mexicans had doubled up their marking on Henrique. Dudu ran on to meet the ball and played a perfect pass across the goal mouth leaving Henrique to tap the ball in and finish a great move.
In the other Semi Final, Portugal took an early lead in a game that started at a frenetic pace. Gilles Sunu was played in by Antoine Griezmann but his shot was saved by Mika in the Portuguese goal. After 9 minutes, Danilo headed Portugal into the lead from the back post after the goalkeeper was caught in no man’s land.
France had a number of chances through Clement Grenier and Sunu but could not convert any. Mika was in fine form as he took the record for minutes played without conceding at any U-20 World Cup. France must have begun to rue their missed chances when Danilo was felled in the box by Kalidou Koulibaly. Nelson Oliveira stepped up for the penalty and never looked like missing, powering the ball past the ‘keeper who had no chance of saving it despite diving the right way.
The French grew frustrated as the second half wore on and they remained behind. Mika looked unbeatable, but almost had his record broken late on after Gael Kakuta’s impressive footwork on the left wing led to a cross which was deflected goalwards by Danilo. The ball bounced off the bar and back into play but Loic Nego headed wide from just three yards out. It was to be the last opportunity for France as they were eliminated after an impressive campaign.
Will the Brazilians be able to find a way past Mika on Saturday and earn their 5th U-20 World Cup title? It will surely make for an interesting game but you would expect that if Portugal hand as many chances to Brazil as they did France, the title will be heading back to South America. You can stream the game, and the third-place playoff, live on the FIFA website on Saturday evening.
Read more from Tom at his excellent blog Purple Patch