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Brazil beats Spain to claim FIFA U-17 title

FIFA.com – The final day of football at Finland 2003 saw Brazil triumph over courageous Spain 1-0 in Helsinki’s Töölö stadium to become World Champions yet again. The victory sees the Auriverde become the first side to win the top junior crown three times – echoing their elders’ groundbreaking FIFA World Cup glories of 33 years ago at Mexico 1970.

Argentina did themselves proud in the third-place play-off -handing impressive neighbours Colombia a 5-4 shootout loss after finishing 90 minutes tangled at 1-1.

Though the eventful Final produced the strike that tied the all-time record for most goals at a FIFA U-17 World Championship (117 – Egypt 97), the match did not live up to the raucous goalscoring standards set here in Finland over the past three weeks.

The only goal of the match – the first meeting between Brazil and Spain in FIFA U-17 World Championship history – came after only seven minutes and against the early run of play. Joao’s curling free kick splattered against the post and fell perfectly for Leonardo, who slammed the ball with conviction past a scrambling Mandaluniz in the Spanish net.

The Spaniards, proud and defiant to the last, spent the rest of the match scrapping and battling to drag themselves back from the precipice and keep alive their impressive record of come-from-behind victories. But despite taking firm control of the second half, the magical moment never materialised for the boisterous Iberians in a bruising encounter.

Cesc – Spain’s golden goal semi-final hero – had a chance to repeat his dramatic match-winning feats in the dying moments. But his snapshot from 15 yards sailed harmlessly into the open arms of outstanding Brazilian keeper Bruno as Spanish dreams of first-time finals glory finally faded into the cold Helsinki night. Though the Barcelona midfielder was weighed down by the adidas Golden Shoe and Golden Ball trophies after the match (awarded to the topscorer and best player respectively) he could hardly bring himself to lift the metallic mementos – seeing out of the corner of his eye the object of true desire: the FIFA U-17 World Championship trophy.

Spain coach Juan Santisteban truly sees the 16-year-old’s massive potential. “In Cesc we have discovered a great talent for Spain,” he said in an emotional post-match press conference.

When the final whistle went, the Brazilian bench erupted in unadulterated jubilation – leaping for the heavens in a moment of pure footballing ecstasy. The Spanish players fell to their knees as the inevitable tragedy and euphoria of the beautiful game played itself out once more on the pitch. Tears of joy mixed with the agonising anguish of the vanquished as Finland waved goodbye to its frenzied month of fabulous football.

Following the mad celebrations, the Brazilian players, coaches and officials knelt in a circle, joined hands and gave praise to the heavens. All the Spaniards could do was lean on each other, silent, still and strong, wondering where it all went wrong.

“The result was more important than the show today,” said Brazil boss Paqueta after the match. “In the South American qualifiers we were the best team, but we came second. Today, the result was the most important thing.”

While the Brazilians danced with the unmistakable vigour of youth and victory on the platform, Santisteban demanded his young team hold their heads high as they looked on in envy with silver dangling from their necks.

“We deserved to get more out of the match… we dominated large periods,” said Santisteban shaking his head. “It’s not the first time I’ve lost a final and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone…the players are crying their eyes out in the dressing room.”

Blood brothers Colombia and Argentina got the last day of Finland 2003 off to a friendly start. Before the match Argentine coach Hugo Tocalli and Colombia boss Eduardo Lara exchanged kisses, embraces and a bit of chit-chat on the pitch in a casual contrast to the raw tension of the Final.

But all thoughts of generous friendship and brotherly love were banished when the whistle went. Both sides battled tooth-and-nail in a free-flowing festival of football. But as often happens in the beautiful game, the two sides could not be separated. A Diego Lagos goal in only the fourth minute had the Argentines on their way early. But Colombia – playing some of their best football of the finals – finally burst through and grabbed the equaliser from a Carlos Hidalgo penalty. The goal was his fifth of the tournament – even with Cesc.

Despite near miss after near miss, the match went to football’s version of Russian roulette- the penalty shootout.

Ezequiel Garay and Lautaro Formica both coolly put their kicks away. Hidalgo and Jose Otalvaro both responded in kind. But when Faurlin stepped up to the spot, he nearly sent the ball clear out of Helsinki. Two saves from Ustari saved his blushes and gave Argentina their best-ever finish at a FIFA U-17 World Championship.

After the match, Tocalli was feeling rueful, wondering about what might have been for his fantastic team. “I am sure some of these players will go on to great things,” he said. “But the team could have achieved more here in Finland… and that’s what hurts a coach most.”

Even with the loss, Colombia achieved their best-ever finish at a FIFA finals. “I am so proud of my team,” Lara said. “All of Colombia is proud.”

And as the Brazilian drums beat on through the night outside the Töölö ground, all of Finland too can be proud to have hosted such a spectacle of football.

Playoff third/fourth – Argentina 0-0 Colombia (Argentina wins on penalties 5-4)

Final – Brazil 1-0 Spain


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