THE DAY REPLAYED – The two finalists at the FIFA U-20 World Cup have been determined, with Brazil and Serbia set to fight for the crown. On FIFA’s 14th annual Anti-Discrimination Day, it was the five-time champions from South America and the dark horses from south-east Europe who were celebrating come the final whistle in their respective matches, and both now have the trophy in their crosshairs. The two semi-finals were vastly different affairs, with the Seleçãozinha scoring early on before easing to a comfortable victory, while Serbia played through 120 minutes of nail-biting action.
On a day filled with tension, emotions and drama, one youngster in particular also emerged as his team’s hero for the second time in New Zealand. Meanwhile, two African sides that were considered rank outsiders prior to the tournament will go head-to-head in the Play-off for Third Place. Both Senegal and Mali may have lost in the semi-finals on Wednesday, but they can go into their last encounter in Auckland on Saturday with their heads held high.
Brazil 5-0 Senegal
Serbia 2-1 Mali (aet)
Goal of the day*Serbia – Mali, 1-1, Youssouf Kone (39’)
*With Serbia 1-0 up and pushing hard for a second at North Harbour Stadium, it appeared to be only a matter of time before they scored again. Yet suddenly, and against the run of play, Mali defender Kone from French club OSC Lille unleashed a fearsome left-footed drive from the inside-left channel, sending a spectacular 30-yard effort rocketing into the far corner. Serbia keeper Predrag Rajkovic, and everyone else in the stadium, could only look on in amazement as the 19-year-old brought his side level.
Memorable moments*The fight against racism
*The gripping encounters in Christchurch and Auckland took place within the framework of FIFA’s 14th Anti-Discrimination Day. Before the national anthems were played the team captains read out a message in their native language, emphasising the importance of the fight against racism. Furthermore, the teams in both stadiums lifted huge banners with the words “Say No To Racism” written on them. The four semi-finalists may have been rivals from different continents - South America, Africa and Europe - but they were united in sending out a clear message. As at every match at the tournament, that was underlined by the captains sharing the Handshake for Peace both before kick-off and after the final whistle.
*Goal drought over
*It is often thought that excitement is guaranteed whenever Brazil take to the pitch, but that is not strictly true. Coach Rogerio Micale’s side failed to score at all in their Round of 16 and quarter-final assignments, and only progressed after a penalty shoot-out each time. In fact, the last time the *Seleçãozinha *found the net in normal time was in their 3-0 triumph over Korea DPR in their final group game in Christchurch. Yet any concerns that Brazil had lost their goalscoring touch were misplaced, as they needed just five minutes to hit the target back in the metropolis on New Zealand’s south island, even if it was an own goal by Senegal’s Andelinou Correa, whose unfortunate deflection took the ball past his own goalkeeper. Nevertheless, it brought an end to a run of 249 minutes without scoring, opening the floodgates for Brazil to grab another four goals and putting them in buoyant mood ahead of the title decider.
*Saponjic strikes again
*It will come as no great surprise to learn that the phrase ‘the future belongs to the young’ has been widely used at the U-20 World Cup, but it is particularly fitting in Serbia’s case. With their semi-final tie against Mali finely poised in extra time, it was the youngest member of their squad, Ivan Saponjic, who headed in the winner. It was not the first time the Partizan Belgrade attacker has come to his team’s rescue, as he also scored one and created another in their last 16 clash with Hungary, turning a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 victory in extra time. In both matches the 17-year-old came off the bench to devastating effect and is establishing a reputation as a man for the big occasion.
The stat 20– Brazil’s rout of Senegal extended their unbeaten run at this tournament to 20 consecutive games, meaning they go one ahead of previous record holders Argentina.
The words“This World Cup has been a great adventure and achievement for us, with this being the first time we have ever qualified at this level. Our goal on arrival was to get out of the group stage and we did that. We have done very well and only lost one match due to our lack of experience. Our team has had a good attitude. In football you have to know how to lose and we expected that one day we would.” Joseph Koto, Senegal coach*.
*Next matchdaySaturday 20 June 2015
*Play-off for Third Place
*Senegal – Mali (13:30, Auckland)
*Brazil – Serbia (17:00, Auckland)