The Estadio Monumental Isidro Romero Carbo is a wonderful backdrop against which to lift a trophy. The iconic venue, home to Ecuador’s Barcelona in the city of Guayaquil, is flanked on one side by an estuary, which its rivers directly flow to the Pacific Ocean, and on the other by lush vegetation on a rising mountainside. Young footballers in that corner of South America must dream of showing their talents on that particular stage.
In August 1995, youngsters from around the world had the opportunity to do so, as the stadium played host to a number of games at the 1995 FIFA U-17 World Cup, including the final between Ghana and Brazil.
That finale was a fitting end to a pulsating tournament, in which several names which remain familiar to this day, Harry Kewell, Pablo Aimar and Esteban Cambiasso to name but three, made their bow on the global stage. However, it was to be the Ghanaians, who had won the inaugural U-17 tournament in 1991 (following a change from U-16 format) and the Brazilians, in their first final at this level, who reached that stunning setting to battle it out for the global U-17 crown.
The Black Starlets boasted a brilliant team, which had won every one of their five games en route to the final. They had also shared their ten goals out up to the decider, with only Abu Iddrisu and Dini Kamara scoring more than once. Brazil, who had struck 11 times on their way to the final, also had a strong team ethic, with only Rodrigo having scored more than once in Ecuador before the showdown in Guayaquil.
It proved to be an enthralling final in front of 30,000 expectant fans at the Estadio Monumental. After a terse opening period, the game exploded into life six minutes before the break. Joseph Ansah found space on the Ghanaian right after a set piece was only half-cleared by the Brazilian defence. Ansah’s dipping long-range drive was parried by Julio Cesar into the path of the onrushing Baba Sule, who lobbed the Brazil goalkeeper.
The game’s standout moment came just before the break. A long kick downfield by Ghana goalkeeper Michael Abu found its way to Awudu Issaka, who danced past a couple of Brazilian challenges before poking the ball towards Abu Iddrisu. The Ghana No9’s control saw the ball bounce up on the turf invitingly and the forward needed no second invitation, with Iddrisu thumping a sensational arcing strike into the top corner beyond the despairing Julio Cesar. The goalscorer sprinted towards the Ghana bench in elation, joined in a celebratory dance by his team-mates and members of the coaching staff – some in traditional African dress.
*Goal glut for Ghanaians *After the break, Juan reduced the deficit for the bewildered Brazilians, acrobatically volleying home after a corner kick led to a scramble in the Ghana penalty area. However, minutes later, the Ghanaians restored their two-goal lead with a ruthless counter attack. The Brazilians surrendered possession with a lackadaisical pass that was pounced upon by Patrick Allotey. He burst out of defence, played a swift one-two with Iddrisu and spread the play wide to Dini Kamara, who sprinted clear down the Ghanaian right. Kamara cut the ball back across the Brazilian penalty area, leaving the onrushing Emmanuel Bentil with a straightforward tap-in. The game had seen four goals in just ten minutes of action either side of half time.
Despite Marco Antonio’s breakaway goal in injury time, the Black Starlets held on to reclaim the title they had surrendered two years previously.
The Brazilians would get their revenge at U-17 level two years later, as Ghana reached their fourth consecutive final only to fall to a 2-1 defeat to A Seleção. The majority of the Ghanaians who played in the 1995 final in Ecuador, though, had already made a step up to a more senior age group, with seven of the 11 starting finalists playing a part in the country’s run to the 1997 FIFA U-20 World Cup semi-finals.
Of the defeated finalists in Ecuador, revenge was a long time coming for Juan and Julio Cesar, who faced Stephen Appiah (an unused substitute in 1995), as the senior Brazil side saw off Ghana with ease in a 3-0 victory at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™. Despite the Brazilians' dominance at senior level in Germany, Appiah and Co will always have that trip to South America for posterity, when they were the African kings of Guayaquil.