The world's most-talented young players gave India a memorable show of high quality football on the field as the country showcased its organizational skills in a near-flawless and record-breaking FIFA Under-17 World Cup across six cities, which culminated with England clinching the title in Kolkata on Saturday.
Packed with players from academies of leading English Premier League clubs, England grabbed their maiden title in their fourth appearance after beating Spain 5-2 in the highest-scoring and, perhaps, best final of all FIFA Under-17 World Cups till date.
In a tournament of many firsts, it was befitting that the two best technically sound teams met in the final – a first all-European one.
Both sides provided an exhibition of enthralling possession football and attacking play.
Legendary Dutchman Marco van Basten, currently FIFA Chief Officer for Technical Development, hailed the tournament for its high quality on the field and technical level of the players.
England avenged their loss to Spain in the European Championships final in May and became only the ninth country to clinch the title.
The triumph meant the 'Three Lions' rule the world at the age-group level, their Under-20 side having won the World Cup in Korea earlier this year.
The Steve Cooper-coached side also finished as the only unbeaten team in the tournament. They defeated strong sides like Mexico, the United States and Brazil before teaching Spain a lesson on attacking football in the second session of the summit clash in front of a full-to-the-brim Salt Lake Stadium.
Spain yet again ended up runners-up for the fourth time, after 1991, 2003 and 2007. With most of their starting eleven coming from the academies of the two leading La Liga sides -- Barcelona and Real Madrid -- the Santiago Denia-coached team was packed with talented and technically top-class players. But they were simply overwhelmed by an exceptional England, who recovered from two-goal deficit with a brilliant exhibition of attacking football.
Three-time champions Brazil disappointed at the business end of the tournament and were beaten by a more attackingly-efficient England in the semi-finals.
They started as pre-tournament and crowd favourites and showed glimpses of their natural flair, but, surprisingly, lacked finishing. They even struggled to find the opposition net against the likes of Niger and North Korea.
Manchester City’s Philip Foden, who was praised by first team coach Pep Guardiola, mesmerised Indian fans all through the tournament and was Spain’s tormentor in the final with his speed, technique and finishing abilities.
Fittingly, Foden, who scored twice in the final, was adjudged the player of the tournament and awarded the Golden Ball, while his team-mate Rhian Brewster, who scored two hat-tricks in the tournament to almost single-handedly send the USA and Brazil packing, emerged the top scorer with eight goals and received the Golden Boot.
The home side, as expected, could not get past the group stage, losing all their matches -- against Ghana, Colombia and the USA. But they fought well with good organisation and came close to grabbing their first point before losing 1-2 to Colombia as Jeakson Singh became the first Indian to score a World Cup goal.
Coach Luis Norton de Matos conceded that there was a huge gap between his side and other countries. FIFA president Gianni Infantino also pointed out the same though he said the gap was not that much.
Off the field, the tournament was a resounding success, which Infantino acknowledged after presiding over FIFA’s Council Meeting ahead of the final.
The Council was held for the time at the venue of a FIFA Under-17 World Cup host country.
This edition of the Under-17 World Cup turned out to be a milestone event as it became the most attended and highest scoring tournament in its history. It was also the most attended men's age-group World Cup ever, shattering the most attendance record of FIFA’s Under-20 World Cup.
With 66684 turning up to see the summit clash in Kolkata, the total attendance at the six host venues logged 1347143, which is 116,167 more than the earlier record attendance of 1,230,976, set in the first edition in China in 1985.
The total number of spectators in this FIFA Under-17 World Cup was also 37,214 more than the record of highest attendance in an Under-20 World Cup -- that of 1,309,929 in Colombia in 2011.
The India edition also became the highest scoring tournament, with 177 goals from 52 matches, bettering the earlier highest of 172, during the 2013 United Arab Emirates.
It also has the highest goal average of 3.40 per match since the tournament format was changed in 2007 to a 24-team affair from the earlier 16-team participation.
The only blemish the tournament had, if there was one, was the semi-final match between Brazil and England being shifted from Guwahati to Kolkata due to poor ground conditions after heavy rain in the Assam capital.
The huge success of the tournament prompted All India Football Federation President Praful Patel to request Infantino to allot the 2019 FIFA Under-20 World Cup to India, but the world body chief did not make any commitment.