England wins the Under Twenty World Cup. The Guardians Ben Fisher:’ England Under-20s entered the history books after beating Venezuela in a frenetic World Cup final in South Korea to ensure the nation became world champions for the first time since 1966.
Lewis Cook held the trophy aloft after becoming the first England captain to lead his country to victory in a major global final since Sir Bobby Moore. A white sea of confetti slowly filled the pitch, with each England player taking hold of the trophy on the stage swiftly erected in Suwon to kick-start the celebrations.
Fikayo Tomori, the Chelsea defender, sang “championes, championes” with his winners’ medal swaying from side to side. For Joshua Onomah and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, England banners doubled up as celebratory bandanas. More than 5,600 miles away Gareth Southgate, Adam Lallana and the rest of the senior squad huddled around a laptop at their France training base – before Tuesday’s friendly in Paris – to witness the next generation write history.
Southgate will speak to Paul Simpson, the under-20s manager, after the win and has kept regular dialogue during the tournament. The squad also received a pre-match good luck letter from the Duke of Cambridge.
Freddie Woodman was ultimately the hero after making a superb 74th-minute penalty save to deny Adalberto Peñaranda. Woodman, the son of former Northampton Town goalkeeper Andy and godson of Southgate, made a steely left-handed save from the spot-kick after Dominic Calvert-Lewin had given England a first-half lead.
Simpson, the former Shrewsbury Town manager, had urged his players to seize the opportunity and attain “legendary status” and with this victory in Suwon his class of 2017 did not disappoint. Calvert-Lewin began this season as a second-half substitute for Sheffield United in a 2-1 domestic cup competition defeat by Crewe Alexandra but finished it as only the third England player to score in a World Cup final. Calvert-Lewin, who joined Everton last summer, scored what proved to be the winning goal before Woodman’s second-half heroics.
These are exciting times for England and particularly for this group. Six of this side won the Under-17s European Championship in 2014 and the attacking trio from Everton and Liverpool – Ademola Lookman, Dominic Solanke and Calvert-Lewin – had an excellent tournament. Solanke was presented with the golden boot and Woodman with the golden glove. Each player, though, proved more than their worth over a campaign that began when Simpson’s squad convened at St George’s Park on 8 May. Perhaps these are some of the fruits of the FA’s purpose-built 330-acre site at Burton-on-Trent.
Simpson tweaked his lineup from the one that prevailed against Italy in the semi-finals, with Tottenham’s Onomah returning from suspension to replace Arsenal’s Maitland-Niles. Onomah strutted around the England midfield with a classy authority and rattled the woodwork with a thunderous second-half effort that pinballed from the underside of the bar and the goalline before Venezuela cleared.
England played positive, attacking football and Solanke, who will formally join Liverpool from Chelsea next month,squandered a couple of early chances, scuffing his shot inside the box and skewing wide from distance with another. He then turned provider, laying off to Lookman, who held off a challenge before forcing Wuilker Faríñez, the Venezuela goalkeeper, into a two-handed save after 22 minutes.
Venezuela did not shrink into their shells, however, and Ronaldo Lucena’s ambitious free-kick from 40 yards out exemplified the confidence flowing through Rafael Dudamel’s side, who beat Germany and Uruguay en route to the final. Woodman was beaten but Lucena’s swerving, dipping effort crashed into his right post.
Dudamel’s involvement is a compliment to the country’s next generation, given he is also the coach of Venezuela’s senior team, who already have eyes on the 2022 World Cup after a disastrous qualifying campaign for Russia 2018.
England kept knocking at the door, though, with Calvert-Lewin sending a tame header at goal before Cook, the Bournemouth midfielder, supplied the striker with a lofted pass. It was a goal that showcased all of the 20-year-old’s qualities as he outjumped Nahuel Ferraresi to win the header and shot at Faríñez with his right foot before slotting home the rebound with his left. Shortly after that Lookman supplied Calvert-Lewin with another chance but Faríñez did well to quickly stifle the onrushing striker.
Venezuela never relented and Peñaranda sent a curling 25-yard free-kick agonisingly close but the Watford midfielder, with unmissable bleach-blond hair, saw his effort fly just wide of Woodman’s goal. After the half-time interval, the South American side went on the offensive. The substitute Yeferson Soteldo slid through a perfectly weighted ball for Sergio Córdova but with only the goalkeeper to beat, Woodman smothered with his legs. Then Yangel Herrera, who joined Manchester City in January – unmarked from a corner – headed downward only for Woodman to again claim the ball.
Venezuela, who introduced the exciting 17-year-old Samuel Sosa late on, pressed forward and eventually carved out a golden opportunity to level. Jake Clarke-Salter, the Chelsea defender, upended Peñaranda inside the box and after consulting the threesome of video officials inside the Suwon World Cup stadium, the referee, Bjorn Kuipers, pointed to the spot. Woodman denied Peñaranda from 12 yards, with the England goalkeeper, who dived low to his right, making a strong left-handed save to claw the ball away from danger. And just like that, after this courageous, fearless display, an arduous 51-year wait is over.