Seoul (AFP) – England have shrugged off a dire record in the Under-20 World Cup to stand on the verge of ending a 51-year wait for a global title dating back to their World Cup win in 1966.
When England landed in South Korea, they were looking to reverse 20 years of failure in the tournament going back to their last win in 1997, when a 17-year-old Michael Owen scored the only goal in a 1-0 victory over Mexico.
But on Sunday, the Young Lions are favourites to defeat Venezuela in the final at South Korea’s Suwon World Cup Stadium and lift the trophy for the first time.
England fans are more accustomed to failure: the last time an England’s men’s team lifted any World Cup trophy was in 1966, since when the national team hasn’t reached any major finals.
But after their U19s reached the last four of the 2016 European Championship, and the U17s made last month’s European final, there is increasing optimism about the future.
“We have to go and win to really put our name into the history books of English football,” said coach Paul Simpson, after Thursday’s impressive 3-1 win over Italy in the semi-finals.
“I am the proudest man I could ever be. It is just a dream to take an England team to a World Cup final. I was born in 1966 and that is the last time we did it.”
– Freak own goal –
England started the tournament well, defeating six-time champions Argentina 3-0 in their opening game and they then went on to top their group with a win over hosts South Korea.
Then came knock-out stage victories over Costa Rica, Mexico and then Italy. The one failure to win was a 1-1 draw with Guinea in the group stage, when England threw away the points with a freak own goal from near the centre circle.
“We now want to go and make sure we do ourselves justice in the final,” added Simpson, who has coached in England’s lower divisions.
“I said we want to go and win the final, I don’t just want to go and make the numbers up. I want to go and win it.”
If England are triumphant then Liverpool will have played a major part. The city’s two English Premier League clubs, Everton and Liverpool, have provided a number of England’s star players.
Dominic Solanke scored twice against Italy to take his tally to four. The striker left Chelsea in May to join Liverpool on a free transfer. Everton striker Ademola Lookman also scored his third of the tournament.