The Zambians danced, the Uruguayans embraced each other, and the English players let out loud yells while punching the air: the victorious teams that emerged from the three Round of 16 matches played out on Wednesday at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Korea Republic 2017 all had their own ways of unleashing unbridled joy.
The Africans made it through to the quarter-final stage for the first time ever, following a tremendously exciting battle with Germany in Jeju, while Uruguay put in a determined and focused performance to see off Saudi Arabia, leaving the tournament without any Asian representatives in the last eight for the first time since Colombia 2011.
England arrived in Korea holding an unenviable record of 17 consecutive matches without a win at the U-20 World Cup, but having defeated Costa Rica – their third victory of this year’s event – to advance to the quarters for the first time in 24 years, that statistical anomaly has now been firmly consigned to the past.
Round of 16: Uruguay 1-0 Saudi Arabia | England 2-1 Costa Rica | Zambia 4-3 Germany (aet)
Double celebration for de la Cruz
Nicolas de la Cruz has had a special relationship with penalties recently, both at the South American U-20 Championship and the U-20 World Cup. Against Italy, in Uruguay’s opening match at Korea Republic 2017, he missed from the spot, as he did versus Venezuela during the all South American showdown. However, in a case of history repeating itself, just as he made amends in February by slotting home a penalty in La Celeste’s subsequent match against Argentina, the resilient skipper made no mistake from 12 yards in Suwon, firing home to propel his team into the quarter-finals at the expense of Saudi Arabia. In doing so, the midfielder, who turns 20 tomorrow and who celebrated by tucking the ball under his jersey in a reference to his partner’s recently-announced pregnancy, notched the 100th goal of the 2017 U-20 World Cup.
Jeju draws curtain with classic clash
After hosting seven matches at Korea Republic 2017, Jeju closed its doors with a high-tempo match that will last long in the memories of the fans in the stands, who witnessed an intense final eight minutes packed with goals and a fine winner in extra time that saw Zambia move on to the next round. At the 86th-minute mark, the Junior Chipolopolo appeared to have wrapped up proceedings when Mwepu finished off a lightning-quick counter attack to put them 3-1 up. But that was discounting the Germans’ renowned never-say-die attitude: they pulled one back in the 89th minute through Suat Serdar’s fantastic back-heeled flick, and then Jonas Arweiler, inexplicably left unmarked in the box, equalised deep into stoppage time. The African champions regained the lead via Shemmy Mayembe in the 107th minute, and although Serdar came close to equalising at the very end, they held on for a famous 4-3 win. The Zambians celebrated their success in style, with Mayembe leading them in a merry dance in front of their joyous supporters.
Toffees provide sweet moment for England
Too much toffee can often make you feel a little sick, but that was not the case for England in Jeonju. The Young Lions qualified for the quarter-finals for the first time since Australia 1993, and they were helped along the way by three players on the books at Everton, a club commonly known as the Toffees after a confectionary business located near Goodison Park, where the sticky sweets are often thrown into the crowd before matches. In the first half, Jonjoe Kenny set up Ademola Lookman for his team’s opening goal, and halfway through the second period, Dominic Calvert-Lewin galloped down the left and sent in a low cross, which Lookman controlled instantly, prior to side-stepping a pair of defenders and poking the ball through goalkeeper Erick Pineda’s legs.
“It’s overwhelming to have grabbed the winning goal. It was always my dream to score for my country and now it’s become a reality. In the previous match, I missed a similar chance, so I was ready for it this time. I just hit it and it went in!” Defender Shemmy Mayembe, who scored his first goal for Zambia in extra time to secure a 4-3 victory over Germany.