The last two quarterfinals at the Fifa U-20 World Cup Korea Republic on Monday saw Italy prevail in a thriller and England edge a very tight game to set up an all-European semifinal.
Unusually for a country with their footballing pedigree, Gli Azzurrini will be taking their place in the last four of the competition for the very first time, courtesy of their epic extra-time defeat of Zambia.
The Italians did things the hard way, twice coming from behind and overcoming the disadvantage of having defender Giuseppe Pezzella sent off a minute before half-time. England endured a nervy finale against Mexico, with Josh Onomah seeing red on 73 minutes and goalkeeper Freddie Woodman and his defence having to be at their best to keep the Tri attack at bay.
In holding on to their 1-0 lead, the English checked into the semis for the first time since 1993.
An unwanted flashback
The respective coaches of Italy and Zambia, Alberico Evani and Beston Chambeshi, have met before on South Korean soil: as players at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Seoul 1988.
The Africans won 4-0 on that occasion, and when Patson Daka put them ahead after only four minutes in Suwon, Evani began casting his mind back 29 years.
“I was afraid and the memories came flooding back,” he revealed in the post-match press conference. His charges soon banished any fears he may have had, however: “When I saw the way my players were performing, though, the memories just disappeared.”
Last-eight scenario replayed
It has been a case of déjà vu at Korea Republic 2017, where three of the quarterfinals have gone to extra-time, as was the case at the Fifa U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015, an indication of how evenly balanced teams are in the age group.
That equality has not impacted on excitement levels, with this year’s four quarters producing 13 goals in total, an impressive average of 3.25 per match.
Riccardo fixes it
Riccardo Orsolini’s topsy-turvy performance against Zambia conjured up images of the 2012 3D computer-animated film Wreck-It Ralph.
He kicked off as Ralph, somehow contriving to fluff the clearest of chances with his side trailing 1-0 to the Africans. Big-screen replays of his miss left him with a look of disbelief on his face.
By the second half, however, he had become Fix-It Felix Jr, and in a blue shirt to boot, with his 50th-minute header tying the score up at 1-1.
Then, when team-mate Federico Dimarco made it 2-2 late on and gave his best Ralph impression by kicking the corner flag up in the air, along came Orsolini – one of the competition’s leading scorers with four goals – to play Felix again by picking the flag up and putting it back in place.
“We defended for our lives when we had to, but we created some really good chances in the attacking phases, we just didn’t quite have the finish. Then, unfortunately, at the end of the game we had to dig in, backs against the wall.” said England coach Paul Simpson.