A first World Cup final in 51 years beckons for England on Sunday morning as they prepare to take on Venezuela.
The Under-20 World Cup, held in South Korea, will come to a conclusion when the Three Lions take on La Vinotinto in Suwon, capping a thrilling tournament for Paul Simpson’s men.
It’s not the first time England have reached a major final since that glorious July day in 1966, but it’s the first non-continental one. The under-21s won back-to-back European Championships in 1982 and 1984, with players such as Mark Hateley, Justin Fashanu and Steve Hodge all featuring, whilst the 2009 edition saw England fall 4-0 in the final to Germany as Mesut Ozil got on the scoresheet.
The stars of England’s campaign this time around have undoubtedly been the Merseyside duo of Everton’s Ademola Lookman and Liverpool’s new signing Dominic Solanke, who have hit seven goals between them to take their country to the final.
Nineteen-year-old Lookman, who signed for the Toffees in January for a hefty £7.5 million fee, failed to get off the mark in the group stages of the tournament as the goals were shared around, but has since scored three in three games – including both in the 2-1 win over Costa Rica in the Round of 16.
Similarly, Solanke only found his scoring boots in the knockout stages of the tournament after finding the net just once in the group stage. The striker, who will join Liverpool when his Chelsea contract expires on June 30, grabbed the only goal as England beat Mexico 1-0 in the quarter-finals and then turned the semi-final around to score two more in the 3-1 victory over Italy.
England’s tournament got underway in spectacular style as they ended a 17-match winless streak in the competition to ease past Argentina 3-0, thanks to goals from Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Adam Armstrong and Solanke. It would have made it two wins from two against Guinea if not for a comical own goal from Fikayo Tomori, whose overhit backpass from the centre circle evaded a desperate Freddie Woodman and rolled into the net – allowing the African side to claim a 1-1 draw, their only point and only goal of the tournament.
Knowing a win over the hosts would take them to the top of the group, England duly obliged when a tense game was settled thanks to Everton midfielder Kieran Dowell’s second half strike. The reward for their hard work was a tie against Costa Rica, the best third-placed team, which was settled thanks to Lookman’s brace.
A sense of excitement had entered the English camp ahead of the quarter-final tie against Mexico, with Solanke grabbing the winner in a tense encounter, although the game took a sour turn when Spurs’ Josh Onomah was sent off for two yellow cards - the second coming rather harshly after he accidentally stood on the ankle of Juan Aguayo as he went around the Mexican.
Still, England saw out the match and met Italy in the last four. It would be typical of England to play well in tournament and get to a stage where they could go on and win, only to crash out. So naturally, England conceded after just two minutes against Italy in the semis following a lack of communication at the back.
But, unlike the senior team has so often failed to do in the past, the under-20s rallied and began to dominate the game, with Solanke going close twice before getting his reward. After a mistake by the Italian ‘keeper Andrea Zaccagno, the forward slotted home and when Lookman powered home just a few minutes later, England had one foot in the final. This turned into two feet 10 minutes later when a rasping drive from Solanke squirmed under the body of Zaccagno to send the Three Lions to a first World Cup final since 1966.