Have you ever been to a World Cup Final? I hadn’t, I had a couple of friends who had and the stories they told were of spending loads of money and seeing a pretty rubbish game of football with the atmosphere not living up to the hype. But when asked if they’d do it again they immediately claimed they would as after all it was the World Cup Final!
So while this wasn’t THE World Cup Final, it was the U20 version and I was going and the Final between Brazil and Serbia would be preceded by the 3rd / 4th playoff between Mali and Senegal.
|You only have one stand - North Harbour Stadium|
The first task of the day was getting to North Harbour Stadium in the awkward backwater of Albany. The Stadium is a legacy built when Auckland was governed by 9 local councils, here they built an impressive stand but seemed to forget about the rest of the ground and the transport links to the ground! Even with a free bus from Central Auckland it seemed miles away (It didn't help that our driver managed to take every wrong possible turn he could), but we arrived in time for the 1st game - the 3rd/4th playoff between West African neighbours Mali & Senegal
Between them the countries have around 40 residents registered as living in NZ, so unsurprisingly neither had a big (or any) support. The game was entertaining, marred by a card happy referee who needlessly sent off a Senegal player in the first half. There were 2 missed penalties (1 for each team) Senegal scored first, but Mali who looked the better team prevailed with a 3-1 win.
|Brazil & Serbia pass the U20 World Cup|
And then it was the big one – The World Cup Final! Brazil were the hot favourites, despite having sacked their coach just before the tournament they scored 14 goals on their path to the final, even though 2 of the games were won on penalties. Serbia on the other hand were a surprise, this was their first appearance at a U20 World Cup and no one, besides their own fans, had rated them before the finals. The TAB (NZ Bookies) were paying around 50-1 for them to win before the tournament started and 3-1 for the final itself.
Brazil looked the better team in the first half but failed to score, it was Serbia who went ahead in the 70th minute through Mandic, but the lead only stood for 3 minutes when a fantastic individual effort by Manchester United’s Pereira drew Brazil level. The game went to extra time and just when it looked if it was going to penalties, Serbia won the ball off Brazil about 25 yards from their own goal line and broke down field and Maksimovic scored the winner.
|Serbia U20 World Cup Champions|
It was a close game and both teams would have been deserving of a win and it bought to end a great tournament.
There was an average of 3 goals a game, New Zealand made history getting out of the group stage for the first time ever, Fiji went from celebrating scoring a goal in a game to hammering Honduras 3-0, Argentina, one of the best teams at the tournament went out in the first round, over 300 000 attended games (although the Fairfax website Stuff, still managed to get a dig in that this was nowhere near the 500 000 that the Local Organising Committee had originally hoped for – Still the 25317 at the final was a hell of a lot more than the 5000 that went to the U20 Rugby World Cup Final the year before – and New Zealand won that!) and it was won by Serbia - a Spanish inquisition of a team, as in no one expected that!
I started watching this tournament with the somewhat surreal experience of seeing 2 International teams play each other in a warm up game at a local park, before seeing 11 games at 3 different venues and I am sure that many of the players I have seen I will be seeing more of in years to come and while I still hope that I can get to THE World Cup Final I can at least now say I have been to a very enjoyable one.