England's golden boy Phil Foden turns World Cup hero
For the longest time during the FIFA Under-17 World Cup final between England and Spain, the 66,684-strong crowd at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata didn't know which team to cheer for.
Sure, England had played five of their six matches in Kolkata and enjoyed the lion's share of support for all of them except the semi-final against Brazil. They even started brightly when Morgan Gibbs White pounced on a loose ball inside the Spain box within 50 seconds and extracted the first save of the night from Spain goalkeeper Alvaro Fernandez.
Sergio Gomez of Barcelona then took charge of proceedings at the other end, taking advantage of two classic counter-punches to put Spain 2-0 up against an opponent they had bested just five months ago during the Euro finals in Croatia.
But then Phil Foden happened. And like a raging tempest, he not only blew Spain away, he carried his team along with him.
Foden stood tall in a field filled with 22 of the most talented players in the world aged 17 and under - not just for his tireless work on the front, but the never-say-die spirit he showed with his team trailing close to half-time.
Commentator John Helm, when speaking to ESPN about his five favourite players of the tournament, had said of the Man City prodigy that "every time he gets the ball, something happens", and that was certainly the case on the day of the final.
The first goal that sparked belief in England was created because of Foden's work on the right flank. Bundled out of possession by Barcelona's Juan Miranda, Foden still managed to release Gibbs White and then made himself available, before right-back Steven Sessegnon sent in a curving ball for Rhian Brewster to meet with.
Foden was again critical in releasing Sessegnon, this time for Gibbs White to score early in the second half. And then there was an air of inevitability when Foden got his first goal of the night, positioning himself perfectly to receive a cross from the outstanding Callum Hudson-Odoi on the left.
For good measure, Foden ensured there would be no late surges from Spain -- in the Euro final, Nacho Diaz had scored late in injury time to take the game to penalties -- and he did it with a burst of speed through the middle to meet a ball lobbed in his path with the finesse of a champion player.
By this time, the roar of the crowd had simply gone to a "FODENNN! FODENNN!" not unlike what was a common sound in Indian cricket stadiums when reaching out to one of their favourite cricketers Sachin Tendulkar.
England effectively capped off an incredible year of success at junior levels, and it was no surprise that Foden walked away with the Golden Ball at the U-17 World Cup, just like Liverpool's Dominic Solanke had done earlier in the year when England won the U-20 World Cup. Foden's stats for England before the final stood at one goal and one assist apiece, but it was not an accurate reflection of how central he had been to executing England coach Steve Cooper's plan of playing what they have branded the "English way" over the last four weeks.
Cooper typically talked about the togetherness of this England team, calling the entire squad of players and support staff a "family" - not for the first time in his India stay - but he had some special words of praise for his workhorse Foden.
"Phil's got the player of the tournament [award], but all the boys have got the gold medal and we have got the Cup. There are some individual awards -- to be player of the tournament is outstanding. He has been scoring goals and creating them, and his work rate is outstanding," he said.
The best hat-tip to Foden on Saturday came from Spain coach Santi Denia, though, who revealed that because of Foden's ability to cut inside, their focus in terms of protecting a flank was always more on Callum Hudson-Odoi on England's left side.
"He's a great player. He has a great future. We tried to defend him as a team, either with Juan [left-back Juan Miranda] or as a team, but he was simply better than us," Denia said.
It's difficult to remember the last time one player made a World Cup final the stage to beat an entire opposition almost single-handedly, and for that alone, Phil Foden remains one to watch for the future.