Sancho v Lainez: A tale of two wingers
When England went up 3-0 inside 10 minutes of the second half of their Group F match against Mexico, Jadon Sancho led his team-mates to one corner of the field. The pack of England's young lions, dressed in their almost Arthurian white, tried to rouse the already worshipful packed stands in front of them, asking for more noise, more love.
The attention had stayed on Sancho through the match, where a 3-2 England victory has taken them into the knockout rounds of the FIFA Under-17 World Cup. The noise levels would rise whenever the ball got to Sancho, and he would try to dart, dribble or wrong-foot his defender. At 3-0, he had scored his third World Cup goal in two matches and it appeared that he would be grabbing the headlines again, even though England to a man had played committed and outstanding football.
It took a double-strike inside 10 minutes by a Mexican prodigy to seize the crowd's affection and bring to notice the remarkable gifts of Diego Lainez.
In a tale of two wingers at the Salt Lake stadium on Wednesday, it was hard to take the eyes off either player. Sancho is a physical specimen of a modern footballer, 6ft of muscle, pace control and a sense for creativity. Lainez looks frail at 5ft 5in, like he can easily be knocked over, except that he is exceptionally nimble and when surrounded by markers, can either slip them, stay on his feet or wriggle away. Even if he is knocked over, he can recover quickly, get back up and go shooting off into space again.
Sancho was seven when he joined Watford and entered the Manchester City academy at age 14 before signing on for Borussia Dortmund this season. Lainez has played for Mexico's Club America from the age of 12, already part of their senior team for the past two seasons, playing 12 matches. In the England U-17 set-up, Sancho is full of plenty around him, his partnership with Foden and Brewster in Kolkata , full of firecracker spark and collaboration. In terms of the Mexico forward line, it was Lainez who had to be creator and leader.
In a sticky first half, Sancho had defender Adrian Vaquez popping up like his shadow, trailing behind him like an errant shoe lace, waiting to trip him up. Sancho was astute enough to drop back when required, draw the defender with him, and also play the provider.
At half time, Rhihan Brewster was to give England a 1-0 lead with a free-kick and Sancho was to set up England's second goal. A great feed to the hard-working forward Philip Foden unleashed a left-footed scorcher, and Sancho himself converted a penalty seven minutes later. Three nil. Mexico's reputation as the best defensive team coming into the tournament busted.
Lainez was to then seize the moment, the match and his team-mates along with him, and raise the game. It almost knocked the wind out of England. He had spent the first half laboring up and down the left, without much help from his team-mates. Lainez is both terrier and creator, capable of turning defenders around or finding his way through two and nipping past the third. When he must cover distance and go past his opponents, he appears to believe he can stretch himself to full height and trample over them.
Led by Lainez's explosive runs through the centre of the field, Mexico were energised. In the 65th minute, he pounced on a defensive lapse from England, took a shot at goal, and scored off a deflection. Roberto DeLa Roza, who had had an average game until then, got his wheels moving, picked up pace and suddenly the crowd sensed that Mexico had decided to fight back.
Lainez's second goal was to draw the crowd onto Mexico's side with 15 minutes left. His first touch collected the assist from De La Rosa, and he had time to find the perfect balance to put the second touch into the net.
The match may have been Mexico's to draw but England's defence held on by their fingernails. Sancho went off the field in the 85th minute replaced by a midfielder, and Lainez offered Mexico another chance, running almost three quarters the length of the pitch, turning his marker around, only to find no support and punch the air in anger.
Mexico will look at the match statistics and wonder what had just transpired. They had four corners to England's one, identical shots on goal, and even with 15 minutes to go, three clear chances at goal. Their coach Manuel Artegea said that his team had been "late to come back" but took heart from the fact that they "never put down their arms and were always fighting till the end. Unfortunately, we will have to fight more in the last match."
England coach Steve Cooper said, "We conceded two goals in the last 15-20 minutes and that can happen with young players." Everything at this level he said, was "a learning opportunity but we didn't crumble ad we didn't lose, so I'm not going to lose sight of the fact that we were outstanding."
He called it a "luxury" to qualify after two games in "a tournament like this" and was not fussed that Sancho would be leaving after the group stages. "We've got 21 players who can play and contribute to our team."
But from now, Jadon Sancho, follow the name. As for the name of Diego Lainez, remember it.