England's young stars rule the world, but must progress to senior team
Three points from England's 1-0 win over Venezuela in the U20 World Cup final.
England are world champions
For the first time since 1966, England are champions of the world, albeit at youth level, after a 1-0 win over Venezuela in the Under-20 World Cup final in South Korea. Dominic Calvert-Lewin, the scorer, and Freddie Woodman, the goalkeeper who saved a second-half penalty, were England's heroes in a pulsating final against an exciting Venezuelan team who have defied expectations even more than Paul Simpson's Young Lions.
This tournament has captured the imagination of the English public, and the jubilant scenes at the final whistle, when England's bench sprinted onto the pitch for a mass embrace, and the beaming trophy presentation, showed what it meant. This is not just youth football; it could prove hugely significant for English football.
England went into the game as favourites and had the best of the opening exchanges but Venezuela nearly took the lead after 25 minutes with an effort that would have gone down as one of the great World Cup final goals at any level. Mimicking a technique made famous by his namesake, Ronaldo Lucena thumped a dipping, swerving free kick against the post from a full 40 yards. Woodman was not alone in expecting a cross, but he would have struggled to save the effort even if he hadn't been 6 yards off his line.
The Venezuelan defence was having difficulty in dealing with England's two Dominics -- Solanke and Calvert-Lewin -- at the other end, and the latter opened the scoring with a goal that demonstrated England's superior strength and composure in the final third. The Everton forward won a high ball against his man and, although his first effort was saved one-handed by Wailer Farinez, he tucked in the rebound for England's first World Cup final goal since Geoff Hurst scored with "some people on the pitch."
England sensed blood before the half was finished as Calvert-Lewin got in behind again, only for Farinez to save with his legs.
On 52 minutes, Venezuela made a significant change, with Yeferson Soteldo replacing the ineffective Ronaldo Chacon, and with his very first touch, he dissected England's defence with a pass, leaving Sergio Cordova one-on-one with Woodman. His tame finish was smothered by the goalkeeper, who also held on to a header shortly afterward. The diminutive Soteldo helped put Venezuela on top and on 72 minutes came Woodman's moment, saving Adalberto Penaranda's penalty brilliantly after Jake Clarke-Salter was penalised. Venezuela pushed for a leveller, with even Farinez trying his luck in the dying seconds when up for a corner, but England held on to claim a historic victory.
The most high-profile incident in the short history of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) trials was another positive advert for the technology. On 72 minutes and with Venezuela on top, Clarke-Salter clipped the heels of Penaranda and the referee immediately pointed to the spot. England's players implored him to consult the video assistants and he did, but replays showed it was the correct the decision. Woodman dived the wrong way but brilliantly kept out Penaranda's spot kick with a firm hand, and the Malaga forward seemed so stunned he failed to react to the rebound.
While Penaranda can hardly have savoured the extra wait, consulting the video assistants took barely a minute and ensured the correct decision at a pivotal moment in a World Cup final. There will always be detractors, people who fear further interference by a faceless official behind the scenes, and the questionable decision to uphold a red card in Italy's quarterfinal win over Zambia proves that there are still problems to be ironed out.
But this tournament has gone a long way towards suggesting that VAR works. It's time to have the conversation about introducing it to men's football -- and Serie A is leading the way by applying for FIFA approval for the start of the upcoming season.
England must translate success to senior team
This was England's first World Cup final appearance at any level since 1966 and the achievement of Paul Simpson's squad should not be underestimated. England have enjoyed relative success at youth level before, however, notably losing to Germany in the final of the European Under-21 Championship in 2009, but failed to build on these at senior level.
While Germany's youth team from that final went on to form the core of their World Cup winning team in 2014, England's stars from that tournament -- Theo Walcott, Micah Richards, Kieran Gibbs et al -- have largely failed to live up to their potential. A huge challenge for the Football Association, and English clubs, is to ensure the same fate does not befall this U20 team.
Key to that will be opportunities at club level and England's heroes will hope to use this triumph as a springboard. The closest thing to a Premier League regular in England's World Cup winning squad is captain Lewis Cook, who may have made more than six appearances for Bournemouth last season were it not for injury.
Cook's midfield partner Joshua Onomah, England's most impressive player in the final, is a good example. The Tottenham player made just four substitute appearances in the Premier League last season but this experience can only be a positive for him. He and his teammates will hope to use it and play more next term.
Dominic Solanke, who won the Golden Ball for the Player of the Tournament in South Korea, will jump ship from Chelsea due to a lack of first-team opportunities. It has to be hoped he will find more of a home when he completes his switch to Liverpool on July 1.
Dan is ESPN FC's Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_KP.