Judging by the way the Ecuadorians celebrated their victory over Italy in Gdynia on Friday, uninformed observers might believe they had won the FIFA U-20 World Cup. For a country that had never enjoyed a top-three finish on the international stage, the bronze medal they had just secured was worth its weight in gold.
In the final Ukraine defeated Korea Republic 3-1 on Saturday.
Ukraine are FIFA U-20 World Cup champions for the first time.
Korea Republic struck quickly through Lee Kangin, who converted his penalty in the fifth minute after a Video Assistant Referee (VAR) check determined that captain Hwang Taehyeon was tripped inside the right edge of the box.
The Ukrainians poured on pressure as the first half progressed, however, culminating in Vladyslav Supriaha’s 34th-minute equaliser. Korea Republic could not fully clear Serhii Buletsa’s free-kick delivery into the penalty area, and Supriaha pounced on the loose ball to poke home from eight yards.
Supriaha completed his brace eight minutes into the second half. Yukhym Konoplia’s deflected through ball skipped into the Ukrainian forward’s path and he beat the goalkeeper one-on-one to put his side on top.
A marauding run from Heorhii Tsitaishvili in the 89th minute sealed the match and the championship for the Ukrainians. The midfielder surged forward from his own half and cracked a shot into the corner of the net.
From never progressing past the Round of 16 to lifting the trophy, Ukraine’s unprecedented run to the title will be an enduring memory of Poland 2019.
ECUADOR GREAT BRONZE
For Ecuador substitute Richard Mina was fundamental in 1-0 win. With the first period of extra time almost complete, he burst into the box to meet a long free kick and squeeze it past goalkeeper Marco Carnesecchi. Nine minutes earlier Carnesecchi’s Ecuadorian counterpart, Moises Ramirez, brilliantly saved Marco Olivieri’s penalty kick at the other end.
“My first thought was simply that God is great,” the beaming goalscorer told FIFA.com. “And I am, too!”
Despite his eventual triumph and theological musings, the Tricolor defender had mostly experienced a frustrating tournament. Included in the starting line-up twice during the Poland 2019 group stage, the Aucas player was forced to sit on the bench from the Round of 16 onwards, up until his explosive entry in Gdynia.
“At first, I was pretty down,” he said. “But after that, I thought of the team, telling myself that the most in-form players are the ones who get selected. And so I waited patiently to be able to show what I was capable of.
“The coach didn’t make the decision based on my performances, but rather for tactical reasons. On top of that, I had a slight injury to my right ankle, so I wasn’t at one hundred per cent.”
Jorge Celico placed his trust in Mina once again on Friday, bringing him on to replace team captain Jhon Espinoza on the hour mark.
Another staff member was instrumental in Mina’s successful outing, as the 19-year-old tells it.
“Kleber Macias, our kit man, told me I was going to score today,” said Mina. “After the match he said, ‘See? I told you so.’”
The hero of the day was not yet fully aware of the impact of his team’s positive result.
“I’ve been overwhelmed with messages from my family,” he said. “They’re waiting for me so we can celebrate together.”
An entire country now awaits Mina and his team-mates so that they can rejoice in this historic achievement for Ecuadorian football, which was even praised by the nation’s President, Lenin Moreno, via Twitter.