Three of Arsenal’s promising stars were on-show on Saturday evening, as England’s FIFA u17 World Cup campaign got underway with a tricky fixture against Papua New Guinea.
The attacking trio of Kaylen Hinds, Chris Willock and Stephy Mavididi all started the match in Coquimbo, Chile – and the Young Lions could have found themselves ahead within the first two minutes of the contest.
Some encouraging work on the left-hand side by Willock allowed the 17-year-old to advance towards the edge of the area, where his inviting ball was almost fed through into the path of Hinds in the centre.
Luckily for the Oceanic country, the danger was averted as the goalkeeper rushed out to collect the ball in his box.
Willock’s pace and trickery was a troublesome combination for Guinea to contend with on the far side, and his link-up play with Mavididi was evident to see, as England tried to make use of their domination spells in possession with opportunities to break the deadlock.
That being said though, Guinea posed their own threat on the break – and could have easily scored one or two goals for themselves in the opening twenty minutes.
Mavididi came close with a chance of his own just before the half-hour mark, but struggled to get proper contact on the ball as it was fizzed into his path from close-range. Often the only player in an attack-minded position when out of possession, the Guinea players
Fode Camara was penalized for a late sliding tackle on Tottenham’s Marcus Edwards in the area, but the resulting penalty-kick was thwarted with a good diving stop by Moussa Camara to keep the scores level.
As the match continued, Guinea asserted themselves and established a real threatening presence in the final third – certainly unlucky not to be leading at the half-time interval, but for an excellent double save by Tottenham goalkeeper Alfie Whiteman.
In the second-half, the match was an increasingly intriguing affair. Camara was lucky not to be shown his marching orders five minutes after the restart, having brought down Mavididi on the edge of the area. The referee only brandished a yellow card to the goalkeeper, who would have been breathing a sigh of relief as the Arsenal youngster would have been through on-goal with the net bulging.
Whiteman came to England’s rescue again, to deny the Guinea attackers on a blistering counter-attack towards goal. Then, it was finally time for the opening strike of the game, as well as the tournament.
It seemed like destiny that an Arsenal player would be involved, but all three made the move all the more pleasing on the eye. Mavididi passed the ball across to Willock on the flank, near the edge of the box. A sharp turn and his marker was wrongfooted within a flash, before his delivery in the area was perfectly-weighted in the path of Kaylen Hinds.
Shrugging off the advances of a Guinea defender, Hinds headed home from close range to break the deadlock, and it was coming in truth.
Just as he was getting more involved in the evening’s action, Hinds made way with twenty minutes to play – with Manchester City winger Will Patching replacing him.
With time ticking down, Guinea continued to press and you wondered whether they’d eventually get the goal they’d been in constant search of. With just under fifteen minutes to play, they finally grabbed it – from another of their rapid counter-attacks, with Naby Bangoura slamming home into the corner, giving Whiteman no chance.
Alterations came thick and fast with Iké Ugbo and Kaziah Sterling replacing Edwards and Mavididi with the clock nearing toward the final-whistle which finally came, meaning the opening game of the tournament ended in an underwhelming finish given the plethora of chances to score throughout for both sides.