We started with five, and we’re now down to one.
Gael Kakuta will be Chelsea’s sole representative in Friday’s UEFA European Under-19 Championships Final against Spain after another dazzling display against Croatia.
The 19 year-old scored the equaliser, beating future team-mate Matej Delač in the process, and sending him packing along with Jacob Mellis, who, like England, exited the competition in a rather meek fashion earlier in the day.
Mellis was afforded just his second start of the competition by Noel Blake but the Three Lions were run ragged by a superb Spain. Dani Pacheco, Keko and Sergio Canales all scored beautifully crafted goals as they toyed with the English, who looked clueless as to how to approach the fixture.
Jacob’s game ended after an hour when he was substituted, having been quiet throughout, but none of the England midfielders seemed to have an inkling as to what their manager was asking of them. Blake showed time and again in these Finals that he has a poor grasp of tactics and a common goal, and instead spent much of the match berating his players to dive into tackles.
Consequently, Spain popped the ball around with ease, teasing their weary foes into tiring themselves out even further. It was men against boys, even at youth level.
Fortunately, the evening fixture was far more entertaining and the Blues duo on display both put up an impressive account of themselves.
Croatia took a shock early lead, which they held onto for half an hour or so as Delač dealt with everything Les Bleus threw in his direction, but was ultimately helpless to stop Kakuta slotting away the equaliser.
Mario Ticinovic attempted a header back towards his goalkeeper but got it all wrong and merely presented the French forward with a clear goalscoring opportunity. He dutifully swept the ball into the bottom corner and Francis Smerecki’s team were back in the game.
They probed for a winner throughout the second half, but were unable to create many clear cut scoring opportunities. Kakuta’s approach play was fantastic to watch, with some nimble footwork on display in and around the area, but each time he appeared to have fashioned some space, the door was closed in his face by a stout Croatian defensive unit.
The winner came with just under ten minutes remaining when Francis Coquelin dribbled through and played the ball to Cedric Bakambu, who opened his body to bend the ball around Delač and into the bottom corner.
Critics may suggest Delač was one step too far to his right, making it harder to cover the area in which Bakambu profited, but it was a clinical finish at a key stage of the match.
Both players spoke to UEFA.com after the match, with their comments being available here and here respectively.
It means that the Final will be played between the tournament’s two best sides, and Kakuta is in with a chance of being named the tournament’s MVP, so impressive has he been. Keep an eye out for match updates on Twitter @chelseayouth on Friday, and a full match report will follow here at TheChels.net