Nigeria becoming the first country to win the title for a fifth time was the biggest story of the FIFA U-17 World Cup Chile 2015, but by no means the only one. For example, the presence of Mali in the final made for just the second occasion on which two teams from the same continent have contested the deciding match. As such, ‘Una fiesta un nuestra cancha’ (a party on our pitch), as the slogan Chile used to welcome the world put it, was ultimately celebrated to a distinctly African beat.
"It's very important for African football and incredible that something like this has only happened once before," said Orji Okwonkwo after the semi-final win over Mexico, an athletic and pacy, yet also well-organised and incisive performance that epitomised Nigeria's run to glory.
"Our aim was to defend the trophy. We approached each game with hard work and seriousness. Any team that came to Chile worked for it," stressed Nigeria captain and playmaker Kelechi Nwakali, the winner of the adidas Golden Ball. Another player who more than lived up to the team's nickname, the Golden Eaglets, was Victor Osimhen, who scooped the adidas Golden Boot with ten goals, a record tally for the event.
Surprise packages on the podium
Despite going into tournament as African U-17 champions, and their counterparts having stormed to the last four of the FIFA U-20 World Cup just months earlier, Mali's exploits nevertheless caused a stir.
"It is the first time Mali have reached the final. We can be very proud," enthused their coach, Baye Ba, on the back of a campaign in which his side turned heads thanks to their combination of attacking flair, ruthlessness and defensive solidity. "Not many teams reach second place. Our goal is to have a senior team who can win, so we will continue our work. Everything is installed in our youth programmes so that we can reach another final in the future,"
There was another surprise on the last step of the podium. Belgium took bronze despite being the only of the semi-finalists who didn't win their group and being less fancied than other European participants, among whom France and Germany both shone before being knocked out in the Round of 16.
Red Devils coach Bob Browaeys was delighted with his team's success: "We've achieved something unique. We finished fourth at Mexico 1986 and the 2008 Olympics, so this is our first medal. It's an amazing moment for us."
Mexico among the other wave-makers
Mexico justified their billing as contenders by impressing en route to the semi-finals for the third consecutive edition. El Tri may have fallen short in the end, but they certainly made a mark on the pitch, topping one of the toughest groups and playing their part in two of the most thrilling encounters: their semi against Nigeria and the play-off for third place against Belgium.
Other countries who caught the eye included Costa Rica, Ecuador and Croatia, who each advanced to the quarter-finals playing a decidedly different brand of football. Brazil were also beaten quarter-finalists, but bowed out after failing to hit the heights.
Russia, Australia, New Zealand and Korea DPR, meanwhile, earned themselves some credit by qualifying for the Round of 16, as did hosts Chile, who were cheered off the pitch despite being hammered by Mexico at this stage. On the other hand, England, Paraguay and Argentina all disappointed, failing to make it out of their group. It was a particularly sobering experience for La Albiceleste, who finished bottom of the pile for the first time at this level.
Players to watch
While Nwakali and Osimhen claimed most of the plaudits and headlines for champions Nigeria, they were ably assisted by midfield livewires Samuel Chukwueze and Kingsley Michael. Goalkeeper Samuel Diarra and Aly Malle starred for Mali, taking home the adidas Golden Glove and Bronze Ball respectively, while Sidiki Maiga and Boubacar Traore also garnered rave reviews for the runners-up.
Belgium defender Wout Faes brought to mind David Luiz and not only due to his mop of curly hair, but for his assured performances and leadership. Dante Rigo proved equally influential for the Belgians in central midfield, an area of the pitch in which Mexican duo Pablo Lopez and Alan Cervantes showcased their skill and intelligence.
Besides Nwakali, there were several other playmakers who did the iconic No10 shirt justice. Chief among them were South Korea's Lee Seungwoo, Ecuador's Yeison Guerrero, Chile's Marcelo Allende, USA's Christian Pulisic, Croatia's Nikola Moro and France's Timothe Cognat. Other starlets who had tongues wagging were German striker Johannes Eggestein, the adidas Silver Boot winner, and his compatriot Felix Passlack, a winger; Ecuadorian full-back Pervis Estupinan; Mexican centre-half Francisco Venegas; French forward Nicolas Janvier and Brazilian midfield maestro Lincoln.
The legacy of Chile 2015
Two activities were carried out as part of FIFA's Legacy Programme to make the most of the buzz generated by the tournament. The first was a regional seminar for youth coaches in Vina del Mar, which brought together 24 tacticians from all over South America. The participants, who included household names such as Venezuelan Richard Paez, Uruguayan Fabian Coito and Peruvian Juan Jose Ore, split into different groups to analyse the games from Group A in a workshop that combined theoretical and practical approaches.
Later on during the competition, the facilities at the La Araucana Park sports complex, in the south-east of Santiago, played host to a Grassroots Festival. This event was attended by 240 boys and girls aged six to 12, drawn from 14 different clubs across Chile, as well as by 30 coaches, who ran exercises to cap off a training course organised in the capital to coincide with the big party.