England are through to the final of the Under-17 World Cup after beating Brazil 3-1 in the semifinal in Kolkata, with Liverpool forward Rhian Brewster scoring his second consecutive hat trick.
England took the lead in the 11th minute, and Brewster was again on the scoresheet after netting three against United States in the quarterfinals. Goalkeeper Gabriel Brazao saved the initial effort, but only pushed the ball back out to the striker who made no mistake second time of asking.
Brazil applied pressure on the England defence for several minutes in a bid to get back level, and the goal duly came in the 21st minute. This time it was Wesley's turn to have two bites at goal, with England goalkeeper Curtis Anderson also unable to deal with the initial effort.
But England regained their composure and retook the lead six minutes before the interval, Brewster firing home from inside the six-yard box.
And Brewster made it back to back trebles for England when provided the simply task of sidefooting home from Emile Smith-Rowe's square pass in the 77th minute.
Brewster is now the competition's outright leading goal scorer with seven goals.
Both teams lined up with their familiar 4-2-3-1 formation that they have employed during most games of this World Cup, with Brazil bringing back the impressive Weverson from Sao Paulo at left-back to revert to their strongest starting XI.
England gave another start to Morgan Gibbs-White of Wolverhampton Wanderers, ahead of Manchester United's Angel Gomes, to play just behind Brewster.
Brazil were quicker off the blocks, and made their intentions clear with high pressing inside the first few minutes of the game. In fact, England were able to put together a short spell of possession for the first time only in the fourth minute, with their defence quickly transferring the ball from right to left, where Chelsea left-back Jonathan Panzo then looked to release his club teammate Callum Hudson-Odoi. Hudson-Odoi would fail to get past Brazilian right-back Wesley, but it was an option that showed England the way about the correct way to apply pressure on their opposition.
Part of Brazil's plan, a continuation of what had worked against Germany, was to get Wesley and Weverson on the left to join in attack when in possession, leaving the centre-backs and Victor Bobsin to deal with any counter-attacks if the ball fell to England. This allowed a couple of half-chances for their midfielders to take a shot at Curtis Anderson's goal, but it also left them vulnerable to the long ball when giving the ball away.
When it happened for the first time in the 10th minute, it appeared innocuous enough with the ball falling away to Hudson-Odoi on the left. However, this England team has an inherent understanding of the need to stay patient when on the ball, and that's how they were able to hold on to the ball despite pressure from the Brazilian defence, and manufacture a ball into space for Brewster to come through into. Brazao made the initial save, but the second ball fell straight to Brewster, and England led, somewhat against the run of play.
Brazil's tactical response was similar to the one they had employed in their quarterfinal against Germany, allowing their most impressive attacking player through this month, Paulinho of Vasco da Gama, to go from the left flank to a more central role, and Brenner switching flanks then with the withdrawn Lincoln. The Brazilian defenders were then routinely pumping forward and captain Vitao nearly found himself at the end of a cross from the left, but in an offside position in the 19th minute. Two minutes later, Wesley found himself inside the England box, and on the end of a failed attempt from Anderson to stop a powerful Paulinho shot.
When Brazil equalised at that point, it appeared anything could still happen -- they had come back from 1-0 down against both Spain and Germany in previous matches in India, after all. England stayed true to their game plan, though, allowing Brazil to have all the possession they wanted, and keeping their wide channels closed with Hudson-Odoi and Phil Foden keeping Brazil pinned to the back. Off one such move, right-back Steven Sessegnon was able to create space just by the side of the goal and cut a ball back for Brewster to notch his second of the night, a goal that went a long way towards deflating the normally buoyant Brazil team.
In the second half, coach Steve Cooper's team showed they were not willing to sit back on a lead and allow Brazil to come back the way they did against both Spain and Germany. That wasn't the only lesson they had learnt from the Germany game; on Wednesday, England's players were quite happy to retaliate with any physical challenges thrown at them, conceding a couple of yellow cards in the process. It was worth the risk, though, as suspensions are wiped out at the end of the quarter-finals of this competition.
The first part of the second half was end-to-end, with Atletico Paranaense midfielder Marcos Antonio getting a shot in from long range that gave Anderson an early warning. England's strategy of not holding back on attack themselves was well-complemented by frequent changes of flanks between Foden and Hudson-Odoi, both of whom kept coming at the Brazilian defence in good numbers. Arsenal's Smith-Rowe was brought on to replace Gibbs-White, and took his place on the right wing, from where he created Brewster's third goal that knocked the stuffing out of any Brazilian resistance there may have been till that point.
What Cooper played to perfection were his substitutions, holding on to them to respond to what he saw from Brazil. He only made his first change once Brazil's Carlos Amadeu had taken out Brenner from the right flank, and that enabled Cooper to bring on Smith-Rowe and the industrious Nya Kirby in place of Foden.
England held firm in the face of some relentless but tired offensive moves from the Brazilians in the closing stages of the match, with Anderson pulling off some good saves once Amadeu had played all of his cards to take the game till the end. England could have scored more -- indeed Brewster could have scored his fourth late in the match.
That would have been a flattering scoreline, though. On the night, England were just the better team on the Salt Lake Stadium pitch. And the 3-1 in their favour was a just reflection of how the teams played.
England will play Spain in the final on Saturday, kickoff at 3.30 p.m. BST, 10.30 a.m. ET.