Brazil has history on its side in Under-20 World Cup final
AUCKLAND, New Zealand --
Brazil will carry a significant edge in experience and a remarkable record of defensive impregnability into Saturday's final against Serbia at the Under-20 World Cup.
Five-time champion Brazil will be playing in its ninth final, trying to match Argentina's record of six World Cup titles, while Serbia are first-time finalists as an independent country, although the broader nation of Yugoslavia made it in 1987.
Serbia will be up against the best defense at the tournament; Brazil has gone 502 minutes - more than 8-1/2 hours - since it last conceded a goal. But Serbia has been similarly sound, topping its group and conceding only four goals in five games en route to the final.
Coach Veljko Paunovic saluted Brazil's formidable record at these tournaments but said ''it would be wonderful to make history.''
''Brazil are a great team and they're finishing the tournament in the best possible form,'' Paunovic said. ''As for ourselves, three games going to extra time has taken its toll.
''But my guys are making history here and the incentive of winning the trophy will give them the energy they need.''
Brazil appeared in the late stages of the tournament to have lost its scoring touch, and to have departed from its flamboyant style.
Its round-of-16 match and quarterfinal both ended scoreless at the end of extra time - decided in penalty shootouts - and it seemed Brazil had adopted a more defensive emphasis. The shadow of Brazil's disappointing performance at last year's senior World Cup seemed to loom over this young team, impressing on it an unusual mood of anxiety.
But the flair returned emphatically in the semifinal against Senegal as it scored three goals in the first 19 minutes on its way to a 5-0 win.
Midfielder Gabriel Boschilia, who will play a critical play-making role in Saturday's final, said this team can go some way to restoring the reputation tarnished at the senior World Cup.
''We're here to win this tournament and we're ready to give our all to do it,'' Boschilia told FIFA.com. ''We're trying to restore the image of Brazilian football here.
''The world lost a little respect for our country's players after what happened at the 2014 World Cup so we want to show them that we can still produce the goods.
''We've had players like Pele, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho and now we're the next generation.''
The junior World Cup has unfolded against the background of football's worst-ever corruption scandal. Even in distant New Zealand, it wasn't able to entirely escape the fallout from those events - FIFA President Sepp Blatter had been due to attend the final but now has more pressing matters in Zurich.
While the scandal threatened at times to divert attention from the tournament, it overcame that through the spirit of the players and quality of the football.
More than 300,000 tickets were sold to the tournament's 52 matches and all 25,000 tickets to the final at Auckland's North Harbour Stadium have been sold out for some time.