In the end, a tournament full of surprises and late, late drama had a fitting conclusion.
Serbia, playing in the FIFA U-20 World Cup for the first time as an independent nation, are leaving as champions. That is the remarkable outcome after an enthralling final day of action that thrilled a sell-out, 25,000-plus crowd at Auckland’s North Harbour Stadium.
Nemanja Maksimovic’s decisive, 118th-minute goal settled the final 2-1 in favour of the delirious Serbians, and left five-time champions Brazil to settle for silver.
Mali are also returning home with medals after edging an all-African third-place play-off with Senegal. That game’s final tallies of four goals and two saved penalties give an indication, but only that, of the excitement and attacking football that both sides provided.
Each head for home having provided fresh reminders of why they have been such favourites of the fans here in New Zealand. Mali’s hero, Adama Traore, also headed the list of award-winners, picking up the adidas Golden Ball award as the tournament’s best player.
The Golden Glove and Golden Boot, recognising the leading keeper and top scorer, went to Serbia’s Predrag Rajkovic and Viktor Kovalenko of Ukraine respectively.