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Wednesday, Nov 20, 2019

FIFA U-17 World Cup: Brazil, England and Iran dominate group stages

The business end of the FIFA U-17 World Cup is upon us from Monday with the knockouts, starting with the pre-quarterfinals (Round of 16). The way Brazil, England and Iran have performed showed that they were three of the best teams in the group stages of the tournament.

fifa-u17-world-cup-2017 Updated: Oct 15, 2017 20:21 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
England will face Japan in their Round of 16 clash of the FIFA U-17 World Cup.
England will face Japan in their Round of 16 clash of the FIFA U-17 World Cup. (Samir Jana/HT PHOTO)

On the first day India showed heart, on the last New Caledonia made history.

In between, there have been numerous examples of teenagers with enough promise to go the way of Borussia Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic who has made the transition to playing with men look a lot easier than it is. And as game days came and went, India showed that while the question of whether it cares for football is one for the future, it sure does love this FIFA under-17 World Cup.

Lincoln, Sayyad and other stars

That Brazil would comfortably make it out of the group stage wasn’t unexpected. But the way Iran and England qualified for the round of 16 was. Iran’s dismantling of Germany could be the equivalent of the USA trumping England in the men’s 1950 World Cup.

(Read | FIFA U-17 World Cup: Pre-Quarterfinal lineup and match schedule)

Lincoln has shown that such a weighty name sits lightly on his 17-year-old shoulders after Brazil kicked off their campaign with a self-goal just like they did in the last men’s World Cup. And in Paulinho, he has an able partner to share attacking responsibilities just as in Gabriel Brazao they have a solid shot-stopper.

But from the time Allahyar Sayyad turned and rifled a right-footer into the top corner contributing to a Guinea meltdown to how they punctured German pride with Younes Delfi’s brace would be mentioned every time there is a conversation about this World Cup. “My players got scared and showed too much respect to the opponents,” said Germany coach Christian Wuck.

(Read | FIFA U-17 World Cup: Brazil look prepared to end 14-year title drought)

Iran, the Asian runners-up, won all their group league games along with Paraguay, France, Brazil and England. The Asian champions, Iraq, too qualified from a difficult group; a 0-4 drubbing by England taking the sheen off a combative draw against Mexico and their clinical dismantling of Chile. “Who would have thought we would qualify,” said Iraq coach Qahtan Chitheer.

Neither France nor Paraguay could keep a clean sheet on way to topping their groups. England did that for two games, once without eight regulars. Their players made connections in the front third that could be the pride of several senior teams. And England coach Steve Cooper has given 20 of his 21 players game time. When Branimir Ujevic, head of the Technical Study Group, mentioned some dazzling wing play he could well have had England in mind.

(Read | FIFA U-17 World Cup: Mexico draw with Chile, enter Round of 16)

Several teams have struggled in heat and humidity but not them. They have been so fluent that Kolkata will hope they don’t have a bad day in the knockouts.

Jadon Sancho, Philip Foden, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Joel Latibeaudiere should be names that will serve football well along with Mohammed Dawood, Diego Lainez and Amine Gouiri who takes the Fifa’s slogan ‘go for goals’ very seriously. Along with Japan’s Keito Nakamura, they have helped 36 games average 3.5 goals, something that hasn’t happened since 2005.

For the India team, this competition would have been an eye-opener as to how difficult the game is even at the under-17 level. But except for the second half against Ghana when they didn’t have the legs, India showed a lot of pluck. And with a bit of luck could have got their first point after Jeakson Singh made history. New Caledonia did that, against a second-string Japan, and somersaulted their way home.

(Read | FIFA U-17 World Cup: France crush Honduras 5-1, to face Spain in Round of 16)

New Delhi rocks

Nearly one lakh people fetched up over two India match days in New Delhi and that should count among the positives. The way New Delhi bought into India games could be something to build on if football really has to take over.

“When the right people come, it adds to the atmosphere and enhances the quality of football,” said Javier Ceppi, tournament director of the local organising committee.

True, like at most men’s World Cups, the story of empty seats got traction but it also showed that demand for tickets in this World Cup was way above the under-17 average. And despite empty seats, Angel Gomes, who kicks a ball at Manchester United, says he never expected so many people and Cooper feels the way India has reacted would be unheard of about a ‘development tournament’ in Europe. So, bring on the knockout rounds.