FIFA U-17 World Cup: Heavyweights Brazil and Spain face off in Group D opener
Three-time champions Brazil will take on European winners Spain their FIFA U-17 World Cup opener on Saturday.fifa u17 world cup 2017 Updated: Oct 06, 2017 18:07 IST
It couldn’t have been a better match to begin with. When Kochi hosts its first match of the FIFA U-17 World Cup on Saturday, it will be none other than Brazil and Spain facing off in the Group D opener at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
The enthusiasm for the opening match here has been evident from the fact that tickets for the game had been sold out last week, although the stadium’s capacity has been reduced from 41,000 to 29,000 due to security reasons.
Brazil won the U-17 South American Championship earlier this year while Spain lifted the U-17 European Championships this past summer.
With both sides being the pre-tournament favourites for the FIFA U-17 World Cup, them being drawn in the same group makes things much more interesting.
Saturday’s match assumes huge significance given the fact that the winner of the group is likely to face an easier proposition in Round of 16.
The team finishing top of this group will take on the third placed team from one of Groups B, E or F, while the runner-up side will face the winner of Group E, possibly France or Japan.
Not only that, winning the group will mean a Round of 16 fixture in Kochi itself, while the team that finishes second here will have to make a long trip to Guwahati for the match against Group E winner.
Three-time winners Brazil received a blow ahead of the tournament when Brazilian Serie A club Flamengo refused to release Real Madrid-bound forward Vinicius Junior for the tournament.
However, despite missing their star front man, Brazil are not short of match-winners. Midfielder Alan Souza, forwards Lincoln and Paulinho are among some of the most highly-rated youngsters in the country, and they will hope to leave their mark at the FIFA U-17 World Cup.
“It’s a match between two heavyweights, two very big teams that are arriving as regional champions. It will definitely give us an idea of where we stand in the tournament, and them too. It’s our first match, so it’s our first final,” forward Paulinho told FIFA.com ahead of the game.
Paulinho had earlier picked up a knock before taking the flight to India, but he is expected to be fully fit before Saturday’s game.
Coach Amadeu said Vinicius’ absence would make a difference, in terms of his team’s objectives. “Vinicius was important for us, but we focus on the players we have,” he told reporters in the pre-match press conference on Friday.
While camping in Mumbai a few days back, Amadeu had said, “All our strikers are fighting for their positions. We don’t have a sure-shot starting XI.”
He reiterated his stand on Friday, saying, “We gave some playing minutes to our players in the practice games in order to evaluate them. We have changed our line-ups whenever needed in the past, in the South American Championship, for example. We are confident about our players.”
Spain, on the other hand, are calm ahead of their high-voltage opener. All eyes will be on Barcelona B striker Abel Ruiz, who had been the team’s star performer at the U-17 European Championships earlier this year.
Head coach Santi Denia made to attempt to downplay the importance of the Barcelona star when speaking to reporters on Wednesday. “Our job is to work together in a group so that he (Abel Ruiz) can perform to his best level,” he said about Ruiz.
Barcelona B full-back Mateu Morey and Real Madrid Juvenil A centre back Victor Chust Garcia are among the other key players in the team.
Boasting of a strong backline, they will be eager to cut off the supply line to the likes of Lincoln and Paulinho on Saturday.
The Spaniards have never previously won a World Cup title at this age group, although they have come second on three occasions.
This may well be their best opportunity so far for a shot at the title.
Coach Denia summed it up, saying, “There’s no pressure on us. We have never won the U-17 World Cup, but we will try to win it this time.”