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Saturday, Dec 14, 2019

FIFA U-17 World Cup: Travel-weary Spain aim to unlock Iran’s defence

Spain face Iran in the FIFA U-17 World Cup quarterfinals in Kochi on Sunday.

fifa-u17-world-cup-2017 Updated: Oct 21, 2017 18:48 IST
Bhargab Sarmah
Bhargab Sarmah
Hindustan Times, Kochi
Spain players train ahead of their FIFA U-17 World Cup quarterfinal match against Iran in Kochi.
Spain players train ahead of their FIFA U-17 World Cup quarterfinal match against Iran in Kochi.(AP)

On any other day, or in any other age group, Spain would be expected to be the overwhelming favourites going into a football game against Iran. That, however, isn’t the case as both teams prepare to face off here at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Sunday.

After reaching the final of the AFC U-16 Championship last year, Iran were expected to be one of the better Asian sides in this tournament. They have, however, performed well above expectations, winning all their four matches in the tournament so far.

These wins include a 4-0 thrashing of Germany in the group stages. Iran have been lethal going forward despite managing to keep an average of 41.5 percent possession in these games.

READ | FIFA U-17 World Cup: We are no Leicester City, says Iran football team coach

The Asian giants have scored 12 goals and conceded two in these games, with strikers Allahyar Sayyad and Younes Delfi scoring five of their 12 goals. Delfi, however, is suspended for the game against Spain.

Brisk pace on the counter and ability to close out space when without the ball has seen Iran outwit their opponents so far.

Boasting of a strong backline, Iran will be aware of the threat posed by European champions Spain.

“We know that we have a tough match, but there’s no doubt that Spain too have a tough match. We are very well prepared and ready for this match. Our players are very motivated to go to the semifinals,” coach Abbas Chamanian told reporters in the pre-match press conference.

Forward Sayyad insisted that Delfi’s suspension wouldn’t impact his team. “Delfi is a high quality player for us, but we have a team and we can go through without him,” he said.

“We are here for mission impossible,” he added.

READ | FIFA U-17 World Cup: Brazil, Germany ready for ‘world classic’

Spain, on the other hand, will be high on morale after knocking out a strong France side with a 2-1 win in the quarterfinals.

Having begun their campaign with a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Brazil, Spain have bounced back well to notch up three wins on the bounce.

They thrashed Niger 4-0 before beating North Korea 2-0 to finish off the group stage.

Ferran Torres and Sergio Gomez have been highly effective on the wings, and could be key to unlocking Iran’s resolute backline tomorrow.

Coach Santiago Denia refused to reveal too much about his strategy against Iran.

“It’s a top-level match because it’s a World Cup match. It’s not going to be easy. Talking about Iran, they are here because of the good things they have done. They have won all their four matches. It’s one of the best teams in terms of transition from defence to attack.

READ | FIFA U-17 World Cup special: ‘Brazil have to be patient vs an intense Germany’

“Let’s see what the strategy is for tomorrow. The team has worked (to counter) the defence that Iran have. We have been working to improve the circulation of the ball and find more space against Iran,” he stated.

The Spaniards, who had played their group stage games in Kochi, have had to take an arduous journey to-and-fro Guwahati for their Round of 16 game against France.

Denia said the long journey has negated any advantage Spain would have enjoyed from having played three games in Kochi.

“It (playing in Kochi) won’t be an advantage because we have gone 3000 kilometres to Guwahati and come back,” Denia said.

The highly-anticipated quarterfinal clash will kick off at 5 pm here tomorrow.