FIFA U-17: Can Paraguay take advantage of Mata-less New Zealand?

Paraguay, fresh off a 3-2 win against last edition's semifinalist Mali, will look to continue its winning run against the Kiwis who'll be without their star striker and captain Max Mata.

Max Mata (right) was booked in the 61st and 95th minutes on Friday to be shown red and will be missing in action against Paraguay.   -  AP

Having held a stronger Turkish side to a 1-1 draw, New Zealand would hope to go one better against Paraguay when the two teams meet in a Group B encounter here on Monday.

Paraguay, on the other hand, fresh off a 3-2 win against last edition's semifinalist Mali, will look to continue its winning run against the Kiwis who'll be without their star striker and captain Max Mata.

Mata was booked in the 61st and 95th minutes on Friday to be shown red and will be missing in action against Paraguay. In his absence, the onus will be on forward Charles Spragg to spearhead the scoring department.

Though the team was under the gun against an aggressive Turkey,  it grew into the match after having its back against the wall, pressing well on either side of half-time.

The equaliser itself was a result of smart thinking on the part of Elijah Just and Mata who caught the opposition defence napping with a swift free-kick.

GROUP B STANDINGS

However, in the practice games against quality opponents like Brazil and England, the All Whites were guilty of squandering leads, something the Hay Danny-coached unit would be wary of.

Out of a total of 14 shots taken, only three were on target meaning it would hope to polish its finishing skills against Paraguay.

Meanwhile, the Los Guaranies maybe among the most underrated teams in Group B but has already made its intentions clear with a flying start to the World Cup campaign.

On a humid and an overcast Sunday evening here at the Yashwantrao Chavan football ground in Sector 19 A of Navi Mumbai, the team opted for an hour-and-a-half long session under the watchful eyes of Mumbai police and a handful of curious onlookers.

Valencia's Diego Huesca , the Paraguayan 'keeper who conceded two goals against Mali, was in the thick of action along with two other reserves — they warmed up with a slew of routine exercises before flaunting some acrobatic skills to prevent the ball from finding the net.

Adjacent to them, the young Turks jogged their reflexes by playing rondo. With a spring in their steps, the U-17 boys took to the field like any other teenager with a passion for the sport would — the sense of freedom and exuberance didn't go amiss.

This  approach should help
alleviate some pressure off the side ahead of Monday's match, where a win could guarantee it a place in the Group of 16.

Coached by World Cupper Gustavo Morinigo, Paraguay's emphasis on offence and defence was on full display against Mali where Antonio Gaeano and Leonardo Sanchez put it in the lead before Alan Rodriguez converted a spot-kick to pip the opponent in a goal-fest.

Paraguay's leading goal scorer in the qualifiers, Leonardo Sanchez, will be a force to reckon with for New Zealand. With the head-coach already terming him as "a very strong player", the 17-year-old would be high on confidence going into Monday's match.

Paraguay managed 11 shots on target, and despite Mali enjoying 66% of the possession, the Alexis Duarte-led side coupled attack with counter-attack to propel itself to pole position in Group B.

A place in the next round will be up for grabs when it locks horns with the Oceania giant in the hot and humid conditions at the D.Y. Patil stadium in Navi Mumbai.