FIFA U-17 WC: A battle of equals

In terms of form or talent or even style of play, there is little to choose between Brazil and England when they meet in the U-17 World Cup on Wednesday. Both teams are highly attacking and have been in imperious form. They boast of players who are billed to make it to the elite list for their respective countries and clubs.

England U-17 players at a training session ahead on the eve of their FIFA U-17 World Cup semifinal match against Brazil in Kolkata on Tuesday.   -  Bikas Das

A boatload of billboards, banner stands line up the highway leading to the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan Stadium in Salt Lake City, Kolkata. The billboards — gigantic, colourful and diverse — show a beaming Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, announcing the conduct of FIFA U-17 World Cup in the football-crazy city of Kolkata.

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It is only fitting that the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata, with the largest capacity of 66, 687 gets to hold an additional match after unfit playing conditions because of rains forced the organisers to shift an important match from Guwahati. The city already had the responsibility of hosting the final and the third-place playoff on October 28. Now, it also gets to hold the mouth-watering clash between perennial favourite Brazil and a dominant England in the first semifinal of the FIFA U-17 World Cup on Wednesday.

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It was an eleventh-hour change, but football fanatics weren’t going to miss an opportunity to see their most favourite team — Brazil— play. The tickets for the match were sold out in just around 12 hours.  

England played three group matches and a pre-quarterfinal against Japan at the same venue. Brazil played the quarterfinal against Germany here to a packed stadium of more than 60,000 with most of them supporting the team from the Samba land.

In terms of form or talent or even style of play, there is little to choose between Brazil and England. England, in fact, started its U-17 World Cup preparations with a practice game against the same Brazil side on September 1. The teams played out a goalless but enterprising draw, with the ‘Young Lions’ edging the Seleção in a penalty shootout.

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The teams are highly attacking and have been in imperious form. Both teams boast of players who are billed to make it to the elite list for their respective countries and clubs. If England lost out on the services of its marquee player Jaden Sancho for the elimination rounds on the orders of his club Borussia Dortmund, Brazil’s star striker Vinicius Jr was barred from playing the World Cup by his club Flamengo. To both the teams’ delight, other players have risen up to the challenge. 

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The versatile Paulinho, along with Weverson, helped the yellow brigade to make a remarkable turnaound in the quarterfinal against Germany. He has scored thrice and has assisted twice so far. Lincoln has made it a point to crumble the opposition defence at will, scoring three vital goals for Brazil. The trio of Paulinho, Lincoln and Brenner are simply hard to contain.

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Brazil has also seen watertight skills from goalkeeper Gabriel Brazao who has an astounding success rate of 88.9 percent, saving 16 goals and conceding just two.

The story is no different for England. Rhian Brewster made heads turn with an awe-inspiring goal from a free-kick. In the quarterfinal, USA couldn’t prevent the ruthless striker from collecting England’s first hat-trick of the tournament en route to a 4-1 thrashing.

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Between two attacking teams, will their defending prove the key to successs?  The coaches however made it clear that there won’t be a change in the style of play.

"There is no advantage for any sides. I don’t know about the stats if these two are the best-attacking sides (both Brazil and England).Two teams with quality in their side will clash tomorrow and it will be a great match,” said Brazil coach Carlos Amadeu, on the eve of the match.

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 “We have a code set. When we have the ball we attack. When we don’t, we defend. They are the same set of rules we will follow for all the matches,” the Brazil coach noted.

 “We want to play a possession-based game, play attractive football and work hard when we don't have the ball to get back into the game. We have a plan, so we'll be sticking to that, “ England coach Steve Cooper said.

 “Semifinals against Brazil at a venue like this is amazing. It's the biggest game without a doubt for the players as well as the staff. There’s everything to be excited about. We are looking forward to a good game, of course in front of a small crowd,” Cooper added.  

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