FIFA U-17 WC: England overwhelming favourite to win against Japan

From what has been on display over the last week, it would be naive to imagine Steve Cooper’s charges struggling against Japan even if Sancho is not available.

Japan's Keito Nakamura (centre) and team-mates attend a training session ahead of their FIFA U-17 World Cup pre-quaterfinal match against Japan in Kolkata.   -  K. R. Deepak

With or without star player Jadon Sancho, in-form England starts as hot favourite against Japan in the FIFA U-17 World Cup pre-quarterfinal clash at the Vivekananda Yuva Bharati Krirangan here on Tuesday.

Sancho, a vital cog in England’s free-flowing wheel throughout the group stages, was only allowed to participate in the tournament on condition that he would return to his club, German giant Borussia Dortmund, after the group stages.

The English Football Association (FA), according to reports, tried to persuade Dortmund bosses to change their stance and let the talismanic player stay to hopefully fire England to World Cup glory.

While there was still no clarity on whether the highly-rated winger, comfortable on both flanks, would stay with the team or not, Sancho was seen training with one batch of English players on Sunday raising hopes of a possible end to the impasse.

PREVIEW:

1: High flying Iran takes on winless Mexico

2: European giants France, Spain battle for a spot in quarters

3: Mali hopes to deliver a killer blow to Dawood-less Iraq

But from what has been on display over the last week, it would be naive to imagine Steve Cooper’s charges struggling against Japan even if Sancho is not available.

“We showed we have 21 players who can start games and make a difference in a tournament at this level which is obviously great.

“It will be difficult to pick the team for the next one but it bodes well that we have got so many players developing from our system and can come away from the World Cup and be better players,” coach Cooper had said after its 4-0 verdict against Iraq despite making eight changes to the team that beat Mexico 3-2.

Barring Stoke City goalkeeper Josef Bursik, England has used all of its 20 players in three games underlining the depth in its ranks.

The only chink in the Europeans’ armour has been their defence with the backline of Timothy Eyoma, Joel Latibeaudiere, Marc Guehi and Jonathan Panzo unlocked in the space of few minutes by Mexico’s Diego Lainez.

Coming to Japan, the Yoshiro Moriyama-coached side gave a poor account of itself in the last group engagement, drawing 1-1 with minnows New Caledonia which until then had shipped a dozen goals in two matches.

After coasting to a 6-1 victory over the lowly Honduras, Japan was checked by France 1-2 with key players Keito Nakamura and Takefusa Kubo man-marked and its midfielders choked.

Japan played a second-string team resting nine players against New Caledonia but its meek surrender after Nakamura had given the team an early lead was far from a good advertisement of its bench strength — a sharp contrast to England.

Nakamura and Kubo would be the key players in Moroyama’s scheme of things. In the other camp, the likes of Phil Foden, Angel Gomes, Rhian Brewster and George McEachran would look to continue their superb run upfront hassle free.

Japan and England have never met before at the U-17 World Cup.

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