FIFA U-17 WC: High-flying Iran seeks the improbable against Spain

Iran, which qualified for the quarterfinals for the first time, will be playing against an opponent that has steadily improved as the tournament has progressed.

Iran’s Younes Delfi (right) will miss the quarterfinal due to suspension.   -  K. Murali Kumar

After waylaying Germany in Goa, Iran aims to do the improbable again as it meets European champion Spain in the quarterfinal of the FIFA U-17 World Cup at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium on Sunday.

Iran, which qualified for the quarterfinals for the first time, will be playing against an opponent that has steadily improved as the tournament has progressed. At its best, Spain has shown glimpses of tiki-taka and has moved the ball through both the flanks. Striker Abel Ruiz has struck form at the right time.

Read: U.S., England go to battle on equal footing

Spain’s languid yet attacking style will challenge Iran’s resilience. Iran has been master of playing percentage football in this tournament. The team has allowed its rival to dominate possession but has backed its defensive strategy, managing to win all the four matches. The Iranians even in their huge win over Germany enjoyed less possession when compared to their rival – 43 per cent to 57 per cent.

‘Tough opponent’

Iran’s switch from defensive to attacking mode has caught its rivals napping. Iran has pacy strikers in Younes Delfi and Allahyar Sayyed who lent potency to the counter-attack. The entire team backtracks into its own half when it loses the ball to the opposition. Stifling the rival midfielders for space is a strategy that Iran has managed to follow consistently this tournament. The team has let in only two goals in the tournament while having scored 12 goals.

FIFA U-17 World Cup quarterfinal line-up

“We have reached this stage by playing hard. Spain is a tough opponent but they will also be under pressure. Our objective is to keep a clean slate and then score a goal. Once we score we try our best to defend it,” said coach Abbas Chamanyan. The coach also downplayed the absence of Delfi, who will miss the match due to suspension.

But captain Allahyar Sayyed, who has struck thrice in the tournament, said his team is loaded with enough talent to replace the striker. Sayyed said his team is on a ‘mission impossible’ to beat Spain and qualify for the semifinals, but like his coach, Sayyed expressed confidence in his team's ability to put it across the European side.

‘Great respect’ for Iran

Spain has won three matches on the bounce after its opening defeat against Brazil. Abel Ruiz’s last-minute penalty gave Spain a narrow win against France in the pre-quarterfinals which is certainly a morale booster for Santiago Deni’s side.

“We are aware of Iran’s strength. We have great respect for them. Iran is a dangerous side on counter-attacks and they defend pretty well. We need to improve our defence. We are pretty flexible with our game-plan. Our aim is to win and enter the semifinals,” Santi said.

It has been raining pretty hard in Kochi for the last two days and the humidity, which has been a deterrent for Spain, will no longer be a factor if rains on the match day. The teams will then be on even keel. However, adaptability to slow turf will hold the key.

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