FIFA U-17 WC: High flying Iran takes on winless Mexico

Iran made its presence felt in the tournament when it hammered Germany 4-0 on its way to topping Group C with 10 goals to its name. It has hardly put a foot wrong in the three matches leading up to the Round-of-16 stage.

Iran's Younes Delfi (11) along with team, training ahead of the pre-quarterfinal football match against Mexico in the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017, at Utorda Football ground in Goa on Monday.   -  K. Murali Kumar

 

At the end of the last group stage match against Costa Rica, Iran's captain Mohammad Gobeishavi slumped to the ground along with the eliminated Central American rival, both looking disconsolate. He had led his side from the front in all three games only for him to pick up a second yellow card in the game and miss out an opportunity to create football history for his country. The side looks primed to take Iran to its first ever quarterfinal at the FIFA U-17 World Cup when it takes on a struggling Mexico side here at the Fatorda stadium on Tuesday.

Iran made its presence felt in the tournament when it hammered Germany 4-0 on its way to topping Group C with 10 goals to its name. It has hardly put a foot wrong in the three matches leading up to the Round-of-16 stage. And the only goal it conceded came late against Guinea when Fandanje Toure continued to dribble past a seated Ahmad Jalali, who suffered a muscle pull, to score a consolation.

Iran's enforcer

The 2016 AFC cup finalist's No. 9 Allahyar Sayyad has been emblematic of Iran's dominant showing. The forward has made harrying runs which have enabled his side's defensive footing to start right from the attack which is followed right through to the backline. Sayyad has also displayed strength in holding up the ball to allow the likes of Younes Delfi and Amir Hossein Zadeh to join in the attack. Delfi reinstated the idea that Iran must continue to play to its striker: “He is a fighter and he is hungry for goals. If we can help him and reinforce him in attack it can help us very much.”

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The side has progressed well under coach Abbas Chamanian, who has retained the spine of the side from its AFC campaign in Goa last year. Mohammed Sharifi will return to the side after being rested against Costa Rica and will have to take up the additional responsibility in the absence of Gobeishavi in both shielding the backline and being the creative fulcrum.

The coach said he was annoyed by Gobeishavi’s suspension but added, “We respect the referee’s decision. Fortunately, our replacement players are good. We are prepared for everything.”

Iran’s defence has been marshalled well by the center-back pairing of Taha Shariati and Amir Esmaeil Zadeh. Esmaeil Zadeh, who was replaced on Friday after suffering a shoulder injury, trained with the side on Sunday and the coach said he will take a call on his inclusion after the training session on Monday evening.

Incoherent Mexican attack

Mexico, on the other hand, hasn't shown any semblance of its free-scoring run displayed during its CONCACAF championship-winning run. Both its attack and defence has been found wanting as it stumbled to a third-place finish with zero wins in a strong Group F. It has scored only three goals, with both its attack and midfield showing no link while moving forward.

Its attackers have been reduced to taking speculative shots from distance with no clear plan to get the ball past the opposition's last line of defence. Rather, it has had to rely on individual brilliance in the form of its midfielder Diego Lainez who has chipped in with a couple of goals. Jairo Torres, the best player of the CONCACAF qualifier, will need to come good against Iran to offer support to Lainez.

In the group-stage match, England ripped Mexico to shreds in the first half and could have comfortably won the game if not for its poor finishing. Mario Arteaga' side cannot rely on Iran to offer the team a similar leeway.

As seen in the knockout stages of any tournament, form becomes irrelevant and Mexico’s coach is hoping to rely on the experience of the two-time World champion’s know-how. “We have been here before so we will count on that. Once the match starts, we start from scratch. It’s important to respond when teams go in front (take the lead)," said Arteaga.

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