FIFA U-17 WC: Iraq, England figure in a battle for 'home comfort'

Iraq is prepared to overcome the apparent formidability of England and realise its maiden entry into the pre-quarterfinals stage in the FIFA U-17 World Cup, when the two square off in the final round of the Group F league fixture.

England U-17 players train in Kolkata on Friday.   -  AP

Iraq is prepared to overcome the apparent formidability of England and realise its maiden entry into the pre-quarterfinals stage in the FIFA U-17 World Cup, when the two square off in the final round of the Group F league fixture. The match at the Salt Lake Stadium on Saturday will be seeing an interesting clash of styles and philosophies as two sides occupying the top two slots in the current group standings meet to decide the final positions.

England has already made the grade with successive wins while Iraq too finds itself in the classification stage with the points gained so far. Iraq, which has four points from a win and a draw so far, is already assured of a berth in the knock-out stage at least as a third-best team. Going by the current group equations, the four points it already has is sure to put Iraq among the 16 teams to make it to the next stage.

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England coach Steve Cooper hinted at the possibility of resting some of the players but stressed on the need to become the group champion. The match now turns out to be a battle for honour where both sides will be testing their merit of their bench strength. Iraq, which is having a dream run in the tournament so far, will have to raise the intensity of its game to better the Englishmen, who are already eyeing the crown.

“We will be putting up a team that we think can win the game. We want to win the game and finish on top,” Cooper said on the eve of the match. England has been fairly good so far in the creative zone with its midfielders like Jadon Sancho, Philip Foden, George McEachran and Callum Hudson-Odoi impressing with their cohesive show.

The match up will be interesting with England relying on building up its attack on the passing efficiency of its players. Iraq has been playing a more direct football, much in the format popularised by the English, which is characterised by long passes primarily aimed mainly at releasing its mercurial striker Mohammed Dawood.

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Here comes the contest between Dawood and Sancho, if the two are not rested in the match, which is going to be the interesting factor. Both players have scored three goals each and the match offers the scope to increase contest of increasing the tally. “If we win we will be the leader and stay here (Kolkata). Everyone is surprised at what we did but we believe that we are good and doing very well,” said Ali Ibadi, Iraq’s first choice goalkeeper.

Japan primed to qualify

Japan, which has three points from a win and a loss, needs to beat New Caledonia in the concluding outing of the Group E league fixtures, held at the same venue. The Asian side downed Honduras 6-1 before losing 1-2 against group topper France in the two matches it has played so far. It is almost assured of a round-of-16 berth while taking on a side which has conceded 11 goals in its two loses so far. Japan coach Yoshuro Moriyama said, “We need to win in order to go to the next round. Some of our players are eager and hungry to play on the pitch,” shooting down doubts about his first-choice eleven being truncated.

Saturday's matches from Kolkata

Group-E: Japan vs New Caledonia (5 p.m.);

Group-F: England vs Iraq (8 p.m.).

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