Team analysis: Group A

India, the host, is in Group ‘A.’ What can we expect? Which are the other teams in the fray?

Aniket Jadhav is India’s key striker.

India: Host privilege!

The host would be playing its first-ever FIFA world level event purely by virtue of being, well, the host. Ranked low in the FIFA world rankings, India has been struggling even at the continental level. As such, this would be a historic opportunity for the Indian colts to make an impact on the world stage in front of home crowds and learn some crucial lessons.

Road to Finals

India automatically qualified for the event as host. Under previous manager Nicolai Adam, the team drew 3-3 against Saudi Arabia in the 2016 AFC U-16 Championship and lost to Asian powerhouses Iran and UAE. In fact, India has participated in the AFC U-16 Championship seven times but managed to advance past the first round only once, in 2002, when it reached the quarterfinals.

Stars to watch 

Aniket Jadhav represented India as a 14-year-old in the FC Bayern Munich Youth Cup and he is now the team’s key striker. Midfielder Suresh Singh Wangjam, adjudged best player at the Nike Manchester United Premier Cup’s India leg in 2014, is a calming influence while defender Anwar Ali, a Minerva Academy product from Chandigarh, joined the squad only in April 2017 after impressing coach Matos in his club’s victory against the national side.

Know your Indian World Cup stars

 

The coach

Portuguese Luis Norton de Matos took charge only in March 2017 after the abrupt dismissal of Adam. De Matos played for Portugal at the international level and coached several clubs at home and the Guinea-Bissau national side.

USA: Consistency, its forte!

The United States of America has a record in complete contrast to the host, featuring in 15 of the 16 editions of the tournament so far, but the title has remained elusive. Its best finish was in 1999 — fourth — after losing to Australia on penalties in the semifinals. It failed to make past the group stage in 2015 for the first time ever since 2001 and would be keen to make amends this time around.

United States’ Josh Sargent is a star in two age-group World Cups.

 

Road to Finals

USA finished runner-up to Mexico in the CONCACAF U-17 Championship, losing on penalties after leading for a major part of the game before Mexico equalised in injury time, but reaching the final was enough to book its ticket to India. The team had beaten Mexico for the first time ever in the group stage to end its 25-game unbeaten streak in the tournament.

 

Stars to watch

Almost half of the CONCACAF Championship’s Best XI were American — goalkeeper Justin Garces, defenders Jaylin Lindsey and James Sands, midfielder Chris Durkin and forward Joshua Sargent. The talented Sargent, only the second USA player to score at play in both the Under-20 and Under-17 World Cups in the same year, will clearly be the danger man after his exploits at the Under-20 World Cup where he was the second highest scorer despite Team USA being eliminated in the quarterfinals. Also look out for forward Tim Weah, the youngest son of the legendary George Weah, who has signed his first professional contract with French heavyweight Paris Saint-Germain after being a part of its youth academy.

The coach

Former assistant to the side John Hackworth took full charge from Richie Williams in late 2015. He was also head coach at MLS side Philadelphia Union. He will also be the last man to take charge of the U-17 national team before the United States Soccer Federation disbands its Residency programme.

Colombia: Back after eight years

The 2017 edition would be Colombia’s sixth appearance at the FIFA Under-17 World Cup and first since 2009, where it finished third for the second time in the tournament.

The Colombian team is ready and raring to go in India.

 

Road to Finals

Colombia finished third at the South American Under-17 Championship with a topsy-turvy outing to book its ticket to India. Two wins, one draw and one loss in the group stage was followed by two losses, a draw and a win in the second stage before a dramatic 2-1 win against Paraguay helped the team seal a World Cup spot.

Stars to watch 

Yadir Meneses, the gifted, left-footed playmaker came up through the youth ranks at Envigado FC, also the former club of James Rodriguez, and considered equally talented. A fan of Rodriguez and Juan Roman Riquelme, Meneses wants to be ‘different’ as an attacking midfielder. He joined after the South American championships and is hoping to lead Colombia to its maiden title in India by playing ‘good football.’

The coach

The 60-year old Orlando Restrepo has never played at the highest level but has perhaps the most extensive coaching experience at club level in the group. The Colombian has been around South America, coaching at home and in Bolivia and Costa Rica. He has been in charge of the Under-17 team since August 2016.

Ghana: A refulgent past!

Title favourite, two-time champion and one of the strongest teams in the fray, the Black Starlets made their mark in the 1990s. Winning the U-17 World Cup in 1991 and 1995, reaching four of the five finals and finishing third in the 1999 edition, that squad boasted of some of the biggest African names in the sport including Samuel Kuffour, Stephen Appiah and Michael Essien. Since then, however, the team has only managed to reach the semifinals once, in 2007, and hasn’t even qualified since then, till now.

The Ghana players have been honed into a fine attacking unit.

 

Road to Finals

Ghana struggled to reach the CAF Africa U-17 Cup of Nations but once there, it had a dream run, thrashing Cameroon 4-0 and host Gabon 5-0 to reach the semifinals, becoming the first African side to secure its spot at the World Cup. It finally lost out 1-0 to Mali in the final.

Stars to watch 

Captain Eric Ayiah is the man the team has maximum hopes from in its desire to reclaim glory. The striker scored four goals in the first two games of the AFCON U-17 and, along with winger Emmanuel Toku and striker Ibrahim Sulley, will be the man to watch out for. Striker Mohammed Aminu, who missed the AFCON, would also be crucial.

The coach

Paa Kwesi Fabin took charge in October 2011 and has been third time lucky in taking his team to the World Cup. With 18 goals through qualifying and AFCON, Ghana has scored the maximum among African teams, despite not scoring any once the World Cup ticket was achieved, indicating an attacking gameplan from Fabin. He would now be hoping to go all the way.

Read Team Analysis: Group B

Read Team Analysis: Group C

Read Team Analysis: Group D

Read Team Analysis: Group E

Read Team Analysis: Group F

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