Team analysis: Group B

Paraguay, Turkey, New Zealand and Mali will fight it out in Group B. Mali finished runner-up last year, while Turkey is in fine form. New Zealand has been a regular at the event since 2007 and Paraguay has given Brazil a run for its money.

Paraguay’s players celebrate their win over Venezuela in the U-17 South American football championship. Paraguay finished third in the competition and qualified for the World Cup in India.

Attack, Paraguay’s watchword!

In keeping with the South American flair for entertaining play and goal-scoring prowess, the Paraguay U-17 squad can be expected to impress fans in its fourth appearance in the FIFA event.

Paraguay’s best U-17 performance came on debut in the 1999 World Cup held in New Zealand. It smashed two goals against Qatar and five against Jamaica in the group stage. Qualifying for the quarterfinals, against Brazil, it lost 4-1 to the eventual champion. In the next two appearances (2001 and 2015) Paraguay was muted. 

Road to Finals 

Paraguay’s qualification from the South American U-17 Championship, featuring six powerful squads, happened after holding Brazil twice (2-2 & 1-1) and Ecuador and beating Chile and Venezuela to finish third in the competition. Paraguay was the only opponent to score against champion Brazil! 

Stars to watch 

Team captain Roberto Fernandez is gifted with the ability for man-marking and is equally comfortable moving with the ball in the rival half. He plays for Guarani as central defender and is a natural leader on the pitch.

The Coach 

Gustavo Morinigo has rich international playing experience. He represented Paraguay at the U-20 World Cup (Malaysia 1997) and the senior World Cup 2002 (South Korea/Japan). The midfielder also played in Argentina and Colombia during a 15-year stint. 

He started coaching the U-20 squad before taking up the U-17 boys last year, transforming the side into a terrific attacking unit. And Paraguay reserved its best for the above-mentioned 2-2 draw against Brazil!

 

Turkey: Meaning business!

The European U-17 champion in 2005, Turkey qualified for the World Cup in that group for the first time the same year in Peru. Four years later, at the U-17 World Cup in Nigeria, in only its second appearance, the team advanced to the quarter-finals before losing to Colombia on penalties. 

Road to Finals

Turkey qualified from Europe for the U-17 World Cup, after reaching the UEFA European U-17 competition semi-finals and losing to champion England.

Malik Karaahmet is awesome upfront for Turkey. He idolises Didier Drogba.

 

Germany and Spain were the only U-17 sides to get past Turkey in the zonal group stage this year in May. Victories over Norway, Croatia, Italy, and Hungary in the same event showed the depth in the side. 

Stars to watch 

Malik Karaahmet adores Didier Drogba for skills in the goalmouth. Turkey-born and based in Germany’s Wiesbaden, he plays for Karlsruher SC, a Third Division team in Germany. Karaahmet showed awesome form upfront for Turkey at the EURO U-17 event, netting three goals in five games. The young striker watches videos of his idol and dreams of scoring like the muscular Ivory Coast ace in the U-17 World Cup.

The Coach 

Bulgaria-born Mehmet Hacioglu is in charge of the national developmental squads from 2014. He is a former Fenerbahce player and works with Turkish age groups teams from U-14 to U-19. 

New Zealand: Sixth on the trot!

New Zealand’s participation for the eighth time and the sixth in a row is a tremendous feat in a FIFA competition. Two years after qualifying for the first time in 1997, the Kiwis hosted the U-17 World Cup and derived benefits from the endeavour. 

Ten years after playing host (1999), New Zealand arrived on the world stage by qualifying for the knockout in 2009 in Nigeria, going down to the Africans in the quarter-finals. The Kiwis produced a repeat in 2011 (Mexico), losing to Japan. Chile 2015 saw New Zealand seal a quarterfinal place for the third time in a row. The Kiwis in 2017 will be boosted by the 2015 displays, stretching Brazil as they did to injury-time before going out in the quarter-finals.

Boyd Curry and Jordan Spain of New Zealand (in black) in a tussle with Yuri Alberto of Brazil during a practice match in Mumbai on September 28, 2017.

 

Luis Hendrique converted a match-winning penalty for Brazil in injury-time after the Kiwis missed a penalty kick in regulation time.

Road to Finals 

Winning the Oceania Football Confederation U-17 event was the route taken by the Kiwis. Papua New Guinea was a difficult rival in the semi-final, but by then the World Cup berth had been confirmed. And New Zealand went on to demolish New Caledonia, the second qualifier from the zone, 7-0 in the title clash.

Stars to watch 

Forward Charles Spragg won the Golden Boot and Golden Ball awards at the OFC U-17 competition. He joined Auckland’s Papakura City FC as a boy and took part in the Milk Cup played in England, testing his talents against club teams from Chelsea and AS Roma. Midfielder Oliver Duncan, playing for Brisbane Roars, remains the sole overseas professional.

The Coach 

Danny Ha had been in charge two years ago in Chile 2015, so has the benefit of continuity. A former international defender, he played in the 2003 FIFA Confederations Cup for New Zealand and was chosen to lead the national side. 

Mali: Potential for giant-killing!

Mali has had some exciting performers such as Seydou Keita, Mamadou Diarra and Adam Traore. FC Barcelona’s Keita and Real Madrid’s Diarra were members of a talented U-17 World Cup squad in 1997. AS Monaco- signing Traore, now sent out on loan, earned the Golden Ball award at the U-20 World Cup 2015.

That it finished as the runner-up at the U-17 World Cup 2015 in Chile, where goalkeeper Samuel Diarra won the Golden Glove award, only serves to underline Mali’s potential. In 1997, on first appearance, the Africans went out in the quarterfinals against Germany. But, in 2001, the U-17 squad did not progress beyond the group stage.

The victorious Mali team at the CAF U-17 championship. This paved the way for its qualification for the World Cup in India.

 

After that Mali did not qualify until Chile 2015, where the second place is the nation’s best result so far. Croatia in the quarterfinals and Belgium in the semifinals were brushed aside and Mali faced Nigeria in an all-African title clash. And Diarra’s brilliance under the bar kept it in contention till the second half. 

Road to Finals

Problems between the government and the Mali Football Association (FEMAFOOT) led to a suspension by FIFA. This was lifted just in time when the CAF U-17 started in Gabon to decide the four African qualifiers for India 2017. Mali regained the title by defeating Guinea in the semis and Ghana in the final to be crowned the best U-17 team from the continent. 

Stars to watch 

Mohammed Camarra, midfielder and captain, led the way for Mali in the CAF U-17 tournament, especially in the tough games against Guinea (won on penalties 2-0) and Ghana (won 1-0).

The Coach 

Jonas Komla of Togo took over from Baye Bah, who guided Mali to the U-17 World Cup final in Chile. Komla has coaching experience with the Djoliba club at home and the UAE team Bani Yas.

Read Team Analysis: Group A

Read Team Analysis: Group C

Read Team Analysis: Group D

Read Team Analysis: Group E

Read Team Analysis: Group F

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