Team analysis: Group D

In the Under-17 World Cup in India, Spain, the European champion, will be looking to match the performances of its senior sides that won the EURO 2008 followed by the victory in the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Apart from the mighty Brazil, Spain will be up against DPR Korea and Niger.

Players of the Brazil Under-17 team celebrates a goal against New Zealand in a warm-up game ahead of the FIFA Under-17 World Cup, scheduled to begin on October 6. Brazil may not have gone past the quarterfinal stage in the last two editions of the tournament, but the team should be a strong force this time.   -  Prashant Nakwe

Brazil: Of style and substance

They are the heart and soul of football, the exponents of the beautiful game. When the Brazilians play football, the world often watches in awe. There have, however, been times when the Brazilians have ditched their eye-catching style to win games in major championships, but in the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in India, they promise to play the brand of football that has mesmerised the world for years.

Brazil may not have gone past the quarterfinal stage in the last two editions of the Under-17 World Cup, in the UAE and Chile, but the team should be a strong force in India this time.

A three-time champion, Brazil’s record in the tournament is second only to five-time winner Nigeria. Brazil’s three triumphs came in the space of six years, in 1997, 1999 and 2003, but the last time it made the semifinal was in 2011. Its quarterfinal defeats in the last two editions came against defending champions — Mexico in 2013 and Nigeria in 2015.

Brazil’s opener against Spain in Kochi on October 7 is perhaps the most awaited game of the World Cup.

Road to Finals: Brazil confirmed its berth to India by lifting the South American Under-17 title early this year with an unbeaten record. The team won seven of its nine games and drew the other two. It also scored 24 goals, more than any other side, and conceded the fewest (three).

Star to watch: With its big star Vinicius Junior missing the World Cup after his club Flamengo barred him from travelling to India, the spotlight in the Brazilian team will now be on midfielder Alan de Souza Guimaraes. Alan scored thrice in Brazil’s 5-0 victory over host Chile in the final match of the under-17 South American Cup, which his team won in March, and also gave plenty of assists to Vinicius who finished as the championship’s top scorer. While Real Madrid has signed Vinicius for €45 million, the Spanish giant, according to reports in the Brazilian media, was also keen to grab Alan but his club Palmeiras has put up a €50 million buyout clause in the youngster’s contract which shows that he is worth the big money too. 

The Coach: Carlos Amadeu has been deeply involved in the process through which Brazilian clubs develop young players. He has moulded his team into not just a winning combination, but one that retains the Brazilian style.

“I think this is the Brazilian style, the football I grew up watching with those great Brazil teams,” he said in an interview after his team’s triumph in the South American event.

 

Niger: The team that dashed the champion’s hopes 

It is one of the world’s poorest countries, but Niger has something to smile about this year. The West African nation will be playing in its first FIFA competition, in the Under-17 World Cup in India. Surprisingly, this is a country that shocked five-time champion Nigeria 3-1 in the Under-17 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier late last year, for an aggregate 3-2 victory from the two legs, after losing the opening leg 0-1.

The loss to Niger shut Nigeria’s chances of defending its title in the Under-17 World Cup. The champion had been in big trouble late last year after almost half its side was found to be over-aged ahead of its African Cup of Nations qualifier against Niger.

Road to Finals: After jolting Nigeria, Niger kept up the good run and entered the semifinals of the Africa Cup of Nations in May this year, which helped the team qualify for the Under-17 World Cup along with Ghana, Mali and Guinea.

The Niger under-17 team.

 

Stars to watch: Striker Ibrahim Boubacar Marou and midfielder Abdoul Karim Tinni Sanda, who had been in impressive form in the Under-17 African Cup of Nations, are the stars to watch out for.

The Coach: Tiemogo Soumaila, a former captain of Niger’s senior national team and later its head coach, is the team’s coach. A solid defender who was also known for his prowess in the air, Soumaila was popularly known as ‘The Emperor’.

“I can’t guarantee that we’ll go on and win the competition but I can guarantee that we’ll make people talk about us, just like we did in Africa,” he said. “Maybe we can’t work miracles, but we can do our best.”

Spain: Looking to emulate the seniors

La Roja makes its first appearance in the Under-17 FIFA World Cup since 2009. Spain has a pretty good record in the FIFA event, finishing runner-up in 1991, 2003 and 2007 and taking the third place in 2009. In India, the European champion will be looking to emulate its senior sides that won the EURO 2008 followed by the victory in the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Road to Finals: Spain qualified for the World Cup with another title triumph, its record third, in the UEFA Under-17 Championship in May this year. Its campaign in Croatia was anything but easy. The team saw off Germany on penalties in the semifinals, and in the final against England, the favourite, it trailed by a goal until the dying seconds of the injury time. Nacho Diaz then scored off a header to restore parity for Spain, which held its nerve in the shoot-out — just as it had done in the semifinal — to beat England and win the European title.

Stars to watch

Mateu Morey: The Barcelona talent played a key role in Spain’s triumph in the UEFA Under-17 Championship. Mateu is an attacking right-back, and the best in the business. He struck important goals for Spain during the EURO campaign. The wonderful solo effort against France provided glimpses of his potential. He will be joining Bayern Munich shortly after the World Cup.

Abel Ruiz: He is the joint top scorer in the history of the European Under-17 Championship with 16 goals. The Barcelona player was the leading goal-scorer for Spain in Croatia (European Under-17 Championship) with four goals. The only blot in his book was a missed penalty against Germany.

The Coach: Santiago Denia Sanchez has been in charge of the team for the last six years. The 43-year-old former Spanish player was a tough defender, who also played nine seasons for Atletico Madrid. Popularly known as Santi, he was assistant coach and once caretaker coach of Atletico Madrid in 2009. He became the coach of the Spanish Under-16 squad in 2010 before taking over the reins of the Under-17 side in 2011. After guiding Spain to victory in the UEFA Under-17 Championship, Santi called it a tough campaign and was all praise for his team. “It was an open tournament. The team was mentally strong but also played good football. That is what we’re known for,” he said.

North Korea: The benchmark is 2005

The Chollima (literally meaning ‘Thousand-mile Horse in Chinese and the nickname of the North Korean national football team) will be making its fifth appearance in the FIFA Under-17 World Cup. Having entered the pre-quarterfinals in the last edition, where it lost to the eventual runner-up, Mali, North Korea will be hoping to do better than what it did in 2005 when it reached the quarterfinals — the nation’s best ever performance in the championship. North Korea has progressed beyond the group stage in the World Cup on three occasions — in 2005, 2007 and 2015.

Road to Finals: DPR Korea qualified as one of the semifinalists in the AFC Under-16 tournament held in India. As the defending champion, the Korean team’s campaign in India wasn’t convincing. After starting on a high with two victories, which included a 4-1 win over Thailand and 2-0 defeat of Yemen, North Korea lost to Uzbekistan in the last league match. It, however, managed to qualify for the Under-17 World Cup by defeating Oman in the quarterfinals via the shoot-out. In the semifinals, North Korea lost to Iran on penalties.

Stars to watch

Kim Pon Hyok: The Korean captain is a versatile player; he is quite adept at moving forward to assist the attack and also falling back to defend. He was the key player in coach Yun Jong Sun’s scheme of things, as Kim fitted perfectly into the Korean strategy that relied more on counter-attacks. A player with good pace, Kim is also a dead-ball expert.

Kye Tam: The North Korean coach rates the midfielder very high. A good finisher, Kye scored a hat-trick against Thailand in the only match he played in the AFC Under-16 Championship in Goa. Kye will spearhead the Korean attack in India.

The Coach: A former North Korea international, Yun Jong Sun had a long career as a player. He was part of many Korean campaigns, including the 1986 World Cup qualifiers. After his playing career, Yun took to coaching and enjoyed a fair degree of success. He was appointed the coach of the senior team, but it failed to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Yun, however, enjoyed success with the junior team, guiding the Under-20 squad to the AFC title in 2010. He was also at the helm when Korea qualified for the Under-17 World Cup from the AFC tournament held in Goa.

Read Team Analysis: Group A

Read Team Analysis: Group B

Read Team Analysis: Group C

Read Team Analysis: Group E

Read Team Analysis: Group F

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