Team analysis: Group E

France’s biggest challenge will come from Japan in the group where Honduras and New Caledonia are the other teams. Since winning the pennant in 2001, Les Bleuets has never progressed beyond the Round of Eight. Will 2017 be different?

Amine Gouiri of Olympique Lyon attempts to shake off his marker, Jonathan Biabiany of FC Internationale, during an International Champions Cup match in Nanjing, China. Gouiri, 17, is France’s star striker.   -  Getty Images

France: Hoping to break a jinx

After winning the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Trinidad & Tobago in 2001, Les Bleuets has since struggled to get past the quarterfinals in the seven editions that followed. The side was counted among the favourites in the 2015 edition after having won the Under-17 European Championship the same year. However, it was unable to replicate its success and suffered a heart-wrenching Round of 16 defeat to Costa Rica, and that too on penalties.

The team will hope to break its jinx this time around.

Road to Finals:

The Under-17 European Championship semifinalist was assured of a spot in the World Cup, but the team blew its chances following a 3-1 defeat to the eventual tournament winner Spain. France got a second chance to qualify with a play-off match against Hungary — a side that it had already lost to in the group stage — for the fifth and final spot from the European Under-17 championship. And the team managed to sneak in with a 1-0 win.

Stars to watch: The highlight of France’s Under-17 European Championship campaign was undoubtedly the stepping up of Amine Gouiri — the team’s star striker. The 17-year-old, who plays for Ligue 1 side Olympique Lyon, revelled in the tournament as he hammered in nine goals, making him the championship’s top scorer.

The squad could also feature French legend Zinedine Zidane’s second son, Luca Zidane, who will man the posts.

The Coach: Lionel Rouxel was appointed in 2016 and this will be his first World Cup with the side. However, the 47-year-old former attacker comes with a huge bank of experience, having coached the Guingamp Under-18 side for eight years.

 

Honduras: Still taking the baby steps

The Los Catrachos are fairly new to the age group and had a rather unsuccessful start when they made their debut in the 2007 edition in Korea. The team failed to register even a single win, and its losing streak extended into the following edition as well, when it failed to open its account and lost all three games in Nigeria in 2009. To make matters worse, Honduras failed to qualify for the 2011 edition in Mexico.

Honduras came into the 2013 edition in the United Arab Emirates with a determined unit, and after a total of seven matches across editions, it finally registered a win. The squad put up a strong display to reach the quarterfinal stage — the nation’s best performance in the event. In 2015 in Chile, Honduras, much like in 2007 and 2009, failed to win a game and did not get past the group stage.

Road to Finals: After finishing runner-up in the 2015 CONCACAF Under-17 Championship, Honduras had a rather average outing in the 2017 edition. It came second in the central American zone qualifiers and made it to the classification stage. It suffered a 4-2 loss to Panama right at the start, but bounced back to register 3-1 and 3-0 wins over Haiti and Curacao respectively.

Honduras then slipped to a 3-0 defeat to the United States, and its chances of qualifying seemed all but over. However, a remarkable 7-1 rout of Cuba ensured that the team qualified for the Under-17 World Cup for the sixth time.

Stars to watch: Carlos Mejia Estrada is one of the main players to watch out for. The striker rammed seven goals in the CONCACAF championship to secure a berth for his team in the World Cup. Mejia scored a hat-trick in Honduras’ 7-1 thumping of Cuba, which was crucial in his team securing a spot in the World Cup.

The Coach: Honduras is coached by Jose Valladares, who has guided the national side to the Under-17 World Cup on three successive occasions since taking charge. The 55-year-old enjoyed a successful stint with the Nicaraguan side, CD Walter Ferretti, which finished second in the country’s top-flight Premier Division last season.

Japan: Drawing inspiration from Cruyff’s Netherlands

Asian powerhouse Japan is making its eighth appearance in the FIFA Under-17 World Cup. The Japanese lads excelled in their debut season in 1993 and made it to the quarterfinals that year. Japan, which made it to the quarters again in 2011 in Mexico, has never progressed beyond the last eight stage.

After failing to qualify for the 2015 edition, Japan, coached by Hirofumi Yoshitake, put up a dominant display in the AFC Under-16 Championships to seal its trip to India.

Road to Finals: The Japs were in blistering form in the AFC Under-16 Championships and scored a staggering 21 goals to progress to the last eight with ease. It defeated the UAE 1-0 in the quarters and with that, officially qualified for the 2017 World Cup. Japan, however, slipped to a 2-4 defeat to eventual winner Iraq in the semifinals.

Stars to watch: Japan’s star player is undoubtedly forward Takefusa Kubo, who plays for the J-league side FC Tokyo. Known as the ‘Japanese Messi’, the wonder kid, at 15 years and 10 months, became the youngest player to score in the J-League. He was at his attacking best in the AFC Under-16 Championship, scoring two goals each in his side’s 7-0 and 8-0 rout of Vietnam and Kyrgyzstan respectively.

The Coach: The side is coached by Hirofumi Yoshitake, who enforced a tactical 4-4-2 formation in the AFC Cup that was widely praised. A former maths teacher, the 57-year-old has been hailed for his calculated moves on the pitch that have more often than not yielded results. The veteran definitely knows what it takes to excel at the level, given that he led the team in the 2011 and 2013 editions.

Considering Johan Cruyff’s Netherlands side of the 1970s as his biggest inspiration, Yoshitake will strive to break Japan’s last eight jinx.

New Caledonia: Time to dream big

Oceania’s New Caledonia, admitted to FIFA in 2004, is playing in its first World Cup this year. The side’s qualification makes it the sixth current Oceania Football Confederation member to play in a FIFA World Cup.

The Francophone nation boasts a population of 2.70 lakh people and will be the smallest country to feature in a FIFA World Cup. That, however, will not stop the side from dreaming big.

Road to Finals:

New Caledonia’s ticket to India was far from smooth, to say the least. The side earned hard-fought one-goal wins against Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu and played out a draw with Tahiti to reach the semifinal stage and book its berth for the World Cup. The team went on to defeat the Solomon Islands 3-2 to make it to the final, but then suffered a 7-0 thrashing at the hands of New Zealand in the OFC Cup.

The New Caledonia under-17 team.

 

Stars to watch: The newcomer has entrusted its goal-scoring tasks to attacking midfielder Paul Gope-Fenepej, who scored three important goals to seal the team’s passage to India. The lethal attacker has football running in his veins, literally, as two of his brothers are professional footballers. The youngster is also said to have had a trial at French side Nantes.

The Coach: The team is coached by former national midfielder Dominique Wacalie, who took charge only in April this year. However, he does come with some experience, having previously been the regional Technical Director in New Caledonia. The 35-year-old was a key member of the national team and was part of its campaign for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

With the team largely known for its pacy and lively football, the young coach will look to lead his determined side to glory.

Read Team Analysis: Group A

Read Team Analysis: Group B

Read Team Analysis: Group C

Read Team Analysis: Group D

Read Team Analysis: Group F

Support Sportstar


Dear Reader,

Support our journalism — where text and pictures intermingle so seamlessly — and help us scale up your experience as the world changes around us. Your contribution is vital to our brand of uninfluenced, boots-on-the-ground reportage that’s worth your while. Clickbait sensationalism is not for us, but editorial independence is — we owe it to you.

  Dugout videos