FIFA U-17 WC: The last four of the best

Spain recovered from its opening game loss to Brazil to showcase its European championship winning form. Its quick passing game was too much to handle for the likes of Niger and Korea DPR in the group stages as the Santiago Denia-coached side qualified for the Round-of-16 stage behind the South American team. La Rojita prevailed against a high-quality French side with the help of an injury-time penalty, which was put away by its all-time U-17 top-scorer, Abel Ruiz. In the last eight stage in Kochi, Spain put on a clinical display to suffocate Iran which couldn't get itself going in the game. The team will face a different test altogether against Mali, which is physically imposing than the Spaniards, in the semifinals in Navi Mumbai.
Semifinal opponent: Mali
Top-scorer: Abel Ruiz (4)
Goals scored: 12
Goals conceded: 4
Photo: AFP
The African champion has dominated proceedings, steam-rolling through teams in its path with its pace and power. Its style is reminiscent of Brazilian sides — breaking with speed, displaying its technical ability right through the starting XI and scoring goals at will. The Jonas Komla-coached side is now the joint-highest scoring side at the World Cup and its striker Lassana N'Diaye is the joint top-scorer. Its midfielders, Hadji Drame and Djemoussa Traore, have been devastating in counter-attacks. In the quarterfinals, Mali braved the harsh conditions to prevail 2-1 against its fellow West African opponent, Ghana. Sparks will fly when it goes head-on against Spain in a clash between continental champions.
Semifinal opponent: Spain
Top-scorer: Lassana N'Diaye (5)
Goals scored: 15
Goals conceded: 6
Photo: Ritu Raj Konwar
The CONMEBOL champion is the only team to maintain an undefeated run in the World Cup so far. Paulinho, Brenner and Lincoln have shared the goal-scoring duties for Brazil in the absence of star forward Vinicius Jr. Goalkeeper Gabriel Brazao has the best shots to save ratio in the competition and the only goals he has conceded yet have come from an own goal and a penalty. Brazil's toughest tests in the tournament came against Spain in the opening match and against Germany in the quarterfinals. In both the games, it fell behind early before producing a strong comeback to emerge victorious.
Semifinal opponent: England
Top-scorer: Paulinho, Brenner, Lincoln (3)
Goals scored: 11
Goals conceded: 2
Photo: PTI
England has been scintillating in the tournament, scoring 15 goals so far, with winger Jadon Sancho inspiring the team to finish on top in the group stages. But with Sancho's involvement ending after the first round, others such as Philip Foden and Rhian Brewster have delivered for the Three Lions. Brewster scored a hat-trick against the USA in the quarterfinals and is the side's top-scorer going into the last four stage. Its only blip came in the Round-of-16 stage, where it needed the lottery of penalties to get past a resolute Japanese side. The European championship runner-up will now go back to Kolkata in a confident mood to take on three-time champion Brazil.
Semifinal opponent: Brazil
Top-scorer: Rhian Brewster (4)
Goals scored: 15
Goals conceded: 3
Photo: K. Murali Kumar