Kolkata: Title contenders England will look to continue their scintillating form and go past the first knockout hurdle when they take on Japan in the pre-quarterfinal of the FIFA Under-17 World Cup on Tuesday.
Eleven goals in three matches and second behind France (14 goals), England could not have got a better start to their fourth U-17 World Cup campaign. They would now be eyeing the quarterfinals for the third time, but their first since Mexico-2011.
England have not progressed beyond the last-eight stage in the tournament but this time the 'Young Lions' look to last the distance, determined to follow up a summer of success for their country at the youth level.
England won the U-20 World Cup in Korea, made Euro U-21 last-four in Poland and then this side ended runners-up to Spain in the UEFA European U-17 Championships to qualify for this event, all earlier this year.
In the last edition in Chile-2015, a winless England failed to reach the knockout stage and capped a disappointing run with just one goal from three matches.
But this time, the Steve Cooper-coached side has made quite a statement, making them one of the front-runners in the 17th edition of the biennial tournament.
Having retained the crux of the side in the first two wins to seal a knockout berth, Cooper cleverly made eight changes against Iraq, and yet came out flying with a 4-0 win in their final Group F game.
Seven England players—Jadon Sancho (three goals), Angel Gomes and Daniel Loader (both two each), Emile Smith- Rowe, Philip Foden, Rhian Brewster and Callum Hudson-Odoi (all one each)—were on target in three matches and that surely makes them one of the most lethal attacking sides in the tournament.
Of the 21 players on England roster, everyone, barring goalkeeper Josef Bursik, has had a match to their name and it will be a welcome selection headache for Cooper.
Right-back Timothy Eyoma, who missed out against Iraq with a double booking, is all set for a comeback in Cooper's four-man defensive lineup.
Physically strong like a brick wall, the Spurs teenager has impressed against Chile and Mexico and he will be a key man in their defence against Japan's attacking trio of Keito Nakamura, Taisei Miyashiro and Takefusa Kubo.
The trio has shared seven of the eight goals scored by the Asian powerhouse so far in the tournament.
England's midfield pairing of Tashan Oakley-Boothe and George McEachran has been creative while Foden and Hudson-Odoi have been constant suppliers.
Manchester United starlet Gomes may lead the side once again. His jaw-dropping freekick conversion in the first match has been one of the talking points of the Young Lions campaign and he will be a big threat to the opposition.
Till last evening, England management maintained that there's 'no update' on Jadon Sancho's return to his club Borussia Dortmund which was reported to be the condition for his release by the Bundesliga giants.
The Young Lions leading scorer trained with the side on Sunday, brightening his prospect of playing the pre-quarterfinals. But even if the attacking midfielder returns home, Cooper will not be worried as the rest of his boys have been living up to the expectations.
Cooper traditionally goes for a 4-5-1 formation but it remains to be seen if he stacks up his forward lineup to get that early advantage against the Yoshiro Moriyama-coached East Asian powerhouse.
Japan will be coming in without a win in their last two matches, after thrashing Honduras 6-1 in their campaign opener.
Since then, they have lost to eventual Group E toppers France 1-2, before being held to a frustrating 1-1 draw by debutants New Caledonia who returned home with their first ever point of the tournament.
Japan, who did not feature in the last edition, will also be eyeing the last eight for the third time, first since 2011. They have never progressed beyond the quarterfinals.
Hailed as 'Japanese Messi' for his deft touches, Kubo will be up against England's strong defence and it will be interesting to see how the likes of Eyoma, Marc Guehi and Jonathan Panzo mark him from the right.
The winner of the match will travel to Goa for the quarterfinals.
The Teams (From):
England: Curtis Anderson, Josef Bursik, William Crelin; Timothy Eyoma, Joel Latibeaudiere, Marc Guehi, Jonathan Panzo, Lewis Gibson, Steven Sessegnon, Morgan Gibbs White, Tashan Oakley Boothe; Conor Gallagher, Angel Gomes, Nya Kirby, George McEachran; Jadon Sancho, Callum Hudson Odoi, Philip Foden, Emile Smith Rowe, Rhian Brewster, Daniel Loader.
Japan: Kosei Tani, Zion Suzuki, Togo Umeda; Taichi Yamasaki, Takumu Kemmotsu, Nobuki Iketaka, Yukinari Sugawara, Yuki Kobayashi, Seiya Baba; Rei Hirakawa, Shimpei Fukuoka, Kohei Okuno, Soichiro Kozuki, Naoki Tsubaki, Hinata Kida, Toichi Suzuki; Takefusa Kubo, Keito Nakamura, Taisei Miyashiro, Akito Tanahashi, Hiroto Yamada.
Match starts 8pm.
Published Date: Oct 17, 2017 11:26 am | Updated Date: Oct 17, 2017 11:26 am