New Zealand, Paraguay, Turkey and Mali. Group B may have appeared as one of the less entertaining one soon after the draw was out, but in reality, the group displayed some interesting results. The unpredictable weather in Navi Mumbai worried all the six teams playing, including USA and Colombia, at the Dr. DY Patil Stadium as it rained on the opening day, while teams had to compete in scorching heat on matchday 2.
Here's a look at how the four teams performed in the group stage:
Out of the four South American teams participating in India, Paraguay were considered as the weakest of the lot. As expected, the odds were stacked in Brazil, Colombia and Chile's favour following their performances at the South American U-17 Championships earlier this year. Paraguay, however, stole the show every time they stepped onto the field, making its presence felt in the competition. Surprisingly, Chile struggled. Brazil topped their group with nine points. So did Paraguay, exceeding expectations and preserving the South American status at the junior level.
Paraguay's opening match against a much-fancied Mali was a treat to watch for neutrals. A total of four goals were scored in a space of just 22 minutes. Antonio Galeano and Leonardo Sanchez troubled the Malian defence to bag a couple before Mali bounced back with quick goals. Alan Rodriguez finished from the spot in the 55th minute to hand the Les Aiglonnets the win on the night. The result mirrored the South American side's ability to rip apart defences and create a string of chances inside the opposition's box. Not only that, Paraguay came from behind twice and scored four past New Zealand in their second match to further enforce their ultra-attacking style. It was a cakewalk in the final group match as Paraguay knocked Turkey out of the competition with a 3-1 win.
In the absence of Nigeria, who defeated Mali to clinch the U-17 title in the 2015 edition, the Malians would be eager to deliver the goods this time around. Last edition's runner-up, Mali, possess a team full of hardworking teens. The team chemistry is something their opponents would be envious of. Mali had a tremendous campaign back in Africa, where they became AFCON U-17 champions for the second successive year. It was evident how Salam Giddou orchestrated the midfield alongside Siaka Sidibe in the opening game against Paraguay or against New Zealand in the final group match in Delhi. Despite a narrow 3-2 defeat against Paraguay, the Jonas Komla-led side put up a brave face to avoid a slump in the second half.
Mali's attack has caused a lot of problems for the opposition teams. Lassana N'Diaye, who made his debut this year, has already bagged three goals in as many games, including an opening day screamer against Paraguay. The African side's ability to switch from their own box to the attacking third is something other teams need to worry about. One through or a diagonal ball from the middle of the park can shake the opposition defence in no time and Komla's young guns have shown it against Turkey, who crowded in front of Mali's box but were caught twice on counter-attacks which led to two goals in the second half.
Physical. That is the first thing you would associate with the lanky Kiwis. The Daniel Hay-led team entered the competition as the Oceania Football Championship (OFC) U-17 winners, having crushed Samoa 11-0 and New Caledonia 7-1 in the final. However, the Kiwis felt the heat even before the group stages started. They were getting used to life as underdogs after losing both their practice matches against Brazil and England respectively. The main event wasn't different. Despite possessing a great threat in terms of physicality and organisation, New Zealand hardly left a mark on world stage.
Minutes into their lung-opener against Turkey, they were outclassed. Ahmed Kutucu and Recep Gul made a mockery of the Kiwi defence and took the lead in no time. New Zealand responded strongly in the second half and bagged a late equaliser via captain Max Mata. Unfortunately, that was the only time the Oceanic giants created something out of nothing in the tournament. Paraguay would smash them 4-2—scoring all six goals—and Mali weren't behind either, registering a 3-1 win in the final group match in Delhi.
Turkey's journey was a story of 'couldn't make most of the opportunities'. Coach Mehmet Hacioglu spoke highly of his team's technical abilities on the pitch ahead of matches. But, he would then complain about missed chances at the post-match conference. There is no doubt that Turkey's slick style of play has caught many eyes.
Interestingly, they would follow all the triangle passing patterns or off-the-ball movements while in action but ended up bereft of goals. Atalay Babacan and Malik Karaahmet may have impressed the scouts but they lacked finishing in spite of creating so many chances inside the final third.
Turkey, the semi-finalists at the recently-concluded UEFA U-17 European Championships, finished last after managing to claim just a single point, against New Zealand. Mali proved to be a handful in their second game, while the Paraguayans continued their free-flowing football to knock Turkey out.
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Updated Date: Oct 16, 2017 15:29:40 IST