The 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup is about to get underway and with all nations in the final stages of their preparation, the Group F, dubbed as the ‘Group of Death’ by pundits, throws up some intriguing contests. The fact that only top two teams from every group and four of the best third-placed teams will find their place in the knock-outs only adds interest to a group full of heavyweights.
Chile’s youth team has experienced an upward curve over the last few years, keeping in tune with the attacking riches of their senior squad, and finished second in the extremely competitive previous edition of the South American U-17 Championships.
Chile, under the careful eyes of Argentina-born Hernan Caputto, has slowly but steadily flourished as they have shown a knack for grinding out results with a meagre lead. Although they have been guilty of complacency at the back occasionally, as during their 5-0 loss to Brazil in the finals of the CONMEBOL U-17 Championship, Chile are the dark horses of this year’s World Cup.
Previous U-17 World Cup record: Chile had qualified for the last World Cup as the host nation and made it past the group stage, but were beaten by Mexico in the Round of 16. The South American nation’s best performance in this competition came back in 1993 when they finished third.
Key Players: Gaston Zuniga, Chile’s right-back embodies a modern fullback and his ball-playing abilities are the perfect complement to his aggressive tackling. With match-winning goals adding to his skill set, the 17-year-old O’Higgins FC U-19 player could be the breakout star of the tournament.
The European heavyweights and the U-17 European Championship runners-up are one of the prime contenders for the World Cup. A squad packed with creativity and style, England can play a plethora of formations and as they showcased in the recently concluded U-17 Euros, they have what it takes to go the distance. Although Steve Cooper’s side fell to Spain on penalties in the finals, only a few could argue the sheer class oozing out of the English youngsters.
In a stark contrast to the England senior squad, who have gained a notorious reputation of struggling on the continent’s and the world’s biggest stage, the U-17 side has the temperament to backup it mettle.
Previous U-17 World Cup record: England have never made it past the quarter-finals in this competition, having qualified for only three previous editions. The last time they qualified for the World Cup in 2013, they were knocked out after the group stage, as they failed to win even a single game.
Key Players: Jadon Sancho, the 17-year-old winger, who became the first Englishman to ply his trade at Borussia Dortmund, is the crown jewel of the English team. His attacking prowess is well-documented, as is his natural goal-scoring ability.
While Sancho (should Borussia Dortmund release him for international duty) will act as the fulcrum for the U-17 side’s bid to follow up their U-20 national counterparts in winning the World Cup, the presence of Liverpool’s Rhian Breswter and Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi, both of whom are among the goals, ensures England have a multi-faceted approach to their attack.
The likes of Angel Gomes and Tashan Oakley-Boothe, who are already on the fringes of the senior squads of their respective clubs, provide England with a well-settled, dynamic midfield while the 16-year-old Chelsea defender Jonathan Panzo has already received rave reviews due to his assured performances at the heart of the defence.
Iraq are arguably the strongest among the Asian nations participating in the FIFA U-17 World Cup. The current U-16 AFC Champions, crowned last year, have been in tremendous form heading into the World Cup, but the draw has been pretty harsh to them.
Qualifying for the knock-outs will prove to be a tough task for Ali Hadi’s boys, as they will face far more accomplished nations in Chile, England and Mexico. In a war-torn nation, football has been one of the brighter spots for the younger generation, with the current crop of U-17 players boasting of spectacular talent all across the pitch.
Previous U-17 World Cup record: Iraq are still looking for their maiden win in the World Cup, as they lost all their group matches the last time they qualified in 2013.
Key Players: Mohammed Dawood, the 16-year-old eclectic centre forward, is Iraq’s best player and his partnership with midfielders Mohammed Ridha and Moamel Kareem will be crucial to Iraq’s chances of qualification. With extensive experience at this level, Iraq’s simplistic tactical approach and composure in the final third are their strong suits.
Mexico, the current CONCACAF champions, are among the most accomplished nations at the U-17 FIFA World Cup, having won twice in their twelve appearances — their most recent triumph coming in 2011. Mario Arteaga, who has been at the helm since 2014 has a well-oiled side ready to conquer on the ultimate stage.
Mexico’s consistency at the youth level is astounding, as they secured three consecutive CONCACAF championships in the last three editions. The El Tri juniors were the top seeded side during the draw and deservingly so — their possession-based playing style and high pressing has drawn applause and reverence from many stalwarts of the game.
Previous U-17 World Cup record: Mexico’s previous three outings in the last three editions of the World Cup resulted in them finishing as the champions, the runners-up and in the fourth place. Since 1999, Mexico have always made it to the knock-outs, whenever they have qualified for the World Cup.
Key Players: Mexico rest their hopes on Diego Lainez, the 17-year-old Club America attacking midfielder, whose tactical awareness is far beyond his age. Lainez is yet to play alongside the U-17 CONCACAF top scorer Roberto de La Rosa, but Artaega is confident that the combination of two of his star players will only enhance Mexico’s proficiency in front of the goal.
All four teams stand a chance to qualify for the knock-outs, with no clear favorites in Group F yet. England and Mexico are likely to be the trailblazers but the pragmatic approaches of Iraq and Chile could help them spring a surprise on the European and North-American heavyweights and punch their tickets for the Round of 16 of the FIFA U-17 World Cup.
Updated Date: Oct 04, 2017 11:14 AM