That the Brazilians went on a rampage at the South American U-17 Championship, or the Campeonato Sudamericano Sub-17, in Chile in March 2017 is well documented. In the whole competition, consisting of a preliminary group stage and the final round-robin group stage consisting of six finalists, the South American giants racked up some impressive numbers. They scored 24 goals in seven matches to emerge as the champions of the month-long tournament. They conceded just three goals in the entire competition. They swept aside Peru 3-0, battered Venezuela 4-0, punished Ecuador 3-0, thumped Colombia 3-0 and even trounced Chile, who finished second in the competition, 5-0. For good measure, they also beat eternal arch-rivals Argentina 2-0.
Smooth and easy.
Their stroll to the South American championship had only two minor blemishes — both inflicted by Paraguay, who managed to hold the rampaging Brazilians to draws not once, but twice. Not just that, the Paraguayans were also the only team to breach the sturdy defence of the Brazilians thrice in two matches.
Adding heft to Paraguay’s claim at the U-17 World Cup, which will be held in India from 6 October, will be the fact that they managed to seal qualification from a zone as competitive as South America — one from where even traditional heavyweights like Uruguay and Argentina failed to seal a berth.
Now, having sealed qualification from a tricky competition, the Paraguayans will be one of the dark horses at the World Cup. Their path to the knockout stages appears to be easy at face value, but could be slippery. They were drawn in Group B comprising of African champions Mali, Oceania champions New Zealand and Europe’s Turkey.
New Zealand were unbeaten in Oceania. So were Mali in Africa. Turkey only lost to England and Spain, who were the two top teams.
Luckily, with four third-placed teams from the six groups also assured of a spot in the quarter-finals, the Paraguayans will fancy their chances when their tournament begins on 6 October with a match against Mali in Navi Mumbai’s DY Patil Stadium.
New Zealand coach Danny Hay paid rich tribute to their South American rivals after the U-17 draw.
On being asked to analyse Group B, in July, he had said: “It is going to be tough, I am not going to lie. You only need to look at European qualifying, South American qualifying and the African qualifying to recognise that we have three very good teams here. It is going to be difficult but a good challenge,” before pointing out, “Paraguay only lost once from 12 games in South America.”
Hay went on to add that when his side played Paraguay, the South Americans would have revenge on their minds. Two years ago, Paraguay were on the verge of making it to the quarters when New Zealand had scored a late winner in the 91st minute in the last group match to knock them out.
A measure of how serious Paraguay are about the tournament can be gained by the series of training sessions the team has been undergoing ever since sealing qualification, at the Albiroga complex in the city of Ypane.
Coach Gustavo Morinigo has made his players undergo two training sessions a day — one dedicated to work in the gym and the other to drills on the pitch. The team also is currently at a camp where the players are learning to acclimatise to the weather and the time lag in India.
Having participated in the competition thrice before, their best showing has been a fifth-place finish at New Zealand 1999. This time, their aim would be to go at least one step ahead if not all the way. If their South American Championship campaign proves anything, it is that nothing is impossible.
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Updated Date: Sep 28, 2017 17:51:08 IST