FIFA U-17 World Cup: Iran the shining stars of Group C; Germany progress but exposed by lack of 'Plan B'
Iran's self-belief has skyrocketed. Before the game against Germany, something changed. Iran woke up. In the next two games, Iran established themselves as a complete team. They are fast and incisive in attack and solid at the back
Before the FIFA Under-17 World Cup got underway, Group C looked like Germany's playground. Guinea, Costa Rica and Iran wasn't an easy draw, but one didn't expect Germany, who finished third at the U-17 Euros earlier this year, to be troubled greatly. Things didn't quite turn out the same way though. Germany looked to be in jeopardy throughout, and weren't convincing in any match. A shocking defeat against Iran highlighted their vulnerability at the back.
In the end, two unsure wins against Costa Rica and Guinea were enough to help Germany finish second in the group and qualify for the round-of-16 where they will face Colombia. But while qualification has been achieved, the Germans' confidence and morale have been dented. Going into the tournament, the conversation around Germany was positive and their star striker Jann-Fiete Arp had been in hot form. Three games later, it's evident their defence is a weak link. Their back four have been shaky against opponents who come at them fearlessly like Iran did.
Another problem with Germany is that they don't seem to have a Plan B. When their game gets going — high intensity passing and pressing forward at all times — it is incredible to watch. But good teams know how to counter that strategy and stifle their attack channels. And whenever their game is disrupted, Germany begin to falter; their passes don't find their intended targets, their organisation falls out of orbit and their forwards are rendered invisible.
Colombia is the first hurdle for the Germans, and the South Americans now know how to play against Germany. Every team in the tournament does. Unless Germany have a few tricks hidden in their hat, the road for them is only going to get tougher. They must re-analyse how they approach games and remind themselves not to be affected by pressure situations. They could do well to take a leaf out of the senior German team. Not losing composure under fire is the mark of a team that has the capacity to bounce back when down. Germany, far from bouncing back, look like they will go under when they go down. That needs to change.
Iran's self-belief, on the other hand, has skyrocketed. A sedate beginning against Guinea now almost feels like a misdirection, as if Iran were just trying to throw off their opponents. They were far from adventurous in that match; they sat back and defended well, but their attack had not teeth. When they took the lead, it was due to a wonder goal against the run of play. And then a sending off tilted things in their favour.
Iran were far from impressive in the first game, even though they had three points by the end of it. But between that and the game against Germany, something changed. Iran woke up. In the next two games, Iran established themselves as a complete team. They are fast and incisive in attack and solid at the back. In three games, they scored 10 and conceded only once.
Iran are not dependent on a single talismanic player; instead they function as a unit. Up front, Younis Delgi and Allahyar Sayyad have been involved in almost every chance Iran created. Mohammad Ghaderi and Mohamad Sharifi have been lively in midfield. Iran are good in the air and take advantage of dead ball situations. And they are fast at counter-attacks.
But their attack stands on the shoulders of their defence, which has deceptively wrestled opposition attacks out of games. Iran have deservedly emerged on top of Group C. They will face Mexico in the round-of-16, who barely managed to scrape through, finishing third from Group F. Iran would be fairly confident going into the clash, considering how well they have been playing. They are now being touted as being one of the favourites for the tournament. Their performance on the field justifies the buzz around them, but it's the knockout rounds where the true contenders start showing their mettle.
The furthest Iran had progressed at the U-17 World Cup was the round-of-16. They've matched that already and must be looking to go further and improve their record. Coach Abbas Chamanyan said they expect to go till the semi-finals at least. That kind of confidence is good and does well to motivate your team for the next game. But they should be careful, lest they get over-confident. Knockout stages are a slippery slope. When it comes down to one game, any team could spring a surprise on the day.
Iran haven't had to face such a situation in the group stage. They've not yet been under pressure and have had the luxury to play their natural game. They have never been a goal down till now. It would be interesting to see how they react if such a situation arises. That's when their true character will be tested.
FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017: Low online sales in Goa prompt organisers to install ticket counters at stadium
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FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017: Germany's turnaround after shock Iran loss brought about by change in mentality
Germany assistant coach Rainer Zietsch told Firstpost: "Because of the Iran result, we learnt that there's no team that can win the World Cup at 50-60 percent. Therefore they changed their mentality."
Iran will be making their fourth appearance in this tournament. They have played here last year in the AFC U-16 Championships and finished second to qualify for World Cup.