FIFA U17 World Cup Group A: The Contenders
India will make its debut on the world stage of football on October 6th at the Jawaharlal Nehru Complex in New Delhi. Their status as the host nation resulted in an automatic qualification and due to their inexperience at the international level will start the tournament as the underdogs. Indian fans are sure to take comfort in Leceister City’s ultimate underdog story of winning the Premier League not too long ago. However if they have any hopes of making the final, the first hurdle in Group A will require a bit more than heart, hunger and passion to overcome.
India kick off their campaign against the U17 CONCACAF runners-up, USA (6th October, 20:00 IST). With a squad full of promising talent and a record 16th appearance at U17 level World Cup, John Hackworth’s side are one of the favorites to win the tournament. On the road to the final of the U17 CONCACAF, which they narrowly lost on penalties, USA had a 100% win record in the group stages and the knockout rounds. Key players: Josh Sargent, the captain of the Stars and Stripes scored 7 goals at the CONCACAF which earned him a place in the U20 World Cup side. The six foot striker did not disappoint scoring 4 goals in 5 matches in South Korea. He also has a professional contract with Bundesliga outfit, Werder Bremen which will commence once he turns 18. Tim Weah who plays in the PSG youth set up and is the son of former Ballon d’Or winner George Weah is another hot talent to watch out for at this tournament. However the dark horse in this USA team might be Andrew Carleton who plays for Atlanta United FC in the MLS. The diminutive attacking winger has been described as a game changer for US soccer.
Next up will be Columbia on the 9th of October (20:00 IST) who clinched the 4th CONMEBOL spot at this year’s World Cup by beating Venezuela 2-1 on the final matchday of the South American U17 championship. Columbia’s highest finish in this tournament is 4th place twice in 2003 and 2009. They have also defeated India 3-0 in a four team tournament in Mexico early last month. Key players: David Barrero scored key goals in the South American Championships earlier this year. Yadir Meneses is a left-footed playmaker who has been compared to the likes of Columbian superstar James Rodriguez due to his killer through balls.
India finish their group stage matches against two time champion Ghana (12th October, 20:00 IST). The Black Starlets secured their place in this year’s U17 World Cup by finishing as runners up in the U17 Africa Cup of Nations. On the road to the final, they scored nine goals and conceded none in the group stages and beat Niger on penalties in the semi-final. They eventually lost 1-0 to defending champions Mali in the final. Key players: Captain Eric Ayiah was the joint top scorer with 4 goals at the Africa Cup of Nations and is reportedly under watch of several top European clubs like FC Porto, Manchester City and Bayern Munich. Striker Ibrahim Sulley was a revelation at the Africa Cup of Nations scoring 2 goals which attracted the interest of Bayern Munich, who handed him a 2 week trial in August. His link up play with fellow striker Eric Ayiah will be the bane of opposition defenders.
The Indians have indeed avoided some of the heavyweights but it would be no mean feat to qualify from this group. Playing on home soil will be an advantage and the fans at the stadium will certainly have to play a key role in creating a vociferous atmosphere for the opposition. India may have qualified for the World Cup finals but the group stage will truly test if they have arrived at the world stage.
Article by Atharva Tere
Atharva is Bachelor degree holder in Sports Science with Professional Football Coaching from the University of Greenwich and Masters in Sport, Health and Exercise Sciences from Brunel University in the UK. Atharva has FA Level 2, Youth Modules 1 & 2 and WIFA D licenses. Worked in the sports science department at FC Pune City (ISL) and Crawley Town FC (League One).