Fancied teams meet early in big tie

Fancied teams meet early in big tie

Kochi: Three-time champions Brazil and European powerhouse Spain will take on each other in a highly-anticipated marquee clash between title contenders of the FIFA Under-17 World Cup at the Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium here on Saturday.

Brazil are the overwhelming favourites of the fans and Spain will virtually feel like playing in Rio de Janiero or Sau Paulo, but to their good fortune the crowd may not be as loud because FIFA has forced the local organisers to reduce the capacity of the stadium to just 29,200 to comply with the world body’s strict evacuation related rules.

Both Brazil and Spain are expected to finish as top two teams in Group D, which also has North Korea and Niger. Brazil are a formidable force even in the age group, having appeared 15 times in 16 editions before arriving in India. Their solitary absence came at Japan 1993.

In the 2015 edition in Chile, they were knocked out by eventual champions Nigeria in the quarterfinals.

Earlier this year, Brazil lifted the South American U-17 title. They defeated hosts Chile 5-0 in the final and went unbeaten in the tournament, winning seven matches and drawing two.

They boasted both the leading goalscorer (Vinicius Junior with seven goals) and the player providing most assists (Alan with five).

The squad in India is practically unchanged from the one which won the South American qualifying tournament except the absence of Vinicius Junior, who has not been released for the World Cup by his club Flamengo.

In the absence of Vinicius, another Flamengo youth team player Lincoln Correa dos Santos will be the man leading the Brazilians from the front. The 16-year-old can play on both wings. Paulinho is another key player.

Spain, on the other hand, are looking for their maiden FIFA U-17 World Cup title in their ninth appearance.

Despite their record haul of three UEFA European U-17 Championships, Spain have never managed to win the FIFA U-17 World Cup. Runners-up in 1991, 2003 and 2007, La Rojita have curiously failed to qualify since finishing third in 2009.

Spain qualified for U-17 by claiming another European U-17 crown in Croatia in May. The La Rojita play a brand of football that is synonymous with the Iberian nation -- possession football. With six players from FC Barcelona’s famous academy La Masia and five from Real’s academy, the team is brimming with players who have the potential to be future stars.

Niger’s debut

Debutants Niger would look to continue their giant-killing run when they take on North Korea in the other Group D match, also in Kochi.

Niger have never previously appeared at a FIFA competition at any level. The first-timers from Africa are no pushovers. Their win over Nigeria in the African qualifiers had led to the exit of five-time champions.

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