The Under-17 World Cup: Eight On A Passage In India
At one stage, the Under-17 World Cup’s goals-per-game ratio was tapping four on the shoulder, despite some poor finishing. Eurosport Player will be getting lots of new subscribers, if this continues.
Group A: India 0 Ghana 4; United States 1 Colombia 3. Final Group Standings: Ghana 6pts (GD +4), Colombia 6 (+2), United States 6 (+2), India 0.
Group A’s turnaround was swift and late, and would have been ultra-dramatic if the third-placed team wasn’t guaranteed qualification after everybody beat India and beat each other.
Many Indian players were in tears after the Ghana game. But it is hard to believe that they believed they could achieve the 2-0 win they needed to progress. They earned their generous ovation from New Delhi’s crowd and they did themselves justice before, ultimately, just running out of puff.
Their greatest asset was pace. But Ghana had more, making for an exhilarating first quarter. Tactics? “Win possession and run…run like the wind.” However, by half-time, India were knackered and when Eric Ayiah scored his and Ghana’s second goal, on 52 minutes, the crowd ran out of puff too. Ghana deserved the 4-0, despite goals three and four being so late. Indian keeper Dheeraj Moirangthem excelled and it might have been 4-0 earlier had Ayiah’s fourth-minute goal not been erroneously deemed offside.
Colombia looked thinner in mostly-blue than they had in all-yellow. And they played with the extra vitality that would have come from actually losing weight. Their opener capitalised on waxwork US defending from a long throw, Juan Vidal overtaking his alleged marker in a split-second-and-a-half. The US were gifted George Acosta’s equaliser by a series of defenders so anxious not to handle Andrew Carleton’s cross that they neglected to block it at all.
But on 86 minutes, the group was still America’s to lose. They fell behind on 67 minutes to Juan Penaloza’s stunning free-kick from the left flank, the sort a keeper would usually save, except Pendaloza hit the sweetest of sweet spots and beat Justin Garces for sheer pace. However, with Ghana only two-up, goal difference still favoured them.
Then Deicer Calicoed netted Colombia’s third, to tie all competing goal differences. Almost simultaneously, Richard Dansk netted Ghana’s third to take the group lead, which Emmanuel Toko consolidated a minute later. And the States slipped from first to third in about 100 seconds.
They still qualified, though. For which the 24-team format stands commended. For once.
Group B: Paraguay 3 Turkey 1; Mali 3 New Zealand 1. Paraguay 9, Mali 6, New Zealand 1 Turkey 1.
Fans will be sorrier to see the Kiwis fly home than the Turkeys. Turkey showed flashes of ability against a Paraguay side shorn of players a booking away from suspension. But they were WAY too late and Kerem Kesgin’s admittedly fine 93rd-minute goal was barely a consolation.
Paraguay “won” another atrocious penalty decision here. Anibal Vega served justice by telegraphing his spot-kick enough for young Turk keeper Berke Ozer to see where it was going on radio. But two goals in three late first-half minutes knocked the stuffing heart out of Turkey, Fernando Cardozo’s backheel for the second goal a particularly joyous effort. And Antonio Galeano’s horribly-deflected 61st-minute strike flattened any comeback hopes.
Amid Mali’s thrilling football, predicted star Salam Jiddou hadn’t had the forecast impact. Until his 28-yard precision side-foot broke New Zealand’s resistance on 18 minutes. Djemoussa Traore’s 50th-minute curler to make it 2-0 was almost as impressive.
The 1930s-named Charlie Spragg headed in from a yard-and-a-bit on 72 minutes. But the Kiwis required win was never on. Mali’s profligate goal-hanger Lassana N’Diaye poached his third tournament goal, ten minutes later, Kiwi keeper Zac Jones palming Fode Konate’s cross into the net via the unsuspecting striker’s shin-pad.
Two deserving qualifiers. And one deserving Turkey of a departure.
Group C: Guinea 1 Germany 3; Iran 3 Costa Rica 0. Iran 9, Germany 6, Guinea 1 Costa Rica 1.
Doubtless some Fifa stats wonk has a tally of clear-cut chances created by each team. Guinea will likely top that list. Unfortunately, they created at least nine for their opposition. And with Germany taking three of their five, Guinea will likely top that list despite their early exit.
The decisive match (with Iran needing a draw against hapless/hopeless Costa Rica) was the shoot-out predicted by many. Guinea’s sitter-missing wasn’t as frequent or comically frustrating as against Costa Rica. But if they were “kicking themselves,” they probably missed.
Germany’s goals all came from Guinean faffing around in possession, 20-to-30 yards from goal. And prolific if work-shy striker and headline-writers’ dream Jann-Fiete Arp was gifted time to take three touches before scoring, after Ismael Traore’s blocked-down clearance fell to him. Arp was offside. But the referee’s assistant probably thought he wasn’t interfering with play, because he rarely was.
Once it dawned on Guinea how ordinary Germany were, their stagefright dissolved and they deserved more than Ibrahima Soumah’s coolly-taken equaliser at half-time. Once it dawned on Germany that Guinea would gift possession under the slightest pressure, the die was cast.
Iran’s leisurely victory over Costa Rica may help combat fatigue in the knockout-stages. The Ticos exposed more defensive weakness than Germany did. But Iran were in cruise control and could try out penalty-takers with knockout stage shoot-outs in mind, unlikely ginge Taha Shariati dinking home his 29th-minute spot-kick four minutes after Mohammad Ghobeishavi opened the scoring with his.
So, can Germany huff-and-puff unconvincingly to another international title, as their seniors so often have? No.
Group D: Brazil 2 Niger 0; Spain 2 North Korea 0. Brazil 9, Spain 6, Niger 3, North Korea 0.
So, Niger’s uninspiring 1-0 win over North Korea qualified them for the knockout stages. And when the un-gazelle-like Menas (Gazelles) meekly went 2-0 down to the, yes, workmanlike Brazilians, this stood as the ultimate condemnation of the 24-team format.
Niger improved after Brenner’s decisively-deflected 34th-minute free-kick, which made for a decent second half. However, they would have suffered consecutive 4-0 trimmings if Brazil’s late chances hadn’t fallen to right-back Wesley, over-anxious to atone for the clinical own-goal, currently the only one Brazil have conceded.
Spain were the team of this group, despite the standings. Their 2-0 win over North Korea was more stylish than Brazil’s slightly-laboured equivalent. Eurosport’s Adam Virgo repeatedly insisted that the “over fifty shots” North Korea “conceded” against Spain and Niger “showed how open they are defensively at the back.” But it merely showed that Virgo hadn’t watched either game carefully, as only Spain really opened them up.
Had 5-0 been required, 5-0 it would have been. Spain hit the goal-frame three times. Cesar Gelabert ran the midfield. And after about 75 minutes of being toyed with, North Korea snapped. Yet despite their nasty tackles, substitute Pae Kwang-Min’s sending-off was an overflowing toilet-bowl of a decision, for an off-the-ball shove which didn’t even fell its target, let alone qualify as violent conduct.
Coach Kim Yong-Su was thoroughly bemused, although maybe he’d heard Virgo’s announcement that North Korea conceded “one shot every two-and-a-half minutes” and wondered why anyone not paid by Fifa to do so was even counting.
Group E: France 5 Honduras 1; Japan 1 New Caledonia 1. France 9, Japan 4, Honduras 3, New Caledonia 1.
Three teams qualified from Group E. But the story of it was the fourth. France steamrollered honking Honduras, whose qualification for the last-16 condemns…24-team format etc… But Japan lost their steam-roller after about 20 minutes. New Caledonia were indisputably worth their draw. And it could be argued everywhere bar Chile that they were not the worst team at the finals.
Their performance against Honduras seems only the more mystifying after their determined defending and occasionally incisive counter-attacking against Japan. “Plucky,” Fifa’s website match report said. But they were better than that.
The wonderfully-named Theo Bosshard panicked when clean through after 32 minutes, blazing over first time when one midway-decent touch would have set-up an almost-unmissable opportunity. And Japan keeper Togo Umeda saved Vita Longue’s 82nd-minute shot. But Japan defended setpieces like Liverpool. And Jekob Jeno headed in the resultant corner.
Japan now meet England. Stranger things have happened in football than Japan beating England…Japan 1 New Caledonia 1, for instance. But not many.
France and Honduras might be home soon too, the latter not soon enough. Even the stodgy Brazil we’ve thus far seen should open up Honduras every few minutes, as France did.
A much-changed France recovered well from Carlos Mejia’s 10th-minute goal. Willem Geubbels’ finishing was as unfortunate as his name looks, or France would have been out-of-sight by half-time. And the Honduran tournament was microcosm-ed by France’s fifth goal. Yacine Adli’s free-kick was 20 yards out in a central position. The wall was placed too-centrally by too-centrally-placed keeper Alex Rivera. And Aldi’s shot breached alarming gaps in both.
France’s reward for being group-stage top-scorers and impressive qualifiers? A match-up with Spain which is semi-final material, minimum. Pas de justice.
Group F: England 4 Iraq 0; Mexico 0 Chile 0. England 9, Iraq 4, Mexico 2, Chile 1.
England will win this, you know. Attribute a pair of “wobbles” against Mexico and Iraq to teenage angst and England were the most impressive qualifiers. Iraq, largely unable to cope with England’s near second-string, got away with 4-0.
Sort of. Many of England’s chances, including the first goal, looked offside. England were too quick for both referee’s assistants, although they could have made more of this fortune. One-nil did not reflect the first 26 minutes. And if Jaden Sancho’s penalty-taking had matched his general star quality, England could have chosen their half-time lead.
Once Emile Smith-Rowe DID make it 2-0, the proverbial floodgates opened. And, after Japan, the potential Paraguayan, American, German, Colombian or Brazilian obstacles to England’s place in the final don’t look that tall.
At the very last, a stinker. Mexico and Chile vomited up the group stage’s only nil-nil draw, the result which Mexico needed but for which Chile appeared to play. The quicker Mexico move the ball, the better they look. Against Chile, they were ponderous, but were miles the better side. And when Chile FINALLY showed some attacking intent, Mexico still came closer to scoring, Roberto De La Rosa whacking the underside of the bar from 15 yards.
Yet, at the very last, Chile nearly, ulp, won. Sub Willian Gama adeptly chest-controlled a diagonal hoof into the box, flicked the ball over a defender and…and…hooked his 10-yard shot wide, the referee ending the game as Gama put his head in his hands in the despair we’d all have felt had he put Chile through.
Chile qualifying would have condemned the 24-team format. Mexico qualifying has.
The tournament is being shown “across” the Eurosport network. Nowhere near every game has been on telly (Eurosport 1 and 2). That might/should change at the quarter-final stage, from when every game has a different kick-off (12.30 or 3.30 in what is still British “Summer” Time). Unless there’s a bag of snooker and/or cycling on. In which case any non-England game could go hang. EVERY game is, however, on Eurosport Player…and “On Demand” soon after. On the day, usually.
Only the telly games have had commentaries. The commentators often appear not to have watched the games they haven’t covered (the “Digital Spy” forum commentators’ threads show how busy many of them are most days), which has led to a couple of sticks being grabbed at the wrong end.
However, the usual Eurosport suspects provide as good a service as can be expected from people watching the games on telly themselves, albeit big screens (presumably). Robson has starred again, with Sue Smith a welcome, well-informed addition. And the prospect of (friendly) on-mic dust-ups, over fashion as much as football, is entertainingly never far away.
ON THE WHISTLE/FLAG
Under-17 footballers seem easy to control. Bar the odd card-brandish, little ill-discipline has emerged in India: from cynical fouling to what late, great BBC rugby commentator Bill McLaren used to call “a wee bit of fisticuffs.” The, many, problems with the officiating have stemmed from those pesky rules on offsides and penalties.
Penalty-taking AND penalty-giving have been poor; the worst decision being Paraguay’s winner against Mali, which cost the Eaglets Group B. And while contentious offside decisions have been rare, that’s only because many have been indisputably wrong. If only there was a video system which could assist.
ROUND TWO: Colombia/Germany; Paraguay/USA; Iran/Mexico; France/Spain; England/Japan; Mali/Iraq; Ghana/Niger; Brazil/Honduras.
Three second round matches will near-certainly produce the “right” quarter-finalists: Iran, England and Brazil. Paraguay, Mali and Ghana should win. Only Colombia/Germany appears difficult to call, because of Germany’s time-honoured tradition of winning when playing sh*te. France/Spain…see “Group E” above.
The form book’s quarter-final and semi-final line-ups are: Mali/Ghana; Paraguay/England; Spain/Iran; Colombia/Brazil. Then Brazil/England and Mali/Iran. But who knows who England will beat in the final.
However, Stewart “I hate extra-time” Robson will be happy. Fifa made two concessions to the event’s punishing schedule; water-breaks if the “Wet Bulb Global Temperature” (?) hits 32 Celsius and; STRAIGHT to penalties after 90 level minutes, for which Robson has long miserably pleaded. If this tournament terminates that interminable, history will treat it well, whatever the quality of the remaining games.