The Under-17 World Cup: The Second Round

by | Oct 19, 2017

The FIFA Under-17 World Cup has just completed its second round, so here’s Mark Murphy with a round-up of all the shenanigans in India.

Colombia 0 Germany 4.

A bad evening for South America (part one). I’d filed this match under “too close to call.” Ultimately all that was “too close to call” was whether Colombia were awful or dreadful.

German striker Jann-Fiete Arp’s surname may sound like the noise you make if you cough and burp simultaneously. That may accurately summarise his contribution in general play. But, boy, the boy can finish.

He didn’t look over-displeased to be substituted before he could complete his hat-trick (why do coaches/managers do that?). But being the tournament’s top scorer very probably matters to him. A hat-trick would have made him joint top-scorer going into the quarter-finals, alongside France’s Amine Gouiri, who is going home.

Amid Colombia’s near-audible second-half disintegration, he missed one sitter and created another for John Yeboah when equally well-placed. But he will score shedloads if/when he joins a club less prone to relegation battles than current employees Hamburger SV.

With playmaker Elias Abouchabaka having a(nother) stinker, Colombian keeper Kevin Mier was arguably Germany’s most creative player, mishandling decisively for the first goal, although Arp’s swivel and left-foot finish from a tight angle was still remarkable. And amid Mier’s catalogue of errors, Yann Bisseck’s bullet-header for Germany’s second goal was relatively orthodox, zonal marking isn’t Colombia’s specialty.

Colombia’s half-time subs were subs for a reason (midfield-misnomer Fabian Angel could have been booked twice within about 10 minutes). And Germany declared on 65 minutes, after Colombian left-back Guillermo Tegue played a wall pass off Arp’s chest and forgot to go for the return, leaving Arp to beat Mier with the sort of finish that lets pretentious match-reporters write “insouciance,” despite needing three attempts to spell it correctly.

But however easy their win, Germany are still not potential champions. Surely?

Paraguay 0 United States 5.

A bad evening for South America (part two). I guess we should have guessed that their title challenge might crumble when Chile were so abject.

Eurosport’s Tim Caple and Adam Virgo were puzzled when Paraguay replaced lively winger Antonio Galeano on 30 minutes with distinctly unlively target-man Fernando Romero, when the USA were only one-up. They tried to rationalise it as a tactical adjustment rather than injury-enforced (Galeano seemed to accept his withdrawal). And, like Paraguay, they never recovered.

As Paraguay self-destructed Colombian-style, Caple and Virgo drooled over a potential Germany/USA quarter-final (“what a shoot-out that promises to be” – Caple), despite colleagues Wayne Boyce and Stewart Robson stressing that Germany would get a “different kind of South American test” in their likely quarter-final against…Brazil. And despite America’s likely quarter-final opponents being…England.

For all Paraguay’s woes, the States were impressive. And their goals were terrific, bar the first of Tim Weah’s three, which was sensational. “Take a bow, son,” Virgo ordered, after Weah’s 25-yarder outpaced the host broadcaster’s efforts to catch it hitting the back of the net.

However, midfielder Andrew Carleton ran the show, scoring one, creating two and earning forgiveness for chin-hair that belonged in Nickelback. Virgo named him “Carl-y-ton” before naming him the outstanding player. Moments later, Caple asked Virgo for his man-of-the-match. “It has to be Weah, hasn’t it?” Erm… A bad evening for South America. And not a great one for Eurosport commentators.

France 1 Spain 2

This was cagey and nerve-riddled enough to have been the final some predicted it might be. As in the Euros, Spain’s teens came from one-down to beat France 3-1. And three-one here would have been about right after Spain’s dominant last 35 minutes. But…

Sub Jose Lara clearly tripped himself for Spain’s 90th-minute match-winning penalty. The incident would be a handy training video for Video Assistant Referee (VAR) systems. But VAR wouldn’t have helped if Boyce and Virgo were VARs. Virgo said French defender Oumar Solet could “have no complaints” about the decision. Well, he HAD no complaints, as per the tournament’s refreshing lack of dissent. However, his subsequent look of disgust could have been at himself or the referee.

Boyce and Virgo attributed France’s flat display to them changing their team for their final group game (England did likewise but that wasn’t criticised). And penalties seemed the limit of their ambition after the second water-break. They made two late changes with penalties in mind. But Lara’s suspiciously well-timed leg-tangling scuppered that strategy.

Of course, Spain were incredibly, amazingly lucky to beat England in June’s under-17 Euros…as England and Spain match commentators have mentioned every seven-and-a-half minutes here. This is, however, their best under-17 side for a bit. And they are rightly among the favourites.

Iran 2 Mexico 1

Iran went two-up in ten minutes and must have thought they had this game sewn up. Little else can explain how they allowed Mexico back into it.

This was youth football at its breakneck-speediest. Mexico’s liveliest display (not difficult, admittedly). And Iran’s liveliest defensive display, having barely had to defend so far. Shame that so few Goans turned up, the crowd so sparse and silent that you heard English referee Anthony Taylor throughout.

No idea how the second half was scoreless. Iran keeper Ali Gholam Zadeh was flailing among the netting when Jairo Torres’ fierce free-kick from the left flank thumped the post. Mexico also wasted numerous positions in numerous ways, including plain-and-simple falling over (more than one first-half fall “involved” a defender).

Iran, though, could have had four on the break. Allahyar Sayyad should have added to his superb lobbed finish for Iran’s second goal. And Younes Delfi whacked one strike at a semi-open goal against a defender’s nose. Coach Abbas Chamanian would be a shoo-in as Dick Dastardly in a live-action movie. But the Spain/Iran quarter-final looks the best of the bunch.

England 0 Japan 0 (England win 4-2 on penalties…ON PENALTIES!)

Yes…Yes. On penalties. But first…

For 77 minutes, this was a “good game for a 0-0.” England started as impressively, again. But Japan came more-and-more into the game, minute-by-minute. “Intriguing” is often a cover word for dull. But this was genuinely intriguing. Then, after the second-half water-break, the game exploded.

England were inspired by substitute Nya Kirby, who could have been Virgo’s outstanding player this time, although Virgo was understandably not bold enough to give that plaudit to a 78th-minute substitute. Yet there was penalty-box pandemonium in both penalty-boxes as a shootout approached, with both teams eschewing the traditional “settling for penalties” in such scenari.

Jordan Sancho’s loss was, of course, stressed as Japan improved. It’s clearly what England (and their commentary-box supporters) will hang their hat on if they lose. And Virgo/Caple SURELY understand Borussia Dortmund’s recalling, y’know, THEIR player. But England are plenty good enough to win without him; his loss most significant for denying us anymore “Sancho-to-Panzo” soundbites.

England not only won a shootout but with outstanding spot-kicks too. Even keeper Curtis Anderson scored, immediately after saving Hinata Kido’s kick, although Japan keeper Kosei Tani probably should have saved it as it was similarly placed to Kida’s kick.

However, Anderson needs to shut up between kicks. He taunted Taisei Miyashiro and Soichiro Kuzuki, who unconcernedly rolled their kicks past him. And most senior players will sneer at such tomfoolery. But the shootout produced the right result, which is all that concerns England.

Mali 5 Iraq 1

Woooh. Mali aren’t many pundits’ title favourites (many overlooking Mali’s second-place in 2015). Wayne Boyce believes the favourites are “Spain, Iran” and “of course, Brazil and England.” Of course.

The ease with which a much-changed England dismantled Iraq shouldn’t be overlooked either. Mali also took full advantage of Iraq transparently giving up late on. But they were formidable and exciting against, remember, the Asian champions.

Iraq tried to be skillful and expansive. But they were muscled out of such ambitions. As such, Mali remain defensively untested since Paraguay caught them literally and metaphorically cold in their classic encounter. They might also outscore any opposition should they fail defensively.

Hadji Drame celebrated opening the scoring by repeatedly shouting what sounded like “keep up” into a TV camera. Iraq couldn’t. Lassana N’Diaye’s near-post diving-header hit the net with a satisfying thump. Fode Konate made it 3-0 with another satisfying thump, after one Iraqi defender claimed offside, with FOUR defenders behind him. And within five minutes of Iraq’s Ali Kareem making it 3-1, Mali walked another couple in.

Four games, 13 goals and N’Diaye alongside Germany’s Arp in the tournament top-goalscorer race, with four in four games. “Of course” Mali are among the favourites. Mali/England final, anyone?

Ghana 2 Niger 0

Do Niger think they’ve had a good tournament? Many observers wondered what their “Plan B” might be after Plan A (bore everyone rigid and nick a goal amid the snoring) succumbed to a last-kick-of-the-first-half penalty. We’re none the wiser now.

Ghana are nearly as powerful, pacy and skillful as quarter-final opponents Mali but somehow not quite there at every level. That said, they still could/should have won 3-0. Centre-back Gideon Mensah made one clearance all match, lifting a dangerous cross a yard over the bar from two yards out. Alas, he was in the centre-FORWARD position at the time, his broad grin as he fled the scene masking either huge embarrassment or confidence that his blooper would have no statistical significance beyond inevitable YouTube hits.

The Black Starlets could even afford to add to the list of missed/saved penalties, as Niger struggled with their slide-tackle-in-the-penalty-box addiction. Niger keeper Khaled Lawali recovered from a bewildering series of second-half injuries to save Eric Ayiah’s spot-kick, which was as well struck as the one he netted in first-half stoppage time.

But substitute Richard Danso’s 90th-minute 25-yard screamer exposed Lawali’s injuries as real rather than the time-wasting of which Niger seemed perfectly capable even when behind. And they finally put Niger out of their misery. And ours.

Brazil 3 Honduras 0

Do Honduras think they’ve had a good tournament? The calendar says Brazil will have two fewer days’ rest than their German quarter-final opponents. But Brazil will feel rested after an almost literal stroll past Honduras. Cramp seemed less likely than deep vein thrombosis. As Eurosport’s Jon Driscoll noted, the pace was ideal for Dmitar Berbatov, an Indian Super League (ISL) “star.” He didn’t necessarily mean that as a compliment.

It was a frustrating watch, although not a novel one for this Brazil team. Brenner put them three-up on 56 minutes. And thereafter it was possible to click on the Eurosport Player button which advances the coverage 30 seconds without Brazil moving the ball beyond the centre-circle. They were sloppy too. Honduras were third best (the referee got in the way twice and was thus more effective than the Honduras midfield) but they hit the post twice, with Luis Palma’s fabulously-struck 33rd-minute effort bouncing 35 yards back into play.

The gaps…no…chasms in the meaningful action allowed co-commentator Russell Osman to reveal his extensive knowledge of India and ISL football. This was more fascinating than it sounds…even the “famous” English names in the ISL (so THAT’S where John Gregory went). But it’s not what you want to have time to hear during a World Cup knockout game.

Brazil’s first goal was offside at least once. Their second was well-worked but through a gap between Honduran centre-backs which was yawning as the crowd. I almost forgot the third goal before it was scored. And Brazil remain an unknown quantity. Do they have a higher gear? Germany might not answer that. But they’ll come closer to asking than Honduras.