Kolkata: In-form rivals England and Iraq will battle for the top spot in what could be a mouthwatering Group F engagement of the FIFA U-17 World Cup at the Vivekananda Yuva Bharati Krirangan here on Saturday.
Steve Cooper’s England, on six points, have seamlessly booked their place in the pre-quarterfinals, winning both their games. Two points behind are Asian U-16 champions Iraq, who defied inadequate pre-tournament preparations to storm past Chile 3-0 after holding Mexico 1-1 and remain a draw away from securing a knockout berth.
The result on the morrow would open up interesting and varied possibilities. A stalemate would mean the Iraq will finish second in the four-team group with England topping the charts. A victory for the Qahtan Chitheer-coached side would knock England off their perch to settle for the second spot.
If Iraq succumb to their first reversal of the tournament, Mexico would have a chance to pip them and finish second but for that to happen, the North American side need to win by a big margin against an out-of-sorts Chile. The tournament rules decree that if two teams are level on points, the goal difference would be taken into consideration and on that count Iraq (+3) have the edge over Mexico (-1).
Coming to the match, it is no rocket science to assume that England will put most thought on containing Iraq’s Mohammed Dawood. The winger from Baghdad has so far carried the team on his shoulders and ripped both Chile and Mexico apart with three goals in two matches. England’s defence is not as good as their attack, and Mexico laid that bare on Wednesday.
After Rhian Brewster, Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho helped the Young Lions race to a 3-0 lead within an hour, Mexico’s Diego Lainez unlocked the English rearguard in the space of seven second-half minutes to almost pull off a draw. Against Mexico, Iraq played a lot of long balls behind the backline to feed Dawood who has electric pace and can run in behind defences. The England back four of Timothy Eyoma, Joel Latibeaudiere, Marc Guehi and Jonathan Panzo would surely be wary of that ploy.
Upfront, England have been brilliant. From crowd favourite Sancho cutting in from the left channel, to Foden with his silken touches and vision, the Lions have surely roared big. This could be Sancho’s last game before the Borussia Dortmund player leaves for club assignments. Manchester United attacker Angel Gomes has been a super substitute and is likely to fill in for Sancho in the knockout stages.
“We know we have got players on the pitch who can make a difference but I think you can make a difference anywhere on the pitch,” coach Cooper had said after the Mexico win when asked about Sancho. “Iraq will be a difficult test as well. Picking up a point against an excellent Mexico team shows their strength and quality. We will be ready for them. Hopefully, we can do what we have done in the first game, take the game to the opposition and we will not be underestimating anybody,” Cooper said about Iraq.
“England are a very good team and have talented players. Each match has its own circumstances and we will play differently from the way we played against Mexico and Chile,” was Iraq boss Chitheer’s assesment. The two teams haven’t ever met in the u-17 World Cup history.
England: Curtis Anderson, Josef Bursik, William Crelin; Timothy Eyoma, Joel Latibeaudiere, Marc Guehi, Jonathan Panzo, Lewis Gibson, Steven Sessegnon, Morgan Gibbs White, Tashan Oakley Boothe; Conor Gallagher, Angel Gomes, Nya Kirby, George McEachran; Jadon Sancho, Callum Hudson Odoi, Philip Foden, Emile Smith Rowe, Rhian Brewster, Danny Loader
Iraq: Ali Ibadi, Mustafa Zuhair, Abdulazeez Ammar; Ammar Mohammed, Maytham Jabbar, Muntadher Mohammed, Muntadher Abdulsada, Abdulabbas Ayad, Mohammed Al-Baqer, Ali Raad; Habeeb Mohammed, Saif Khalid, Mohammed Ridha, Abbas Ali, Bassam Shakir, Mohammed Ali (Al Nagda), Moamel Karim, Ahmed Sartip; Mohammed Dawood, Ali Kareem, Alaa Adnaan