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 here on Saturday. The football-mad Kochi could not have asked for anything better than this showdown between the South American champions Brazil and European qualifying tournament winners Spain at the
Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium.
Brazil are the overwhelming favourites of the fans here 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 as usual 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. But the lucky ones who will be at the stadium are sure to witness a fascinating contest between Brazilian attacking flare and Spanish ‘tiki-taka’ possession football in what could be a final before a final of this tournament.
Both Brazil and Spain are expected to finish as top two teams in Group D, which also has North Korea and Niger. But whoever wins on Saturday will have the advantage and will have one foot at the knock-out stage. Brazil are a formidable force even in the age group, having appeared 15 times in 16 editions before India and winning the U-17 World Cup trophy thrice (1997, 1999 & 2003).
They finished runners-up in 1995 and 2005, third in 1985 and fourth in 2011. Their solitary absence came at Japan 1993. In the last edition in 2015 in Chile, they were knocked out by eventual champions Nigeria in the quarterfinals.
The Brazilians clinched the continental title with a 5-0 defeat of hosts Chile. The squad in India is practically unchanged from the one which won the South American qualifying tournament except the absence of Vinicius Junior. The top scorer and player of the tournament at the South American U-17 Championship has not been released for the World Cup by his club side Flamengo.
The core of this team has played five tournaments recently and the level of understanding among players is high.
Spain, on the other hand, are seeking their maiden FIFA U-17 World Cup title in their ninth appearance. A line of illustrious players of the calibre of Xavi Hernandez, Andreas Iniesta or Iker Casillas have not been able to lift the trophy at different editions. 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. It was touch and go on in that gane with Nacho Diaz equalising in injury time in the final to deny England, who had led since the 58th minute. Spain then emerged victorious from the ensuing penalty shoot-out (4-1).
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. They have wonderkids like Barcelona’s youth team player and captain Abel Ruiz and Valencia starlet Ferran Torres.
Brazil: Gabriel Brazao, Wesley, Vitao. Lucas Halter, Victor Bobsin, Weverson, Paulinho, Marcos Antonio, Lincoln, Alan, Lucao, Matheus Stockl, Rodrigo Guth, Luan Candido, Victor Yan, Rodrigo Nestor, Vitinho, Yuri Alberto, Brenner, Yuri Sena.
Spain: Alvaro Fernandez, Mateu Jaume, Juan Miranda, Hugo Guillamon, Victor Chust, Antonio Blanco, Ferran Torres, Mohamed Moukhliss, Abel Ruiz, Sergio Gomez, Nacho Diaz, Pedro Rui, Marc Vidal, Alvaro Garcia, Eric Garcia, Diego Pampin, Jose Lara, Cesar Gelabert, Carlos Beitia, Victor Perea, Alfonso Pastor