The top 24 teams from around the world are getting ready to battle it out over twenty-three days at the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup in India. As the countdown to the tournament is on, here's our preview of the teams drawn in Group E - France, Japan, Honduras, and the surprise package New Caledonia.
Nickname: Little Blues
Past records: Despite being a football powerhouse, France have appeared only in five of the 16 editions of the U-17 World Cup to date. They were champions in the 2001 edition held in Trinidad and Tobago, but thereafter the team could not make it past the quarterfinal stage even once.
Path to qualification: France almost missed out on the qualification after losing to Spain in the last eight of this year's UEFA U-17 European Championship. However, they managed to book the fifth and final ticket which was decided via a play-off between the two best losing quarterfinalists.
Strengths: France made the cut for India by quelling the challenge of some of the top teams in Europe, and they will be looking to carry forward the momentum. France were at their devastating best when they drubbed Faroe Islands by 7-0 in the group stage of the UEFA U-17 European Championship. They will be hoping to come on top of the group which comprises relatively weaker opponents.
Weaknesses: This French side has struggled against mighty opponents in recent tournaments due to lack of confidence. Often, they were seen squandering the initiative after crumbling under pressure.
Key player: Center forward Amine Gouiri, who caught the attention of football pundits by scoring nine goals in five outings in the UEFA U-17 European Championship hosted by Croatia recently.
Coach: Lionel Rouxel, who is at the helm of the U-17 side since 2015, boasts a wealth of experience in coaching young talents. A shrewd tactician, Rouxel is a strong advocate of attacking football.
Nickname: Samurai Blue
Past records: One of the strongest teams in Asia, Japan will be featuring in their eighth FIFA U-17 World Cup in India. Their best results so far have been the quarterfinal berths on two occasions, in 1993 and 2011.
Path to qualification: The Japanese, who could not qualify for the last edition of the tournament hosted by Chile, was in sublime form in the U-16 AFC championship. They topped their group and earned a ticket to India 2017 with thumping victories overs Australia, Vietnam and Kyrgyzstan.
Strengths: Japan boasts a formidable attacking line-up. They will be looking to cash in on the familiar Asian conditions.
Weakness: The leaky defense is a serious cause for concern for Japan.
Key player: Big things have been predicted for Takefusa Kubo, dubbed the ‘Japanese Messi’. The mercurial forward’s rise to prominence has been quite amazing. Blessed with unbelievable pace, Kuboho banged in four goals in the U-16 AFC championship. A product of the Barcelona Youth Academy, he was also part of the Japanese side at the U-20 World Cup in Korea.
Coach: Hirofumi Yoshitake will arguably be the most experienced coach at India 2017, having led the team in the 2011 and 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cups. His best U-17 achievement of recent years was the quarterfinal appearance in 2011.
Nickname: La mini H
Past records: Honduras, representing the central American CONCACAF region, made their debut in the U-17 World Cup in 2007. They reached the quarterfinals at UAE 2013, their best performance so far. The team had a disappointing outing in the last edition, bowing out at the group stage after failing to register a single win.
Path to qualification: Honduras finished second behind Costa Rica in the central American zone qualifiers to reach the CONCACAF U-17 Championship. In the main draw, they lost to hosts Panama, but ensured a ticket to India by registering impressive wins over Curacao, Haiti and Cuba.
Strengths: A well-balanced and organized side. Renowned for their beguiling unpredictability, Honduras will be a tough nut to crack for even the fancied teams in the fray.
Weaknesses : The poor and passive defense is an obvious chink in their armor.
Key player: Striker Carlos Mejia, the winner of the golden boot at the CONCACAF U-17 Championship with seven goals.
Coach: Jose Valladares is vastly experienced at this level. This will be his third U-17 World Cup, having guided the national side to the 2013 and 2015 editions.
Nickname: The Kagus
Past records: This tiny nation with a population of around 2.75 lakh will be making their debut at a FIFA tournament. The Oceania’s newest member, New Caledonia comprises four archipelagos located about 1,200 kilometers away from Australia. The team will be looking forward to leave a mark on the world football.
Path to qualification: For New Caledonia, qualifying for the U-17 World Cup was far from easy. In the Oceania U-17 championship, the team scraped past Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu with one-goal wins and drew with hosts Tahiti to enter the semis. They posted a hard-fought 3-2 victory over Solomon Islands to enter the final and book World Cup berth. In the final, however, they suffered a heavy 0-7 defeat at the hands of New Zealand.
Strengths: Fiery enthusiasm coupled with a never-say-die attitude. New Caledonia is a French territory and most of the team members ply their trade in France's lower leagues.
Weakness: The lack of big tournament experience may hurt them.
Key player: Midfielder Paul Gope-Fenepej. He played a vital role in the team’s qualification to India 2017 by netting three goals in the OFC championship.
Coach : Dominique Wacalie replaced Michael Clarque, who led the team through the qualification rounds, in April 2017. Before being appointed the coach, he was the regional technical director in New Caledonia. A former midfielder, Wacalie ended his professional football career after representing the country in the 2014 World Cup qualifications.
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Source : http://english.manoramaonline.com/sports/football/2017/08/23/fifa-under-17-world-cup-france-japan-honduras-new-caledonia.html