On a roll after three wins on the trot in the group stage, former champions France face fellow European powerhouse Spain in a potentially high voltage round of 16 clash in Guwahati on Tuesday.
France have entered into this tournament not as one of the four automatic qualifiers from Europe, after featuring in a fifth place play-off match. But they have been having a brilliant run so far in India, their easier group notwithstanding.
The 2001 champions beat tournament debutants New Caledonia 7-1, then prevailed over Japan 2-1 in a close game before thrashing Central American side Honduras 5-1. The ‘Les Bleuets’ have scored the highest number of goals (14) in the group stages.
They will, however, face their toughest test of the tournament in the form of Spain, the European champions. Just five months back, Spain had beaten France 3-1 in the UEFA European U-17 Championships quarterfinals.
Star striker Amine Gouiri had given France the lead in that match before Mateu Morey, Abel Ruiz and Sergio Gomez had replied for Spain to register a resounding victory. Gouiri has been in excellent form in the group stage in India and he is the current leading scorer with five strikes to his name.
Mateu Morey, Abel Ruiz and Sergio Gomez are all in the Spanish side in India and it should be an interesting tussle of supremacy between the two European sides at the Indira Gandhi Athletics Stadium.
Spain have come into this tournament as one of the favourites and are seeking their maiden FIFA U-17 World Cup title but they have struggled to live up to the expectations so far.
The ‘La Rojita’ lost to another tournament favourite Brazil 1-2 in their campaign opener and then beat Niger (4-0) and North Korea (2-0) to qualify for the round of 16 as runners-up from Group D.
Their final match against North Korea showed their attacking frailties as they needed a late goal to put the match away after taking an early lead.
The Spaniards dominated possession and repeatedly threatened the North Korean goal but had to be content with just two goals and the side’s finishing must be a worry for coach Santiago Denia.
It could be a matter of time the Spaniards rediscover their brand of football that is synonymous with the Iberian nation. With six players from FC Barcelona’s famous academy La Masia and five from Real Madrid academy, this team has what it takes.
To defeat France, wonderkids like Barcelona’s youth team player and captain Abel Ruiz and Valencia starlet Ferran Torres will have to make an impact.
Ruiz of La Masia academy has been courted by top Premier League clubs like Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea while Torres is another bright prospect of Spanish football with two La Liga giants Barcelona and Real Madrid having shown interest in the young striker.
On the other hand, Gouiri has continued from where he has left at the European qualifying event where he had scored a record nine goals. The Lyon player has been in his brilliant form scoring France’s two goals in the 2-1 win over Japan and then finding the target against Honduras after coming as a substitute.
France: Brahia Bernard, Yahia Fofana, Illan Meslier, Melvin Bard, William Bianda, Vincent Collet, Maxime Lacroix, Batista Mendy, Andy Pelmard, Oumar Solet, Yacine Adli, Maxence Caqueret, Claudio Gomes, Alan Kerouedan, Mathias Picouleau, Lenny Pintor, Aurelien Tchouameni, Alexis Flips, Willem Geubbels, Amine Gouiri, Wilson Isidor.
Spain: Alvaro Fernandez, Mateu Jaume, Juan Miranda, Hugo Guillamon, Victor Chust, Antonio Blanco, Ferran Torres, Mohamed Moukhliss, Abel Ruiz, Sergio Gomez, Nacho Diaz, Pedro Ruiz. Marc Vidal, Alvaro Garcia, Eric Garcia, Diego Pampin, Jose Lara, Cesar Gelabert, Carlos Beitia, Victor Perea, Alfonso Pastor.