x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Honduras and Sweden approach quarter-finals with nothing to lose

Round-up: Teams fancy chances in clash of first-timers on the quarter-final stage while Brazil wary of Mexico.

Sweden’s Nohan Ramhorn, left, and his teammates have raised the bar. Karim Sahib / AFP
Sweden’s Nohan Ramhorn, left, and his teammates have raised the bar. Karim Sahib / AFP

While the quarter-finals of the Under 17 World Cup contain several of the pre-tournament favourites, today’s encounter in Al Ain pits together two teams who have been making history with every game they have played at the tournament.

Traditional heavyweights such as Brazil (three-time champions), Mexico (the holders), Nigeria (three-time champions) and the impressive South American champions Argentina are all in action over the next two days.

But Honduras and Sweden kick off at the Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain knowing that the winner will be within one game of next Friday’s final – impressive for two sides who had not won a point at the tournament before competing in Abu Dhabi.

Honduras played in the 2007 and 2009 U17 World Cups, losing all six games.

Sweden had never played in the European U17 Championships before they made the last four in Slovakia earlier this year to qualify for the UAE. Despite low pre-tournament expectations, both sides fancy their chances now of reaching the final.

“We’re getting better all the time. We work it and work it and work it in training, and we’ve managed to go far, and we just want to keep on going,” Elias Andersson, the Swedish midfielder, told Fifa.com.

“Our young players are coming up, too. It’s not just Nigeria and the other countries. People should remember this.”

Sweden qualified from Nigeria’s group and are the only side at the tournament to stop the fancied Africans winning – and scoring at least four goals – in a 3-3 draw.

“We can go very far at this tournament; it’s something I know,” Valmir Berisha said after scoring twice in that match. “People call us ‘little Sweden’ but we’re not so little.”

Honduras hit the ground running when Brayan Velasquez’s heavy shot from the edge of the box gave his side a 2-1 win over the UAE at Abu Dhabi’s Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium on opening night.

“Everybody’s watching us on TV in Honduras. We want to keep up the good work so we don’t let them down,” coach Jose Valladares told Fifa.com. Honduras qualified second in Group A, behind Brazil.

“When we arrived in UAE, the goal was to reach the Round of 16, because it would be a first,” said Valladares.

“But from here forward, everything is a first, so why not start thinking about the final? This match against Sweden is just another step toward the final for us. We have great ambition and we want to keep making history for the people back home.”

Honduras’s senior team played at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, their first appearance since 1982, and have qualified for Brazil 2014.

The Olympic team led twice against a Brazil side containing Neymar and Oscar at the 2012 Olympics before losing 3-2 in the quarter-finals.

“We’ve watched this game on DVD three times already here in UAE,” midfielder Rembrandt Flores told Fifa.com. “It’s a great example for us.”

The mindset of both teams today is summed up by Sweden’s coach Roland Larsson, as they know that to lift the trophy they will have to get past at least two of youth football’s most successful sides. “You don’t play football with history,” Larsson said.

“You play it on the pitch.”

Mexico pose banana skin for Brazil

Brazil have been in dominant form at the Under 17 World Cup but they face their biggest test tonight when they take on Mexico, the champions, without two key players.

The South Americans – who have scored 18 goals in four games and conceded just three – are missing Gustavo, the midfielder, and forward Boschilla, one of the stars of the tournament and the top scorer with six goals.

This clash could easily have been a final, given that these two have five titles between them.

It will be the fourth time the two teams have met at the U17 World Cup, with Mexico winning twice to Brazil’s sole triumph.

Brazil start as favourites given their squad full of match winners such as the strike force of Nathan and Mosquito, who each have four goals.

But Mexico have their own difference maker in Alejandro Diaz, the forward whose 25-yard rocket set them on their way to a 2-0 last-16 win against Italy in Abu Dhabi.

“He’s a wonderful striker and he’s shown he can score important goals,” coach Raul Gutierrez told Fifa.com.

“At the same time he needs his teammates to create space, so he can operate to the best of his ability and score even more.”

Mexico made a poor start to the tournament, losing 6-1 to Nigeria in their opener, but hope they have learnt from their mistakes in that game.

“We all know Mexico won the title in 2005 after losing one of their games in the group stage,” Diaz said. “We just hope history can repeat itself.”

* With agencies

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