England U17 coach Steve Cooper plays down World Cup favourites tag
KOLKATA -- England coach Steve Cooper says he is flattered that his side are considered by some to be favourites for the Under-17 World Cup, but that he will not be underestimating Spain in Saturday's final in Kolkata.
England face Spain in a repeat of the Under-17 European Championship final from May, which Spain won 4-1 on penalties after a 2-2 draw in normal time.
But the Three Lions have come far in five months and, after beating Brazil 3-1 in the semifinals, many are picking them to come out on top this time.
"We will never class ourselves as favourites. We want to be humble and respectful of all our opponents," Cooper told a news conference on Friday. "It is flattering if anybody is dubbing us as favourites for a World Cup final. But you must remember, the last time we played Spain, we didn't win. We treat any opposition with the same focus and we believe in ourselves.
"They [Spain] are fitting World Cup finalists. It's an amazing achievement for them, and they are a very good team, from back to front. We know where their strengths lie and we also know what we can exploit. We know all about them and they know all about us.
"We are confident in all departments. If you pick one or two players [of the opposition], it would be naive. At this level, you don't get this far if you rely only on one or two players, and that applies to both teams. Tomorrow is no different."
Cooper's U17s have attracted plenty of praise for their attacking style, which has seen them score seven goals in their last two games in the knockout stages.
"The way we have played here is the way we want to play," he said. "We have some very good technical footballers, and it is difficult to be able to play at that level through a tournament like this. I am pleased that this has been recognised.
"The Brazil game was a massive test, with 63,000 people in audience, and to show aspects of that. Tomorrow is no different, and we hope that once the whistle is blown, our boys can quickly get into rhythm. We will be ready.
"It wasn't easy to win 4-1 and 3-1 against U.S. and Brazil, not just the football nations but also very strong teams. I just think it's a good achievement to play as we did and achieve more results. Fair play to the team. They are worthy of it. Not just to win, but to own the honour."
England will have to face some of their demons after losing to Spain on penalties in May, but captain and Manchester City defender Joel Latibeaudiere is confident they will learn from their experiences.
"We have learnt a lot from that final [U17 Euros]," he said. "We have looked back and we are really proud of how we played. That's gone and we are looking at tomorrow now.
"I missed my penalty [in the Euro final]. But the team got around me and that experience made me stronger mentally as a player. It's a great honour to lead the England team out in a World Cup final. We are really confident. We believe in the England style of play."
England have had some great success at youth level over the past year with the U20s winning the World Cup, U19s winning the Euros and the success of the U17 team too.
"We have a plan at the FA, at St. George's Park, and we're still very young at that plan," Cooper said. "Nobody is getting carried away just yet. That is how we intend to go through. The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and in the long term, we are looking at winning the World Cup and the European Championships at senior level, and if these boys can retain that level, then we can hope to achieve about half of those targets.
"The important factor of the aim of any good development is to have the players playing in senior football. We are in the final of this U17 World Cup on the back of a good summer for our junior teams, and if we keep doing well, then managers and chairmen will take note."
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