U-17 draw takeaways: Spain vs Brazil and a chance for a German hat-trick
At last, we know exactly who will face whom in the early stages of the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup, the first global football event to be hosted not just in India, but in the sub-continent.
India were hoping for a favourable draw, but know that in USA, Colombia and Ghana they have picked up teams that have two U-17 World Cup titles, and five semi-finals appearances other than that between them. Their experience will make it difficult for India, but they must recognise the opportunity that could arise if any two of the three teams cancel each other out in key games. Every point will be precious, as it would in some of the other interesting matchups of the World Cup.
The Kochi bonanza
The Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi will get to witness perhaps the match of the group stages, when Brazil and Spain come face-to-face in the group opener on October 7. Group D will feature an interesting mix of styles, in fact, with Niger -- appearing on the global stage for the first time -- and North Korea completing the line-up. African nations have enjoyed the best record historically in age-group World Cups, and Asian nations have also done well in this competition, with Bahrain, Qatar and Oman having made the last four in the past. The big favourites in this group would be Brazil, both on the basis of their pedigree in the game, as well a history of three title wins, though the last one came 14 years ago.
If Kochi lucked out with two marquee names, there will be a huge amount of interest around the England-Mexico matchup in Kolkata on October 11.
Mexico have won two of the U-17 World Cups in the last 12 years, and also have a runners-up finish in 2013 to go with it, while England come into this following their win in the U-20 World Cup. Iraq and Chile are the other teams in the group, and finished in the top two among their respective confederations during qualification.
The great unknowns
Mumbai, originally slated to host all India matches, at first glance might feel a little hard done by with Group B, but the four teams in it make for interesting reading.
Paraguay were third in qualification from South America, but have the ability to raise their game in big events, while Mali are runners-up from two years ago and won the 2017 Africa U-17 Cup in Gabon. New Zealand are always a difficult opposition to break down, and Turkey made the UEFA qualifiers semi-finals ahead of France, who only qualified after clinching a playoff against Hungary.
France are placed in Group E, where New Caledonia are the third debutant other than Niger and India. Japan and Honduras complete a lineup, where again predicting a top two might be a tricky proposition considering the depth of the field.
The Germans will be waiting
As if they need any further help in global competitions, Germany have picked up a seemingly simple draw. They are drawn in Goa alongside Costa Rica, Guinea and Iran, with only the Asians having made the final in continental competition leading up to India. In fact, the 2016 AFC U-16 Championship was played in Goa, and Iran will bring that experience into play in their campaign.
Germany have never won the U-17 World Cup. Their only appearance in a final was in the inaugural edition in China 32 years ago by erstwhile East Germany.
There will be some surprises, no doubt, but expect the heavyweights to flex their muscles on the big stage when football takes over this October.