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England U17s 'playing with maturity' at World Cup - Steve Cooper

Steve Cooper (L) during his team's practice at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata.
Steve Cooper has a chance to lead England to the U17 World Cup.

On the day Gareth Southgate was having to answer questions about England's chances at next summer's World Cup, another team wearing the same shirts left no-one in any doubt about their talent.

On Sunday, the senior team rounded off their qualifying campaign for Russia 2018 with an underwhelming 1-0 win over Lithuania in Vilnius. Hours earlier, the Under-17s started their own World Cup by thumping Chile 4-0 in Kolkata, India.

Southgate and his assistant, Steve Holland, have had two qualifiers to prepare for during this international break -- both 1-0 wins vs. Slovenia and Lithuania -- but they have both found time to check in with England's next generation of stars.

"That's the culture that we have at St George's Park," Steve Cooper, England's U17s coach, told ESPN FC. "It's very much a joined up approach from the U15s, where we start our development approach, all the way through to Gareth.

"I've had numerous conversations and texts from Gareth since we've been out here. Steve Holland, too, and they've had their own games to prepare for. There's a genuine interest and support for each other's work."

Next summer's World Cup in Russia will come too soon for Cooper's group of 16 and 17-year-olds, who face Mexico in their second group game on Wednesday. But the hope is that some of the squad who have been in India this month will be flying to Qatar with the senior team in 2022.

"We want to be as successful as we can," said Cooper. "But whatever happens, it is a learning opportunity for the players. Of course, we absolutely want to do as well as we can in this event but ultimately the aim is to get senior internationals in the best position possible to represent their country at major tournaments.

"This is a milestone along the way and hopefully when the players get back on the plane, whenever that is, they will be better England players for it."

Cesc Fabregas in 2003 and Toni Kroos in 2007 have both been voted player of the tournament at the U17 World Cup; Christian Pulisic was part of the United States' squad at the last tournament in Chile in 2015.

England's Jadon Sancho celebrates his goal against Chile.
Jadon Sancho attracted a lot of attention for his performance.

Manchester City's Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho, who swapped Manchester City for Borussia Dortmund in the summer, and Angel Gomes, who made his Manchester United first-team debut last season, are the stars of England's current crop.

And Sancho, Gomes and Chelsea's Callum Hudson-Odoi have already made their mark in India by getting on the scoresheet against Chile.

"The result and the performance was really positive and the clean sheet was as important as the four goals," said Cooper. "It was probably the biggest occasion that the players have played in with them still being relatively young in their careers. "They played with a real maturity and a real calmness that was really impressive.

"We're doing a lot of work on the mentality of players and being able to handle pressure situations and this, for them, was a pressure situation because of the size of the event."

England are already one of the favourites to win the tournament alongside Brazil and Spain -- a stark contrast to how the bookmakers view the senior team's chances in Russia, despite dropping just four points and conceding three goals in qualifying.

"Nobody is getting carried away," said Cooper. "We've got a tough test against Mexico but it's about getting the right plan, being prepared and being the best we can be.

"We're not going to be naive enough to class ourselves as favourites. If you have that mindset, I'm not sure it's the right approach for young players.

"Saying that, we do really believe in our ability. We believe we can be successful in any tournament that we play.

"We try to put a lot of belief in the players and hopefully they can go out and show what they can do in any event."

Rob is ESPN FC's Manchester United correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @RobDawsonESPN.

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