While the first teams to reach the knockout stages from Groups A to D of this year’s FIFA U-17 World Cup in the UAE have been confirmed with a game to spare, the race to qualify remains wide open in Groups E and F.
Argentina currently lead the way in Group E on four points ahead of Canada, Iran (both two points) and Austria (one). In Group F, Nigeria and Sweden are level pegging on four points apiece, with Mexico lurking dangerously behind on three and Iraq bottom of the section with zero.
Argentina - Canada (Dubai, Rashid Stadium, 20:00)
Austria - Iran (Al Ain City, Bin Zayed Stadium 20:00)
Nigeria - Iraq (Dubai, Rashid Stadium, 17:00)
Sweden - Mexico (Al Ain City, Bin Zayed Stadium 17:00)
Match of the day
Sweden - Mexico
This clash between the competition debutants and the reigning champions seemed like an easy one to predict ahead of the tournament, but two games into the FIFA U-17 World Cup and the group has taken on an entirely different complexion. Not only have the Scandinavian newcomers beaten Iraq convincingly 4-1, they also managed a 3-3 draw against three-time champions Nigeria.
El Tri, meanwhile, were humiliated 6-1 by the Golden Eaglets in their opening encounter. The Mexicans then recovered with a 3-1 success against Iraq, but only a victory will do in their final match of the round if they are to reach the last 16. Never before have the reigning U-17 world champions gone out in the group stages of the subsequent tournament, but Mexico could well be the first should Sweden get the draw they require to progress.
In the other game in Group F, Nigeria take on an Iraq side which have lost both of their matches at the tournament so far. The Asians still remain in with a slim chance of qualifying as one of the four best third-placed teams.
The permutations are even more intriguing in Group E, where all four teams could still qualify directly for the last 16. Bottom-of-the-section Austria are under the most pressure, requiring nothing less than victory against Iran. The Austrians were unfortunate to go down 3-2 to Argentina in their last match, conceding just two minutes from the end.
Player to watch
Jordan Hamilton (Canada)
The Canadian attacker has scored two of his side’s three goals in the competition so far and scored shortly after the interval in both draws against Austria (2-2) and Iran (1-1). Argentina will need to be alert from the opening whistle in order to contain the lively forward.
12 – FIFA U-17 World Cup newcomers Sweden have now gone 12 competitive matches without defeat at this level. The Scandinavians were the only team in the European Zone to go unbeaten (five wins, five draws) through qualifying and they remain undefeated in the UAE too having registered a win and a draw so far.
"Even if we’ve only managed one point so far, we’ve shown that we have a lot of quality. If we play like we have been, we can beat Iran. We just have to go for it. That doesn’t mean throwing everything forward, but trying to make the impossible possible on the basis of a solid defence. Iran are a hard nut to crack. They’re extremely strong and very aggressive,” Austria coach Herrmann Stadler looks ahead to his side’s decisive final group game against Iran.