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27 oct 19:48

The battle to stay alive

As the dust clears after the 36 games of the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013’s group stage, we bid farewell to eight teams and watch the remaining nations battle it out in their bid to progress.
The knockout stages are upon us and there is no margin for error this Monday in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, where eight teams will chase a quarter-final place.

The first day of the Round of 16 brings us two games with a Latin flavour, with top billing going to Italy-Mexico and Brazil-Russia. Elsewhere Japan will look to extend a so far excellent campaign when they meet Sweden, while tournament sensations Honduras play rugged Uzbekistan in a match that could go either way.

The schedule
28 October - Round of 16

Italy-Mexico (Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed Stadium, 17.00)
Japan-Sweden (Sharjah, Sharjah Stadium, 17.00)
Brazil-Russia (Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed Stadium, 20.00)
Honduras-Uzbekistan (Sharjah, Sharjah Stadium, 20.00)

Match of the day
Brazil – Russia

This might be the first time these teams have met at an U-17 World Cup, but it is destined to be a fascinating clash of two opposing styles. Brazil won all three of their Group A games to coast through to the second round, and must be among the favourites to take home the trophy.

In Group D, Russia left it late to qualify as one of the four best third-placed teams. While Brazil have the strongest attacking line-up in the competition, with a tally of 15 goals shared between six players, Russia’s forwards failed to fire in their openers against Japan and Tunisia, only managing to break their duck in a 4-0 thrashing of Venezuela.  

Other highlights
Mexico have cause to feel optimistic when they run out against Italy at Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Stadium. The Mexicans emerged victorious against Italy at Japan 1993, the only previous U-17 World Cup encounter between the two sides. Another omen is the fact they took second place in Group F: the same group position and points’ tally they had on their way to winning Peru 2005.

Italy will be hoping that they can put their recent stumble against Uruguay behind them and move into the quarter-finals for the third time in their history. Once there, they would love to go on to lift a trophy they have never held before.

Also looking for a third quarter-final are Japan, the only team aside from Brazil to win all their matches. Opponents Sweden, for their part, are equally determined for their fairytale to continue.

The U-17 World Cup debutants reached the Round of 16 at the first time of asking, after their third-place in Group F proved just enough, but the Scandinavians will need to start making fewer errors. As they demonstrated against Tunisia, Mexico are not a forgiving side.

Monday’s final match-up sees two ambitious sides square off. Honduras stunned observers with their performances in Group A and the Central American outfit snatched second place in the table ahead of Slovakia - thus qualifying for the Round of 16 at the third time of asking.

Uzbekistan, for their part, have had an excellent run so far. One of eight sides yet to lose a game at UAE 2013, they will not be short of belief they can go through.  

The absentees
Uzbekistan’s Jamshid Boltaboev will be the only player to miss out in today’s Round of 16 encounters. Having received his second yellow card of the competition in Uzbekistan’s final group game against Croatia, he went on to score the goal that took Uzbekistan through and knocked their opponents out of the running.

Player to watch
Ulises Jaimes (Mexico)

Although he has spent only 117 minutes out on the pitch this tournament, striker Jaimes played a major role in his side’s Group F campaign. After playing 72 minutes against Nigeria and scoring Mexico’s only goal, Jaimes sat out the game with Iraq before coming on as a second-half substitute versus Sweden - grabbing the winner four minutes from time. If the Monarcas Morelia forward is picked on Monday, the Italian backline will certainly have to stay alert.

The number
1 – The number of goals Uzbekistan conceded in the group stage, making theirs the strongest defence still left in the competition. Honduras will have to work hard to break down a back four that, along with goalkeeper Sarvar Karimov, have remained unchanged throughout the tournament.

The words
“It will be a tough game for sure, but it’s a wonderful challenge for us and playing teams from other continents is always a good thing. Japan are an excellent outfit, they have got many talented players and we can’t wait to play them. We aren’t favourites, though, and it is certainly going to be a massive challenge,” Sweden coach Roland Larsson.


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