Friday’s games in Group A of the under-17 women’s World Cup here will be a story of firsts. In six previous iterations, Brazil and USA have not met. Ditto Morocco and India but that’s because they have never come this far.
All teams can progress to the quarter-finals but it is likely that the one that kicks off early will be about going deeper in the competition. Brazil and USA are the top teams in the group, Simone Gomez Jatoba had said on Tuesday. The Brazil coach, and former international with a 2007 senior World Cup silver medal, had based her evaluation on the countries’ football history and culture. This was after Brazil beat Morocco 1-0 and before USA’s goal rush against India.
No host country has made it out of the group stages since this World Cup was set going in 2008. Home teams in the past four editions have finished last with there being one point in 12 games between Azerbaijan (2012), Costa (Rica), Jordan (2016) and Uruguay (2018). Nothing unusual about that since the idea behind allotting these events is to grow the sport in that country. Barring New Zealand, the hosts in 2008, for the Football Ferns had qualified for the women’s World Cup in 2007. The only other host country to have qualified for an under-17 World Cup is Uruguay who made the cut in 2012.
So if India get a win from their remaining games, they would have achieved what no home team has since Trinidad and Tobago in 2010. But for that India would, according to head coach Thomas Dennerby, “need to show more attitude.” Absence of that made it easier for USA. Goalkicks were aimed only to the wide right midfielder and often went out of play, the midfield caved in and there were basic errors in defending.
Dennerby had attributed that to nerves. “In the beginning we didn’t even try to pass the ball, (instead we were) defending and sending it away. I was screaming, ‘we need to start playing, girls,’” he said after the match.
“Football is not all about running or the number of sprints,” the Swede said in a video shared by All India Football Federation on Thursday. India can do that as well as most teams, he has said. And maybe better than Morocco, he said on Thursday. “(Football) is also about taking the right decisions at the right moment. That was the biggest problem we faced against the USA.”
If India are to show they can be better – and he is convinced the team is capable of more – the game needs to be handled better, said Dennerby.
Morocco too were pegged back by Brazil but they can take confidence from a spirited defensive show in the second half led by goalkeeper Luisa Derbali also their hero in the final qualifying game against Ghana.
“Scoring against them will be a challenge. But for us, it is either a win or out (of the tournament). If they (India) are afraid to hold on to the ball, then they may lose the game immediately. We have to play at our maximum,” said Dennerby.
Less than a month ago, Morocco to had lost 0-8 to Portugal but that was in a friendly to get ready for the World Cup.
Feeling the heat
They have trained in Dubai before coming here but how USA cope with an afternoon kick-off could be crucial. Brazil have and after the game against Morocco, Jatoba had said she was happy with how they had dealt with the hot and humid conditions. What she was not was about the team’s lack of efficiency in the front third.
Having made the quarter-finals twice, Brazil are more consistent than USA who haven’t got out of the group since being runners-up in 2008. But it is equally true that from Morgan Brian, Crystal Dunn and Samantha Mewis in 2008 to Ashley Sanchez in 2016 and Trinity Rodman in 2018, this competition has provided the current No. 1 in women’s FIFA rankings a clutch of internationals, some going on to become World Cup winners.