U-17 World Cup: England favourites against Japan in pre-quarters
Kolkata: With or without star player Jadon Sancho, in-form England start as hot favourites against Asian heavyweights Japan in the FIFA U-17 World Cup pre-quarterfinal clash at the Vivekananda Yuva Bharati Krirangan here on Tuesday.
Sancho, a vital cog in England's free-flowing wheel throughout the group stages, was only allowed to attend the tournament on condition that he would return to his club, German giants Borussia Dortmund, after the group stages.
The English Football Association (FA), according to reports, tried to persuade Dortmund bosses to change their stance and let the talismanic player stay to hopefully fire England to World Cup glory.
While there was still no clarity on whether the highly-rated winger, comfortable on both flanks, would stay with the team or not, Sancho was seen training with one batch of English players on Sunday raising hopes of a possible end to the impasse.
But from what has been on display over the last week, it would be naive to imagine Steve Cooper's charges struggling against Japan even if Sancho is not available.
"We showed we have 21 players who can start games and make a difference in a tournament at this level which is obviously great.
"It will be difficult to pick the team for the next one but it bodes well that we have got so many players developing from our system and can come away from the World Cup and be better players," coach Cooper had said after their previous 4-0 verdict against Iraq despite making eight changes to the team that beat Mexico 3-2.
Barring Stoke City goalkeeper Josef Bursik, England have used all of their 20 players in three games underlining the depth in their ranks.
The only chink in the Europeans' armour has been their defence with the backline of Timothy Eyoma, Joel Latibeaudiere, Marc Guehi and Jonathan Panzo unlocked in the space of few minutes by Mexico's Diego Lainez.
Coming to Japan, the Yoshiro Moriyama-coached side gave a poor account of themselves in their last group engagement, drawing 1-1 with minnows New Caledonia who until then had shipped a dozen goals in two matches.
After coasting to a 6-1 victory over lowly Honduras, Japan were checked by France 1-2 with key players Keito Nakamura and Takefusa Kubo man-marked and their midfielders zonally choked.
Japan played a second-string team resting nine players against New Caledonia but their meek surrender after Nakamura had given them an early lead was far from a good advertisement of their bench strength - a sharp contrast to England.
Nakamura and Kubo would be the key players in Moroyama's scheme of things. In the other camp, the likes of Phil Foden, Angel Gomes, Rhian Brewster and George McEachran would look to continue their superb run upfront hassle free.
Japan and England have never met before at the U-17 World Cup.
England: Curtis Anderson, Josef Bursik, William Crelin, Timothy Eyoma, Joel Latibeaudiere, Marc Guehi, Jonathan Panzo, Lewis Gibson, Steven Sessegnon, Morgan Gibbs White, Tashan Oakley Boothe, Conor Gallagher, Angel Gomes, Nya Kirby, George McEachran, Jadon Sancho, Callum Hudson Odoi, Philip Foden, Emile Smith Rowe, Rhian Brewster, Danny Loader
Japan: Umeda Togo, Tani Kosei, Suzuki Zion; Nobuki Iketaka, Takumu Kemmotsu, Yukinari Sugawara, Yuki Kobayashi, Taichi Yamasaki, Seiya Baba, Kohei Okuno, Rei Hirakawa, Toichi Suzuki, Naoki Tsubaki, Shimpei Fukuoka, Hinata Kida, Soichiro Kozuki, Hiroto Yamada, Taisei Miyashiro, Keito Nakamura, Takefusa Kubo, Koki Saito.