The first stage of the U-17 World Cup is over, with 16 teams left to vie for the honour of replacing Nigeria as champions.
Here are five takeaways from what has been an eventful first 10 days of the first FIFA event in the subcontinent.
Greater accent on attack
There has been some great attacking flair on display at this World Cup. The numbers bear it out – 125 goals in 36 matches makes for a goals per game average of 3.47, the highest since the 2005 edition in Peru.
Teams have looked for goals even when they have virtually sealed off matches, and no team has represented that as well as France, the highest-scoring team in the World Cup with 14 goals. Iran have been a revelation too, scoring 10 goals while keeping their defence compact at all times.
It will be difficult to maintain this scoring rate though as a mistake in defence could mean the end of the road for teams in the knockouts. This World Cup needs 48 goals in the remaining 16 matches to better the record for most goals at an U-17 World Cup.
Big names live up to their billing
Players such as France’s Amine Gouiri, Jadon Sancho of England, Germany’s Jann-Fiete Arp, Abel Ruiz of Spain, Mexican Diego Lainez and Josh Sargent of the USA came into this World Cup with reputations of being special talents, and they have delivered on that promise in the group stages.
What has given these better-known names an advantage is that most of them already have professional contracts with top clubs around the world. They have played for years in the academy sides and in competitive fixtures at youth level. The ability to draw out their best under those circumstances has served a player like Gouiri well, who topped the goal-scoring charts during the European U-17 Championships earlier this year, and leads the World Cup tally with five goals as well.
Traditional powerhouses dominate
Africa and South America have dominated the U-17 World Cup in the past, and that has continued at this edition as well. Out of the six groups, three have been topped by teams from these two confederations — Ghana, Paraguay and Brazil — and two of the second-placed teams in these three groups have been Colombia and Mali.
Water breaks a welcome addition
The World Cup got underway without water breaks, which was a surprising decision as all the venues at this time of the year were expected to have temperatures in the mid-30s, especially for the 5 pm kick-offs. Several players suffered from dehydration and exhaustion in the early games as a direct consequence.
However, the authorities have introduced short breaks at the 30th minute of each half in recent matches, and that has contributed to some exciting finishes in subsequent rounds. In the last 12 games, 17 goals came in just the last half an hour of play.
Tactical awareness stands out
The biggest attribute that could see players progress from the U-17 level is their ability to work with the coach’s plans and show the ability to adapt themselves to the way the opposition plays.
Alan and Antonio of Brazil helped overturn a 1-0 deficit against Spain into a victory with a sound game in the midfield early in the tournament. Spain, themselves, showed great tactical awareness in switching from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-2-4 against a stubbornly defensive North Korea.
France were brilliant in all their games, with their top players like Gouiri, Yacine Adli and Willem Geubbels showing the ability to switch flanks and drop deep from time to time to help create spaces for each other to exploit. Germany’s Jann-Fiete Arp showed his ability to double up as playmaker when not attacking the opposition through the centre with his physical presence.
This U-17 World Cup has been a testament to what is being increasingly witnessed at the international level for both club and country — that the gulf in quality, both between teams and among age-group levels within football nations, is closing down rapidly.