Kolkata: In-form rivals England and Iraq will battle for the top spot in what could be a mouthwatering Group F engagement of the Fifa Under-17 World Cup at the Vivekananda Yuva Bharati Krirangan on Saturday.
Steve Cooper’s England have seamlessly booked their place in the knockout round, winning both their games so far. Two points behind are Asian U-16 champions Iraq, who defied inadequate pre-tournament preparations to storm past Chile 3-0 after holding Mexico 1-1 and are one point away from securing a knockout berth.
A stalemate would mean Iraq would finish second in the four-team group with England topping the charts.
A victory for the Qahtan Chitheer-coached side would knock England into second spot.
If Iraq lose, Mexico would have a chance to pip them if they win by a big margin against an out-of-sorts Chile.
England’s biggest vhallenge will be containing Iraq’s Mohammed Dawood.
The winger from Baghdad has ripped both Chile and Mexico apart with three goals in two matches. England’s defence is not as good as their attack, and Mexico laid that bare on Wednesday.
After Rhian Brewster, Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho helped the Young Lions race to a 3-0 lead within an hour, Mexico’s Diego Lainez unlocked the English rearguard in the space of seven second-half minutes to almost pull off a draw.
“We know we have got players on the pitch who can make a difference but I think you can make a difference anywhere on the pitch,” coach Cooper said.
“Iraq will be a difficult test as well. Picking up a point against an excellent Mexico team shows their strength and quality. We will be ready for them. Hopefully, we can do what we have done in the first game, take the game to the opposition and we will not be underestimating anybody,”
Chitheer said: “England are a very good team and have talented players. Each match has its own circumstances and we will play differently from the way we played against Mexico and Chile.”
Meanwhile, Japan will look to seal their spot in the latter stages when they take on minnows New Caledonia in a Group E at the Vivekananda Yuva Bharati Krirangan.
Japan got their campaign off to a flying start with a 6-1 win over Honduras before contenders France beat them 2-1 in the second game.
The Hirofumi Yoshitake-coached side are placed second in the table and a win would propel them to the next round.
In New Caledonia, Japan could not have asked for a better opponent to help their cause.
Alongside hosts India, New Caledonia are also taking part in their first World Cup across age groups.
A 7-1 defeat to France followed by a 5-0 thrashing by Honduras left little to the imagination as to who the whipping boys of the group were and it would be pride and a sense of being at the world stage that they will play for in their final outing.