Even without star player Jadon Sancho, in-form England start as hot favourites against Asian heavyweights Japan in their 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, on Monday left for Germany where he plays for German club Borussia Dortmund and would play no further part in the tournament.
He was only allowed to attend the meet on condition that he would return to his club after the preliminary round.
Sancho scored three goals for England in the group games and was an influential figure in the team’s attacking arsenal.
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 sans Sancho.
“Jadon’s gone home. Dortmund have requested that he headed back to Germany, which is a disappointment in terms of the tournament. People enjoyed seeing Jadon play. It is disappointing for him as well. He was enjoying his time in India. He was really relishing the chance to play in a World Cup. He loves playing for England and loves playing for this team in particular,” England coach Steve Cooper said at the pre-match press conference here.
“It was disappointing to see him go. I can only imagine Dortmund playing him in the first team and he would start. I can’t think of any reason why you would call a player during the World Cup.
“But we look forward and not back. I have said before it isn’t about one player. If any of the boys left with any reason, may it be injuries, suspensions, club commitments … we will always be about a team and about a squad. I am absolutely convinced we have players who are capable of playing for England,” he added.
Japan coach Yoshiro Moriyama said he wanted Sancho to play as his team is ready to face England at full strength.
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.