India, one of the tournament’s most overlooked sides, begin Tuesday’s FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup opening match against mighty USA in Bhubaneswar as clear underdogs. India, as hosts, had an automatic seat in the age-group spectacle and are one of three debutants in the tournament, along with Morocco and Tanzania (Group D). Head coach Thomas Dennerby had said it will be difficult to score against the hosts and that clinching a point against impressive USA at the Kalinga Stadium on Tuesday could be a huge achievement for India.
Entering the tournament as CONCACAF champions, USA would look to open their campaign with a win, knowing that a slip-up against India could cost them dearly in a group that also includes title contenders Brazil.
The top two teams from each of the four groups qualify for the Quarterfinals and every point is crucial in such a high profile tournament.
Dennerby’s side have prepared well for the tournament with tours to Italy, Norway and Spain, although they haven’t played very strong European and South American teams in the run-up to the tournament.
He said his team has improved a lot in fitness and defense but acknowledged that attacking is an area his players need to work on.
“USA are the favorites against us, there’s no doubt about that. But that’s on paper and football is played 90-95 minutes on the pitch. We think we have a chance of scoring against USA too,” Dennerby said before the game press conference.
“We have been preparing well since February and the players are ready for the tournament. Reaching the quarter-finals will be a great achievement but we are currently in Tuesday’s game,” he said with captain Astam Oraon at his side.
The core of the Indian team consists of the players who won the U-18 Women SAFF Championship in 2022. Lynda Kom Serto, the tournament’s top scorer, will lead the attack.
Anita Kumari and Nitu Linda will operate from the wings while young Shilky Devi could be the kingpin in midfield.
The USA is playing the tournament for the fifth time and for the third time in a row. But they didn’t make it through the group stage after finishing second at the 2008 edition and they would try to end the curse this time.
15 of the 21 that helped USA win the Concacaf U-17 Women’s Championship are in India. Midfielder Riley Jackson, who was named the Concacaf tournament’s best player, will be a player to watch out for.
Amalia Villarreal, who ended up being the top scorer, will lead the attack while Victoria Safradin, winner of the Golden Glove, will direct the United States’ goal.
Midfielder Mia Bhuta, whose father grew up in Rajkot in Gujarat, will also be a player to watch out for. In the run-up to the tournament, the USA had beaten defending champions Spain once (2-0) and once (1-1) and won 1-0 against European qualifier winners Germany.
In seven games of the CONCACAF tournament, the USA had scored 58 goals and conceded one.
In other opening day games, Morocco will meet Brazil in Group A here at the Kalinga Stadium. Chile meet New Zealand at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Margao, while Germany play Nigeria in Group B matches at the same venue.
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