Kolkata, Oct 13 (IANS) Japan will look to seal a pre-quarterfinal berth when they take on minnows New Caledonia in a Group E FIFA U-17 World Cup contest at the Vivekananda Yuva Bharati Krirangan here on Saturday.
Japan got their campaign off to a flying start with a 6-1 win over Honduras before contenders France beat them 1-2 in the second game.
With three points from two games, the Hirofumi Yoshitake-coached side are placed second in the four-team points 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.
Located in the Southwest Pacific Ocean, New Caledonia is a special collectivity of France and has a population of around 280,000.
It had become the smallest nation to qualify for any World Cup by reaching the final of the OFC U-17 Championships, losing to New Zealand in February.
Alongwith hosts India, New Caledonia are also taking part in their first World Cup across age groups.
On the pitch, not much was expected of them and it was their qualification that grabbed the headlines before they even kicked a ball.
A 1-7 defeat to France followed by a 0-5 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 would play for in their final outing.
Japan could rest several of their key players like the deadly pair of Keito Nakamura and La Masia product Takefusa Kubo, keeping in mind the knockouts.
While Nakamura scored a hat-trick against Honduras in their opening game, Kubo netted one. Both of them had a quiet game against France.
There is also huge Japanese media interest for the U-17 tournament with a large group of journalists travelling with the squad.
The teams reached the city on Thursday afternoon after playing their first two matches in Guwahati.
This is Japan’s eighth U-17 World Cup, having reached the quarter-finals on two occasions.
A salient feature is that Switzerland’s Esther Staubli would officiate in the game, becoming the first female referee to supervise a match at the FIFA U-17 World Cup.
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
New Caledonia: Une Kecine, Gaizka Ipeze, Robin Escorne; Raoul Wenisso, Josue Welepane, Kiam Wanesse, Sidri Wadenges, Bernard Iwa, Hnautra Enoka, Jules Omei, Josua Hlemu;A Jekob Jeno, Neil Wahiobe, Pierre Bako, Cyril Nyipie, Gale Luewadia, Paul Wananjie; Theo Bosshard, Titouan Richard, Vita Longue, Lionel Thahnaena.
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