Kolkata: Sparks are set to fly when three-time former champions Brazil take on old rivals Germany in a titanic battle for one of the semi-final berths in the FIFA Under-17 World Cup here on Sunday.
It’s been a treat for football fans whenever the two teams locked horns. In the recent past, Germany annihilated Brazil 7-1 in the 2014 World Cup in the latter’s den, while the Neymar-inspired Selecao returned the favour at the Rio Olympics last year by winning the gold medal.
The Salt Lake Stadium has hosted many high-profile matches in the past, including the Lionel Messi-studded Argentina versus Venezuela exhibition game, but this is arguably the biggest official fixture to be played on Indian soil.
The big-ticket quarterfinal has already got the fans talking and the Sunday turnout is expected to be above 60,000.
Deprived of India games at the revamped Saltlake Stadium, the football-mad Kolkata did not disappoint with an average 40,000-plus attendance so far.
The Brazilians have a huge support base in the region since the legendary Pele mesmerised the city during the Cosmos tour of 1977.
Compared to their illustrious seniors who are five-time reigning world champions, the German colts are still searching for an elusive title at U-17 level. Their best came in the tournament’s inaugural edition in China 1985 when the then West Germany had finished runners-up.
On paper, the Germans are no match for their Latin American rivals who are in their 16th U-17 World Cup.
Till 2015, Brazil have played the most matches (75), accumulated the most victories (47) and scored the most goals (166) in the history of the FIFA U-17 World Cup.
These stats, however, don’t make the Carlos Amadeu-coached side favourites with Christian Wueck’s boys peaking at the right time after being stunned 0-4 by Iran in the tournament’s biggest upset.
The Brazilians are attacking from the wings and Wueck is seen cleverly adjusting their style to his trusted 4-5-1 formation.
With left-winger Dennis Jastrzembski facing suspension and injury concerns to their midfielders Yannik Keitel, Sahverdi Cetin and Nicholas Kuehn, it remains to be seen how Wueck employs his attack.
Jastrzembski formed a fine combination with John Yeboah to his right along with their leading scorer Jann-Fiete Arp in their 4-0 pre-quarterfinal win over Colombia in New Delhi.
Germany’s leading scorer Arp, who has four goals from as many matches, Yeboah and Yann Bisseck will once again be their trump cards and they would look to breach Brazil’s impenetrable defence.
The South American U-17 champions like to work as a team, something that is summed up by their goalkeeper Gabriel Brazao, who has conceded just one goal in four matches.
“Our defensive systems start with our forwards, that’s why the opponent’s team not shooting not much in our goals,” he spoke of Brazil who have won all their four matches without much fuss.
Brenner and Lincoln have been in their imperious best with three goals each but it’s their diminutive young midfielder, Alan, who has been the sensation, setting up goals.
The 17-year-old has reportedly impressed many European clubs, including Real Madrid, with his deft footwork.
The Brazilian No 10 was rested for his country’s third group match against Niger, but returned to set up all the three goals against Honduras, and he would definitely give the German defence something to ponder about.
“We always look for a pass if that pass is going to find a team-mate who’s better placed to put the ball in the net. There’s no selfishness in this team,” Alan, the shortest player in their squad, said about their team unity.
This match has attracted the attention of Germany’s 2014 World Cup and 2017 Confederation Cup-winning coach Joachim Loew, who has posted an inspirational video message: “I’m interested in your performance in India… I’m looking forward to the match and I wish you all the best.”
The Germans can take inspiration from the last time both teams clashed at the U-17 World Cup.
Germany defeated Brazil 4-3 in a goal-littered third-place contest at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City in 2011.