LINUS LINDAHL / AIPS* in DUBAI: If someone had said before the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013 that one quarter-final would match Sweden with Honduras with six straight defeats in the tournament the listeners may would have been silent or laughing. But Friday afternoon in Al Ain one of them are going to reach the semi-final.
Both of them are surprises in the tournament.
Newcomers Sweden, with their wall-like defence and effective attacking play, have shocked favourites such as Nigeria and Japan; Honduras, coming off the back of six straight defeats in the tournament, opened with victory over their hosts then won a second round tie against Uzbekistan on Jorge Bodden’s crucial late goal.
The day before kickoff, Honduras coach Jose Valladares had said: “We are very happy. I am proud over my work and my country, we are working together. Now they are expecting more from us and we have to work for that.”
When Honduras reached the knockout stage they became the first national team from the country to advance from the group stage in any FIFA World Cup. They were not satisfied with that and they will still not be satisfied if their adventure ends in Friday’s quarter-final.
Valladares said today: “This is a group [of players] with dreams and that’s why they are here right now. We have to keep going. It is not only this match. We have two more to win.”
Sweden’s players have combined training with some social activities; on Thursday some of the players went to the mall. For the first time in the tournament the Swedes appear to be match favourite though the players do not want to see it that way.
Gentrit Citaku said: “We will try to think that we are underdogs so we do not believe that it is going to be the easiest match. Then we could be punished, have to pack our bags and go home.”
Sweden are back in Al Ain where they played all of their group matches after they took the bus to Sharjah and knocked out Japan. When they arrived back Tuesday they were welcomed by some new supporters.
Citaku said: “The hotel staff were really happy when we came back. They think we play well.”
If the thought of gold medals is circulating in the Swedish players’ brains they do not show it. Four years ago Switzerland won the tournament at their first attempt and, even more tempting, Sweden’s senior national team took bronze in FIFA World Cup 1994.
Whatever they will face, coach Roland Larsson and his staff are prepared. He said: “We are not going to be surprised by anything. We have followed our opponents since the tournament started.”
* AIPS, the international sports journalists association, is running a Young Reporters course at the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013 with the support of the local organising committee and FIFA
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