Kochi : Less-fancied Iran will look to do a Leicester City when they take on three-time runners-up Spain in a quarter-final clash of the FIFA Under-17 World Cup here on Sunday.
This is the first time Iran have progressed this far, with the other seven teams previously making it to the quarter-finals at least once in the tournament.
Leicester too defied all odds to win the English Premier League (EPL) title a year back.
While Ghana and Brazil have laid their hands on the silverware twice and thrice respectively, Spain, England, Mali and the US have all reached the knockout stages.
The 2016 AFC U-16 Championships runners-up forced one and all to take notice when they upstaged heavyweights Germany 4-0 in a Group C encounter.
With four wins from four matches, scoring 12 goals while conceding just two, Iran have marched in style to the quarter-finals, defeating Mexico 2-1 in their Round of 16 encounter in Goa.
Before India 2017, Iran in the U-17 World Cup reached the pre-quarters once in three appearances. Since coming to India, they have taken the competition by storm.
One of the interesting aspects in Iran’s play has been their control of matches despite having less possession of the ball.
It was 40-60 in their first match against Guinea; while against Germany they kept the ball for a little longer (43 per cent).
The match against Costa Rica saw them spend more time on the ball (48 per cent). Against Mexico, Iraq had 35 per cent ball possession.
It was all about cashing in on the right moment and maintaining shape so that they do not leak bad goals.
“Although spending so much time behind the ball definitely saps your energy, we give our all for the team’s success. Winning the match means we’ve achieved our goal,” is how midfielder Mohammad Sharifi describes it.
Their team spirit is something to take note of. During the warm-up, substitutes applaud the starting 11 as they complete their final exercise.
Minutes later, a loud cheer of encouragement goes up from inside the changing room before the players make their way to the pitch.
“We are one team, and we can only succeed with solidarity and team spirit!” says captain Mohammad Ghobeishavi.