England may have cruised into the knock-out stage with an emphatic all-win record but head coach Steve Cooper does not want the favourites tag to be associated with his boys as they take on Japan in FIFA Under-17 World Cup pre-quarterfinal, in Kolkata on Tuesday.
“We would be naive enough to call ourselves favourites in any game or competition that’s simply because of the mentality of the teams,” Cooper tried to play down the hype associated with his team.
While England sealed their pre-quarters berth with a game to spare, Japan’s progress was not so convincing as the Blue Samurai juniors were held to a 1-1 draw by debutants New Caledonia in their last group league outing and are winless in two matches.
Cooper however refused to agree that Japan’s group league show is an indicator that they will be easy prey in the last 16 clash.
“They qualified quite convincingly as well. They will be a very tough opposition. Every game now will be competitive with good players on show. I see no difference tomorrow,” Cooper tried to guard his team against any complacency.
“We do believe in ourselves. To play a team that can be a match and better than opposition. But that’s easier said than done. Hopefully, the boys will deliver when it counts.”
Japan rested as many as nine players in their match against New Caledonia two days ago.
“They will again change the team tomorrow and will have fresh legs. I liked the way they played their games. My compliments to coach and the players, they have an attractive style of football, well-organised team very much clear identity and plan in every game they play,” he said lavishing in praise for the Yoshiro Moriyama-coached side.
Cooper made it clear that his team is ready if the match is stretched into tie-breakers.
“If we are lucky enough to progress tomorrow, I am sure they will be penalty shootout at some stage in the knockout phase and we will be ready. We will be confident. It’s about seeing the opportunity to experience something else rather than regret, which is our mindset.”
Cooper said training for shoot-outs is an integral part of international football, whether they love it or hate it.
“Enjoy it or not, we are not going to get away from it. I have talked a lot about their journey and development. The penalty shootout is part of that journey. We have tried to change the mindset in England about thriving on penalty shootouts.”
He refused to reveal his plan as to who would replace their leading goal scorer Jadon Sancho, who has returned to join his club Borussia Dortmund.
“I don’t know the team yet but there’s no first team. I heard a little bit of A and B teams but that does not exit with England team whatsoever.”