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Canada-Iran: Knockout round beckons if Canada can finally win

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Canada has never won a match at the U17 World Cup but if they can build on their 2-2 draw against Austria and finally get a win against Iran it would almost certainly assure their place in the next stage of the competition.

Canada's most important player against Iran could just be Carducci
Canada's most important player against Iran could just be Carducci
Canadian Soccer Association

Iran are coming off a 1-1 draw against Argentina thanks to a stunning goal in the first minute and some silly yellow cards that resulted in Argentina going down to 10-men in the final ten minutes of the match.  Canada are coming off a 2-2 draw against Austria that featured plenty of scoring chances.  All that tying means that Group E at the Under-17 World Cup finals remains very much up in the air with all four teams on 1 point after the opening round of matches.

The second round of games takes place on Tuesday with Canada taking on Iran and Austria taking on Argentina.  If any teams can come out of the day with the full three points it would all but assure them of a place in the knockout stages.  For Canada it would mean getting their first win at a Under-17 World Cup having failed to take the full points in their 13 previous matches.

So what are Canada going to be up against as they seek their first win of the competition?  Well, Iran surprised some by picking up a 1-1 draw against group favourites Argentina in their opening match.  They got the result thanks to a stunning early strike from Mostafa Hashemi who celebrated his 17th birthday by scoring a long-range half-volley in the first minute of play.  It was the start of a trend for Iran in the game though as they proved willing to fire away from range whenever given the chance.  Their next best scoring chance of the match was another long-range shot that wound up hitting the post.

Iran were arguably the better team for most of the match against Argentina but their issue was creating chances in the final third.  They were settling for more speculative efforts which happened to work for them on the day but you cannot really count on scoring a wonder-goal every game.  There were certainly scoring chances for both teams to add a second after Argentina levelled the score in the 15th minute but the quality in front of goal was lacking for Iran.

With Canada giving up a number of good chances to Austria in their opening match they will need to be alert to Iran's ability to fire from range as well as find space in the final third.  It will be key for Canada to defend far from goal and not allow the Iranian attackers the kind of space that they had against Argentina otherwise they will likely pay for it.

At the other end of the field Iran did allow a number of dangerous chances to Argentina but were lucky that the South American squad did not display the most deadly of finishing.  Argentina also seemed to be a bit busy making silly mistakes like punting the ball away from the centre circle after scoring the equalizer earning a yellow that would eventually lead to Lucio Compagnucci being sent off.

It was a fairly balanced game with both teams having chances to come away with the win much like Canada-Austria was.  If Tuesday's match takes on a similar feel Canada's hopes of winning will come down to showing superior finishing and probably getting a couple of key saves from Marco Carducci.

Iran qualified for this event by reaching the semifinals of the Asian Football Confederation Under-16 Championships last year.  They qualified for the AFC Championship by advancing from a 5 team group (the sixth, Sri Lanka, withdrew) along with Iraq with a total of 10 points from 4 matches.  Their only dropped points came in a 1-1 draw against the host Iraqis but that was after both nations had already assured their place in the next round of qualification.  That was the only goal Iran allowed in the entire group stage as they scored 12 goals and only allowed the 1 while picking up wins over Qatar, Palestine, and Bangladesh.

They won their group at the AFC Championships by taking the full nine points over Kuwait, Laos, and Yemen with a comfortable 9 goals for and 3 goals against over the three matches.  Getting top spot in Group A proved key for Iran as it meant avoiding Iraq in the all important quarter-final and instead they got Australia.  They handily disposed of Australia with a 5-1 win which assured them of their place in the World Cup.  They missed on the the AFC Championship after a 3-2 defeat to Uzbekistan in the semi-finals but the goal of reaching the World Cup was still achieved.

Iran were convincing in qualifying but their history in the Under-17 World Cup is limited as they are only making their third appearance in the event.  They made their debut in 2001 but they lost all three matches before going home. They returned in 2009 and did a lot better picking up wins over Gambia and the Netherlands along with a draw against Colombia which was enough to book a place in the Round of 16 where they lost 2-1 to Uruguay in a stunning game that included 3 goals in 15 minutes of extra time.

Having missed out on qualification in 2011 Iran are now back and looking to return to the knockout stages.  They rely on their strong defending and a very balanced attack.  In the final round of qualification they had five different players scored 2 or more goals with five players finding the back of the net three times. That is something Canada will have to deal with.

It is starting to look like there might not be a weak link in Group E with all four teams looking capable of moving on to the knockout stages.  If Canada can get a win over Iran it should be enough to see them advance.  Anything less than that though and it will mean three days of scoreboard watching and scenarios leading up to the final match against Argentina.