FIFA U17 World Cup: France happy to play at 'home ground' Guwahati as Spain await
It was the 70th minute in Guwahati during the penultimate Group E clash between France and Honduras. France, leading the game 3-1, were already through to the knock-out phase as Group E winners. They had accomplished all that they had set out to accomplish, except the hardest task: win over the crowd.
When two players from the French reserve bench started to warm up, seeing them on the giant screens, an otherwise silent crowd suddenly erupted in shouts of appreciation. Who were these players? Well, one is a tall winger from Paris Saint-Germain named Yacine Adli, and the other a strong forward from Lyon, the tournament’s top goal scorer, Amine Gouiri. As both of them entered the pitch in the 75th and 79th minutes respectively, the decibel levels from the crowd rose. In the 86th minute, Adli received the ball in the midfield and played a gem of a loop-through to Gouiri, and the latter scored the team’s fourth goal and his fifth of the tournament. In the 95th minute, France were awarded a free kick from the edge of the 18-yard box, and Adli shot it brilliantly through the legs of the defenders and down the middle, to make it France’s fifth goal of the night and his first of the tournament.
The crowd turned into Les Bleus faithful, seeing the quality of football on display. France accomplished all it had set to accomplish from the group stages. The players took a victory lap around the stadium, thanking the fans for their support, and a few French flags could be seen in the crowd. Guwahati, it seemed, was truly conquered by the French.
French coach Lionel Rouxel said after the game, “We play Spain on our home ground, as Guwahati has become our home, we know the stadium the training sites the pitch, we love the ambience of the city and have some lovely fans here.” When asked if he was happy with the crowd support compared to the first few games (when the crowd seemed to be in favour of New Caledonia and Japan), the Frenchman said that as professionals, it was their duty to put on a good show and perform their best for the sake of the people. He added that they have paid to see these teams perform, and whenever a team puts in a good performance, the crowd will eventually root for it. He said that the crowd support would give the team a morale boost against Spain.
The Spanish Coach Santiago Denia Sanchez, when asked if France had an advantage, given they play in their new ‘home ground’, compared to Spain who have had to travel around 2,500 kms from Kochi to Guwahati, said, “We don't control the Fixtures and travelling aspects of the game, so it is not in our hands, but as professionals we have to perform well wherever we go and hope we will have a good game tomorrow but yes France has a slight advantage given they have been based in Guwahati.”
Speaking about Abel Ruiz, the captain and one of the main players for Spain, the coach admitted that he plays a different role compared to what he does for his club, FC Barcelona. For the national side, he plays a centre-forward and not a ‘False 9’ position.
Spanish midfielder Mohamed Moukhliss, who plays for the junior team of Real Madrid, said that the morale of the team was absolutely brilliant and that the technical staff were taking good care of them. He even mentioned that, though all the players come from different clubs and they might be opponents at the club level, when they come together for the national team, only the La Furia Roja jersey matters.
Even though France feels that it is at home since it won over a few thousand hearts in Guwahati, expect Spain to get vociferous support from the crowd. The football-loving crowd of the city tunes in to see their favourite teams in the La Liga, and the city has a cult fanbase for teams like Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, so the Spanish national team won't go without cheers.
All in all, tomorrow’s round of 16 tie is surely the match of the round. The crowd will be divided between France and Spain, and some friendly banter seems to be on the cards for tomorrow.