Marco Bustos Canada

U-17 World Cup: Canada look to all but guarantee passage to knockout round vs. Iran

It’s not technically a “must-win” game for the Canadian Under-17 national team – but if they have hopes of reaching the knockout stages at the FIFA U-17 World Cup, it’s a “really, really hope to win” game.

As it stands, there’s everything to play for in Group E, as Canada face Iran on Tuesday (6 am PT, Sportsnet World) in their second group-stage game. All four teams are sitting on one point, after Canada drew Austria 2-2 in their tournament opener and Iran earned a 1-1 draw with Argentina.

The Iranians cruised through the qualifying process with seven wins in nine games and a plus-20 goal differential. Their top goal scorer in qualifying was captain Majid Hosseini, while striker Amir Mazloum also looked to provide a scoring threat at the U-17 World Cup.

But it was defender Mostafa Hashemi that turned some heads in Iran’s opener on Saturday, scoring a remarkable 30-yard half-volley less than a minute into the game. Iran held on for the result against Argentina, lifting their all-time record at the U-17 World Cup to two wins, two draws and four losses.

Canada, meanwhile, are still in search of their first-ever victory at the U-17 World Cup in 16 all-time games, though they came close in a hard-fought draw with the Austrians on Saturday.

Goals from Toronto FC Academy members Jordan Hamilton and Elias Roubos staked the young Reds to a 2-1 lead, but Austria’s Nikola Zivotic leveled things with a remarkable second-half scissor kick. Vancouver Whitecaps Residency product Marco Bustos (above) then came agonizingly close to a winner late in the second half, but saw his shot carom back off the woodwork.

A win for either team on Tuesday would virtually guarantee a place in the Round of 16. The top two teams in Group E will automatically advance, while the top four third-place teams in the six-group tournament will also move on.

A draw or loss won’t doom Canada’s chances, but it will likely leave them needing to earn a result against Argentina – and needing a result against Argentina is never a position that any Canadian team wants to find itself in.

Having pledged to tailor a tactical plan to each of Canada’s World Cup opponents, head coach Sean Fleming is likely to make some changes to his starting lineup against Iran. More than anything, he will hope to impart the need for more clinical finishing, after his squad spurned several golden scoring opportunities against Austria.

After all, if Canada hope to extend their U-17 World Cup dream, gaining three points on Tuesday is likely one opportunity they can’t afford to miss.