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FIFA U20 World Cup Preview: Team By Team Analysis

With the FIFA U20 World Cup in Turkey kicking off tomorrow with Cuba vs South Korea and France v Ghana, take a look at The Youth Radar’s ultimate team-by-team guide to the tournament and of course the players to watch out for!

GROUP A

France against Spain looks to be the eyecatching contest in Group A, but Ghana and USA will not back down easily and provide strong competition in what could be considered the group of death.

Lucas Digne was once wanted by Manchester United.

Lucas Digne was once wanted by Manchester United.

France

France have underachieved in this competition for decades but some hope was shone on a new generation when they finished fourth in the 2011 tournament – before that they hadn’t qualified since 2001. However, this year’s squad offers more hope than ever. With the French Under 21s failing to qualify for the European Championship in Israel, it has offered a select number of players to the Under 20 side including big names such as Samuel Umtiti, Paul Pogba and Lucas Digne. Umtiti has established his place in Lyon’s first-team this season, as has Digne at Lille. Pogba has been almost ever-present at Juventus throughout 2013 and at 20-years-old already has a Serie A winners medal to his name. The ex-Manchester United Frenchman fell out with Sir Alex Ferguson at United, prompting the move to the Italian giants. France’s chances look very good in this competition if they can survive this group.

Ghana

Ghana will be looking to emulate the form that saw them win the competition in 2009. The Black Stars coach Sallas Tetteh, who led the side to that triumph four years ago has opted mainly for local players playing their trade domestically but has chosen one or two foreign-based players that are bound to lead the show for the Africans. Joseph Duncan of Inter Milan (on loan at Livorno) will look to inspire the squad with some experience from a high-calibre league. More locally, Ebenezer Assifuah stood out for the Ghanaians in qualification up front, netting in all three of Ghana’s group games in the African U20 Championship.

Watch the video below for highlights of Ghana’s 2009 win, where they beat Brazil in the final on penalties.

USA

The United States are no strangers to the Under 20 competition. Their failure to qualify in 2011 was the first time they’ve done so since 1995. Their best performance during those years of consistency was 2003 and 2007, where they reached the quarter finals on both occasions. Hector Joya and Jose Villarreal of Santos Laguna and Los Angeles Galaxy respectively are their key players in the midfield and up front. Cody Cropper between the sticks offers some familiarity for English fans – the 20-year-old plays his club football at Southampton. Although I can’t see this side winning the tournament as a whole, they should provide a stiff test for anybody they come up against and could be a difficult stumbling block for the big names of Spain and France in this group.

The Liverpool midfielder is Spain's man to watch.

The Liverpool midfielder is Spain’s man to watch.

Spain

Can Spain continue their dominance throughout youth football in this competition? Why not. The squad is as star-studded as ever with household names throughout all positions. Suso, Denis Suarez, Gerard Deulofeu and Paco Alcacer provide familiar faces in a side that has struggled in this competition of late. They have only won the title once (in 1999) but that is sure to change this year. The bulk of the squad won the 2012 European Under 19 Championship, making the Spaniards one of the favourites to triumph in Turkey. Suso is probably Spain’s key player. The Liverpool midfielder has been on the brink of the first team at Anfield for much of the season and established himself as a regular by the end. Spain would be my favourites to lift the trophy in July.

Watch highlights of Spain’s under 19 squad win the 2012 European Under 19 Championship, of which most of the team will play in this competition.

GROUP B

Aricheell Hernandez is Cuba's key striker.

Aricheell Hernandez is Cuba’s key striker.

Portugal look favourites to triumph in Group B in this year’s competition but will have tough tests against Korea Republic and Nigeria on their way. Cuba meanwhile will be looking to cause an upset in Turkey as they enter the group as underdogs.

Cuba

Cuba’s squad is completely made up of home-based players who will represent the side in their first ever international youth tournament on the world stage. They managed a fourth-place finish at the CONCACAF qualifying tournament to secure their passage through to Turkey. Although they’re not expected to turn any heads at the competition, they will leave a country supporting from back home feeling proud of their achievement of even reaching Turkey. “This is a great triumph for Cuba football as a whole,” said Cuba’s FA President Luis Hernandez to FIFA.com. “It’s a dream for us to go to Turkey because there is an awful lot of competition at this level.” Their spirit will be fuelled from their victory over Costa Rica, which saw them reach the finals – they went into that game as huge underdogs but managed to carve out a result. Aricheell Hernandez seems to be a key man for the Caribbean nation.

Watch below Cuba’s victory over Costa Rica earlier this year. Cuba play in red jerseys.

Korea Republic

Kang Yunkoo is Korea’s only player not playing his football domestically coming into this tournament. The Vissel Kobe defender plays Japanese football and is one of few players that don’t play university football. Korea have 13 players that play affiliated to university sides – a sign of not only their culture but football philosophy. This means we should expect some tactical play from the Koreans who may use their brains as a secret weapon to progress. Their tactics haven’t been far off in the past. They qualified by winning the AFC Under 19 Championship and are playing in their sixth successive FIFA U20 World Cup. The Koreans have been heavily praised in the past for their national pride and do-or-die attitude.

Read a superb piece from IBWM on Korea’s last FIFA U20 World Cup performance here.

Portugal

Expect goals from this Portugal side. They were the most potent in continental qualifying, racking up a total of 37 goals and made it through to Turkey by finishing third in their group at the European Under 19 Championship 2012, finishing marginally behind Greece in their group to be denied a semi final spot. One of their most exciting talents on show is Sporting striker Bruma (full name, Armindo Tué Na Bangna) who is only 18-years-old but already a first-team regular at the Portuguese club and has played thirteen times in their senior ranks. He has scored 12 times in 33 appearances for the under-19 side and 22 times since 2008 in all youth competitions for Portugal. They’ve got to be favourites to take this group – I’d put good money on it.

Nigeria

Nigeria will fancy themselves as the top candidate to stand in Portugal’s way en route to winning this group. The African nation beat Mali to finish third in their continent’s qualifying tournament. Their performance in that suggests they have some work to do though as they started the competition badly and were convincingly beaten by Egypt in their semi-final game. Olarenwaju Kayode will be leading the line hoping to bring goals to their game, drafting in experience from a spot in Nigeria’s Olympic squad last year. Aminu Umar is also a key figure as he scored both goals in their third place play off against Mali.

Check out no.9 Kayode in this video below.

GROUP C

The host nation will face a tough test from Colombia in Group C, who have to be one of the favourites to take the eventual tournament crown. Juan Fernando Quintero could be the player that sets this group alight. El Salvador have been given a relatively generous draw with Australia also hungry for success.

Turkey

Turkey automatically qualify for the competition as hosts – and I bet Turkish football are thanking god for that. This will be only the second time they have appeared in this competition since 1993. However, the signs are looking positive for Turkey, who believe that they can muster up a special performance this year. The statistics going into the competition aren’t favourable as their under 19 side crashed out in the second phase of the European Under 19 Championship qualifying round after losing to Denmark and Greece. Ibrahim Yilmaz up front provides much experience throughout all youth levels, while Hakan Calhanoglu in the midfield has been playing regular first-team football at Karlsruhe in Germany this season. Alpaslan Ozturk is their main driving force. The 19-year-old has previously played for Belgium Under 21s and his performances with Beerschot last season attracted the attention of Standard Liege, who offered him a five-year deal.

Jairo Henriquez offers El Salvador hope.

Jairo Henriquez offers El Salvador hope.

El Salvador

El Salvador make the bow in their first ever FIFA U20 World Cup this summer thanks to their third-place finish at the CONCACAF Under 20 Championship, which acts as a qualifying tournament. Jairo Henriquez seems to be their only hope of mounting any serious attempt to progress to the second stage of this competition. He was selected in the qualifying tournament’s team of the competition for his agility and skill down the right attacking flank. He netted four times in those games which sees the 19-year-old as the cog to El Salvador’s success. They should be overwhelmed by the ability of the teams around them in this group but the draw has been very friendly towards them and we could see an upset occurring in group C

 

Quintero is on the cards to be one of the stand-out players in Turkey.

Quintero is on the cards to be one of the stand-out players in Turkey.

Colombia

Regular visitors to The Youth Radar will know a lot about this Colombia side coming into the tournament. Jhon Cordoba and Cristian Higuita should be household names by now, as should the man destined to be their star player in Turkey – Juan Fernando Quintero. The 20-year-old has attracted a wealth of interest from Premier League side’s following his astonishing performances in Colombia’s journey to win the 2013 South American Youth Championship. Quintero was named Player of the Tournament at that competition earlier this season, where he finished second top scorer with five goals to his name. Colombia will be one of the favourites to take the title in this World Cup after their convincing appearance in the South American competition. Our prediction? At least the semi finals.

Ryan Williams joined Fulham from cash-strapped Portsmouth.

Ryan Williams joined Fulham from cash-strapped Portsmouth.

Australia

The Young Socceroos have a strong record in this tournament – notably good performances coming in 1995 and 1981 (’81 being on home soil) where they reached the semi finals – and have only failed to qualify once in the last 20 years. They won 12 out of 14 Oceania Youth Championship tournaments before making the move to the Asian football world, where they have still fared reasonably well. Their most recognizable player in this tournament is Fulham’s Ryan Williams. The former Portsmouth defender looks determined to break into the Cottagers first team this season and will use this tournament as a platform to prove himself. With no disrespect to Asian youth football, it will be interesting to see how Australia perform against more high-calibre and better developed European and South American nations.

GROUP D

This group is going to be one of the toughest to call. Mexico, Paraguay and Greece all have very good causes why they should progress to the next round. Unfortunately, I cannot see much hope for Mali in this tournament, even if they perform well, this group is just too strong.

Mexico

Sergio Almaguer’s side are shaping up to be one of the favourites to take this tournament. Mexico have put a lot of money and focus into youth development over the past few years and have been rewarded with two world under-17 titles and a prestigious Olympic gold medal at London 2012. The Under 20 team breezed through CONCACAF qualification – winning the continental competition. Jesus Corona was one of the driving forces that brought them that success. Playing his trade in Mexico for Monterrey, he scored three goals in four appearances in the CONCACAF competition and will be hopeful of continuing that sort of European attention-grabbing form in Turkey this month. Antonio Briseno is their solid rock at the back but has a goalscoring pedigree, scoring twice in a 2-0 victory against El Salvador while on course to winning their qualification competition.

Check out an absolute ‘golazo’ by Mexico’s Julio Gomez in a victory over USA in their CONCACAF U20 campaign.

Greece forward Dimitris Diamantakos was the second top scorer at the UEFA Under 19 European Championship.

Greece forward Dimitris Diamantakos was the second top scorer at the UEFA Under 19 European Championship.

Greece

According to FIFA’s official squad lists, Greece have named a whopping nine defenders in their squad compared to only four midfielders – any guesses for what their game will be? But whatever tactics they’re going to employ it seems to work. They finished runners-up at the 2012 European Under 19 Championship, losing narrowly to Spain in the final. They scored nine goals over three group games before beating England in the semi finals. Dimitris Diamantakos netted three goals in that tournament, only pipped to the top scorer gong by Spain’s Jese Rodriguez, so will be a key player if they are to rack up the goals in this group. With strong tests to come against Mexico and Paraguay, they may be relying on the game against Mali to up their tally.

Matias Perez was impeccable in the Paraguay defence throughout the South American Youth Championship.

Matias Perez was impeccable in the Paraguay defence throughout the South American Youth Championship.

Paraguay

Paraguay are another team you should be familiar with if you have been following The Youth Radar closely. Matias Perez and Derlis Gonzalez are two absolutely vital players to their chances. Perez banged in three goals from defence during the South American Youth Championship earlier this year. The 19-year-old regularly turns out for Nacional’s first team and has been on the radar of senior coach Sergio Markarian lately. Gonzalez struck four times on Paraguay’s way to a runners-up medal at that tournament. The Benfica striker made his debut for his hometown club at just 16-years-old and is ever-improving. With the absence of Brazil and Argentina from this tournament, Paraguay will aim to cement themselves as the pride of South America.

Mali

A certain 19-year-old Seydou Keita inspired Mali to their best ever finish in this competition when he propelled his side to third place in 1999 but since then Mali have failed to emulate any sort of world-beating form. Their present side doesn’t look capable of doing much in this tournament either. They qualified through their fourth-place finish in the African Youth Championship, in which they were beaten by Ghana in the semi-finals and Nigeria in the play off. It seems as if coach Moussa Keita doesn’t expect too much though, he told FIFA.com on the back of Mali’s fourth place finish in the African tournament: “I am satisfied with the results and the work my team has got from this tournament. For a first experience with an U-20 side to qualify for the semi-finals and the World Cup is something fabulous. We look forward to building on the positives.” Look out for Abdoulaye Keita and Boubacar Diarra as their main players.

GROUP E

Unfortunately there’s not much hope for Iraq here but the other teams will have a three-way battle. Chile showed their quality at the South American Youth Championship while Egypt trounced the competition at their African equivalent. England have a whole nation watching as they hope to avoid adding to the under 17s and under 21s misery.

Chile

Chile looked absolutely red hot at the start of their qualifying campaign in the South American Youth Championship. They qualified with four wins out of four against Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia and Paraguay. Their form dropped in the final phase of the competition but they managed to secure qualification thanks to being the only team to beat eventual champions Colombia – they beat them once in each phase. Nicolas Castillo starred heavily for them throughout that tournament and was even prospering when they weren’t winning, exemplified by his stunning free kick against Paraguay in their first game of the hexagonal final. His club Universidad Catolica will be lucky to hold on to him if he is to impress on the world stage, although he has stated he wants to achieve great things there before making a move across the atlantic.

Watch Nicolas Castillo’s stunning free kick vs Paraguay below.

Egypt

Egypt qualified for this tournament as winners of their continental competition so shouldn’t be taken lightly. On paper, England haven’t drawn a bad group but the reality is far from that. Egypt have progressed to the knockout stage of this tournament in the past two editions and have only failed to qualify once in the past decade (2007). Coach Rabie Yassin will be relying on his trademark strong defence to provide a foundation for the more creative players such as Saleh Gomaa, who has represented Egypt’s senior side 9 times and has been reportedly chased by Manchester United, Anderlecht and Borrussia Dortmund. Egypt are not a side to be taken lightly and will be willing to go one better than their previous two attempts.

Eric Dier playing for Sporting Lisbon's academy side.

Eric Dier playing for Sporting Lisbon’s academy side.

England

England’s exit in the European Under 19 Championship in the semi-finals against Greece was disappointing but the bare fact they made it to the semi-finals saw a sigh of relief from many fans saddened by England’s performances in recent competitions. This is the last thread of hope England have this summer after failing to reach the European Under 17 Championship and failing miserably in the under 21 equivalent. Peter Taylor has named a relatively strong squad for this tournament though, with Ross Barkley, Eric Dier, James Ward-Prowse and Harry Kane the most recognizable names. Dier is the only foreign-based recruit in Taylor’s squad, playing his trade with Sporting Lisbon, but has had former spells with Everton where he played alongside England teammate John Lundstram, John Stones and Chris Long.

Humam Tariq has Iraqi hopes on his shoulders in Turkey.

Humam Tariq has Iraqi hopes on his shoulders in Turkey.

Iraq

Iraq’s first tournament since 2001 hopes to bring the same success they had in 1989, when Saudi Arabia hosted the bi-annual showpiece. On that occasion they reached the quarter finals with three group stage wins. This year offers little hope on paper but Hakim Shakir will look to take confidence from their appearance in the Asian Under 19 Championship campaign, where they finished eventual runners up, although that came as a shock to most. Their most dangerous threats will be Humam Tariq, who has 11 senior caps to his name at only 17-years-old and captain Mohammed Hammed. Burhan Jumaah appears in the tournament at only 16-years-old. It is a very young squad that which could be very exciting if they are to perform.

GROUP F

This group should be owned by Uruguay. Uzbekistan and New Zealand will really have to show some determination to get any further than the group stage while Croatia will have to look much better than they have recently in European competitions.

Tim Payne already has a number of caps for New Zealand's senior side.

Tim Payne already has a number of caps for New Zealand’s senior side.

New Zealand

New Zealand qualified as champions of the OFC Under 20 Championship for the second consecutive year – both tournaments in their home country. It will be them that take the host nation label from Turkey after this tournament as it will be held in the Junior All Whites backyard (not All Blacks as the rugby team is referred to as). In two previous appearances in this competition they have never won a game, so they’ll hope all that will change this time out. Louis Fenton and Tyler Boyd are two of four professional players in their squad – the rest being amateur. Fenton and Boyd both play for Wellington Phoenix and will look to link up with their patriarch of the team in the form of midfielder Tim Payne, who rejoins the squad after spending time with the senior set up.

Uzbekistan

Reaching the 2009 edition of this competition, Uzbekistan decided to have a huge reformation in terms of their youth training facilities and infrastructure which has since churned out success. Their under 17 side qualified for Mexico 2011 and their under 19 set up reached the semi-finals of their continental championship in 2012, thus meaning their qualification to this tournament. Last time out they drew with England following losses against Ghana and Uruguay and will hope to go one better this time and get three points on the chart. Igor Sergeev has scored nine times in 14 appearances at under 19 level and will hope to take his impressive scoring record into Turkey 2013.

At 19-years-old, Livaja has already moved to - and left - Italian giants Inter Milan.

At 19-years-old, Livaja has already moved to – and left – Italian giants Inter Milan.

Croatia

Surprisingly, this will only be Croatia’s third appearance at the under 20 showpiece event. Three straight defeats eliminated them from the group stage in 2011 but this time out the group stage draw has been kind to them and indicates there will not be a repeat of two years ago. Third place in the group stage of the European Under 19 Championship was enough to secure their place in Turkey and Dinko Jelicic will be insistent on better performances from now on – they aren’t just here to make up the numbers. Lokomotiv Zagreb pair Filip Mrzljak and Marko Pjaca will be looking to control the middle of midfield while attacking options such as Marko Livaja, who plays club football with Atalanta in Italy, will hopefully provide the goals from Jelicic’s men.

Uruguay

Another South American team and another team that could well mean business in Turkey as they boast a whole load of exciting attack-minded players among their cavalry. Nicolas Lopez and Diego Rolan will lead the line for Juan Verzeri’s nation with a combined nine goals between them at the South American Youth Championship. Lopez pipped the top scoring charts with five and his impressive performances made his club AS Roma take notice, who have rewarded him with chances in their first team since. Manchester United’s recently-signed right-back Guillermo Varela will play for Uruguay in Turkey. “I’m very pleased to be a part of this club, one of the best in the world,” he said after signing a five-year deal with the English champions. “As everyone in the world knows, this is a huge club that has won everything and I really hope that continues.” A strong performance with Uruguay in this tournament could steadily increase his chances of breaking into David Moyes’ first team next season at Old Trafford and a lot of eyes will be on the Red Devils new acquisition.

Watch below for a decisive goal by Nicolas Lopez against Brazil in the South American Youth Championship.

Who do you think has the credentials to take the trophy in Turkey?

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About Tom Bennett

I'm a 21-year-old Multimedia Journalism student at Bournemouth University aspiring to be one of Britain's top sports journalists. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn for contact and further information.

Discussion

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