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.
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.
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.
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.
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.