Under-20 World Cup

2013 FIFA Under-20 World Cup Preview



The U.S. Men’s Under-20 National Team passed through the gauntlet that is the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship, but their road to FIFA Under-20 World Cup glory will be much, much tougher.

In Group A, The U.S. will face Spain, France, and Ghana, all strong candidates to advance in the group stage. Elsewhere, one of the deepest tournaments in memory is missing two regulars, as Brazil and Argentina both shockingly failed to qualify. Brazil, the 2011 World Cup champion, are missing the tournament for the first time since 1979.

Greece, Cuba, and El Salvador all make their debut’s at the tournament hosted by Turkey, while Mexico brings a squad with a core of players who won the 2011 Under-17 World Cup on home soil.

Here’s a closer look at this summer’s Under-20 World Cup, which kicks off today:

GROUP A: United States, France, Spain, Ghana


Friday: France vs. Ghana (ESPN3) 11am

Friday: USA vs. Spain (ESPN2) 2pm

Monday: France vs. USA (ESPN2) 11am

Monday: Spain vs. Ghana (ESPNU) 2pm

June 27: Ghana vs. USA (ESPNU) 1pm

June 27: Spain vs. France (ESPN3) 1pm

Key Players to Watch: FRANCE: Kurt Zouma, Paul Pogba, Geoffrey Kondogbia, Florian Thauvin; GHANA: Frank Acheampong, Richmond Boakye, Ebenezer Assifuah, Daniel Pappoe; USA: Jose Villarreal, Benji Joya, Luis Gil, Shane O’Neill; SPAIN: Jese, Oliver Torres, Gerard Deulofeu, Paco Alcacer.

OUTLOOK: In what is arguably the toughest group in the tournament, at least one nation will be heart broken by not making it out of the group. Spain enter as two-time defending European Under-19 champions and have a squad that is loaded with talented players like Jese, Oliver, and Deulofeu, that are all wanted by teams abroad. France are no slouches either and Kondogbia and Pogba will be very difficult to break down in the middle of the park, while Zouma cleans up behind them. Yaya Sanogo will be difficult to slow down up top. Ghana lost on penalty kicks in the African Youth Championship, but have in the past brought strong sides to the youth World Cups, and this will be no different. The U.S. will have the tough task of playing without Shane O’Neill when they face Spain in the first match, but they’ll be hoping that a side filled with more professionals than ever before can carry them through.


GROUP B: Cuba, South Korea, Nigeria, Portugal


Friday: Cuba vs. South Korea (ESPN3) 11am

Friday: Nigeria vs. Portugal (ESPN3) 2pm

Monday: Cuba vs. Nigeria (ESPN3) 11am

Monday: Portugal vs. South Korea (ESPN3) 2pm

June 27: South Korea vs. Nigeria (ESPN3) 10am

June 27: Portugal vs. Cuba (ESPN3) 10am

Key Players to Watch: CUBA: Arichel Hernandez, Maykel Reyes, Hector Morales, Dairon Perez; SOUTH KOREA: Lee Gwang-Hoon, Kim Hyun, Kang Sang-Woo, Kwon Chang-Hoon; NIGERIA: Aminu Umar, Abdul Ajagun, Michael Olaitan, Edafe Egbedi; PORTUGAL: Bruma, Ricardo, Agostinho Ca, Tiago Ilori.

OUTLOOK: Portugal and Nigeria enter as the traditional favorites to make it out of the group, and for plenty of good reason. The core of the Nigeria side was in the final of the 2011 U-17 World Cup two years ago and forward Aminu Umar was top scorer at the CAF Youth Championship. Portugal meanwhile brings in a squad that, while lacking a ton of top flight experience, has plenty of players that could be set for a place in their club’s first-team depending on the results. Bruma, the Sporting winger is one to keep an eye on. Cuba, making their first ever appearance, and South Korea, should put up a good fight but it’s unknown whether they’ll have any surprises up their sleeves.


GROUP C: Turkey, El Salvador, Colombia, Australia


Saturday: Colombia vs. Australia (ESPN3) 11am

Saturday: Turkey vs. El Salvador (ESPNU) 2pm

Tuesday: Australia vs. El Salvador (ESPN3) 11am

Tuesday: Turkey vs. Colombia (ESPNU) 2pm

June 28: Australia vs. Turkey (ESPN3) 2pm

June 28: El Salvador vs. Colombia (ESPN3) 2pm

Key Players to Watch: TURKEY: Kerim Frei, Hakan Çalhanoğlu, Salih Uçan, Okay Yokuşlu; EL SALVADOR: Jairo Henríquez, Maikon Orellana, Bernardo Majano, Marvin Baumgartner; COLOMBIA: Juan Fernando Quintero, Jhon Córdoba, Jherson Vergara, Cristian Higuita; AUSTRALIA: Jamie Maclaren, Adam Taggart, Ryan Williams, Corey Gameiro.

OUTLOOK:  American viewers will remember when the U.S. U-20s played Colombia in the Toulon Tournament, and lost to the South American champions, who would go on to be runners-up in Toulon. Juan Fernando Quintero is one of the top young midfielders in the world, while Cristian Higuita looks to make his own name on the world’s stage, son of the famous goalkeeper Rene. The hosts haven’t played a competitive match in quite some time, but they’ll be rearing to go, while an Australian side with a number of players playing in England could surprise some. El Salvador, with some chemistry as nearly all of their players play on Turin-FESA, could pull off an upset if they defend well.


GROUP D: Mexico, Greece, Paraguay, Mali


Saturday: Mexico vs. Greece (ESPN) 11am

Saturday: Paraguay vs. Mali (ESPN3) 2pm

Tuesday: Mexico vs. Paraguay (ESPN2) 11am

Tuesday: Mali vs. Greece (ESPN3) 2pm

June 28: Mali vs. Mexico (ESPNU) 11am

June 28: Greece vs. Paraguay (ESPN3) 11am

Key Players to Watch: MEXICO: Jesus Corona, Arturo Gonzalez, Antonio Briseño, Guillermo Madrigal; GREECE: Dimitrios Diamantakos, Dimitrios Kolovos, Kostas Triantafyllopoulos, Mavroudis Bougaidis; PARAGUAY: Arnaldo Sanabria, Jorge Rojas, Gustavo Gómez, Derlis Gonzalez; MALI: Adama Niane, Souleymane Sissoko, Abdoulaye Keita, Tiecero Keita.

OUTLOOK: Greece were surprise finalists at last year’s European U-19 championships, but they’ve earned their way with plenty of goalscoring from Diamantakos, who is one to watch. Mexico have carry over players from their U-17 World Cup title squad and with Jose “Tecatito” Corona they’re set to make a deep run in the tournament. Though their senior side is floundering, the Paraguay U-20 squad has some nice players, including Jorge Rojas and Arnaldo Sanabria, the latter playing at La Masia in Barcelona. Finally, Mali could surprise a few, as this past spring they finished fourth in the CAF Youth championship, with Adama Niani leading the side in scoring. 


GROUP E: Chile, Egypt, England, Iraq


Sunday: Chile vs. Egypt (ESPN3) 11am

Sunday: England vs. Iraq (ESPNU) 2pm

Wednesday: Chile vs. England (ESPN3) 11am

Wednesday: Iraq vs. Egypt (ESPN3) 2pm

June 29: Iraq vs. Chile (ESPN3) 2pm

June 29: Egypt vs. England (ESPNU) 2pm

Key Players to Watch: CHILE: Cristian Cuevas, Angelo Henriquez, Diego Rojas, Igor Lichnovsky; EGYPT: Saleh Gomaa, Mahmoud Kahraba,  Ahmed Hassan Koka, Ramy Rabia; ENGLAND: Harry Kane, James Ward-Prowse, Conor Coady, Eric Dier; IRAQ: Mohannad Abdul-Raheem, Dhurgham Ismail, Humam Tariq, Saif Salman.

OUTLOOK: Chile play a fun attacking brand of soccer that will surely be on display with the midfield talents of Rojas, Cuevas, and Rabello feeding Henriquez up top. Egypt and Iraq both called up a squad full of youngsters who have played plenty of games for the senior national team, while the England side, though containing some highly regarded prospects like Ward-Prowse and Kane are missing the likes of Conor Wickham and Jack Butland, as well as five others who were with England at the UEFA Under-21 Championships this summer. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would also have been eligible to play for the Three Lions this summer.


GROUP F: New Zealand, Uzbekistan, Uruguay, Croatia


Sunday: New Zealand vs. Uzbekistan (ESPN3) 11am

Sunday: Uruguay vs. Croatia (ESPN3) 2pm

Wednesday: New Zealand vs. Uruguay (ESPN3) 11am

Wednesday: Croatia vs. Uzbekistan (ESPN3) 2pm

June 29: Uzbekistan vs. Uruguay (ESPN3) 11am

June 29: Croatia vs. New Zealand (ESPN3) 11am

Key Players to Watch: NEW ZEALAND: Tyler Boyd, Tim Payne, Louis Fenton, Cameron Howieson; UZBEKISTAN: Vladimir Kozak, Igor Sergeev, Jamshid Iskanderov, Tohirjon Shamshitdinov; URUGUAY: Diego Rolan, Nicolas Lopez, Diego Laxalt, Guillermo Varela. CROATIA: Marko Livaja, Marko Pjaca, Josip Radosevic, Niko Datkovic

OUTLOOK: Uruguay and Croatia will be expected to make it out of the group stage, but don’t count out New Zealand or Uzbekistan just yet. Uzbekistan, with a number of their players all coming from the same club, will have the kind of chemistry that Uruguay and Croatia dream of. New Zealand feature a number of players in England and at Wellington Phoenix in the A-League, while Croatia have selected a few overseas players in their squad too, particular players based in Italy. 


  • Jon

    Group A is ridiculous. How in the world do you put Spain and France in one group?

    Hope we can beat Ghana and sneak through via the 3rd spot. Making it to the knockout round would be a good showing, methinks.


  • PD

    so… Ghana in our way again, eh?

    *cracks knuckles, flips table, has it land on self*


  • HoboMike

    I don’t necessarily think that it’s poor development at the early stages. I think that it’s more a fact of our youth teams don’t have that resolve that you can’t get without significant experience.

    It’s no secret that our MNT is not the most technically talented team in the world, but what we lack in skill we usually make up in toughness, grit, and tenacity. Those mentalities are learned only through a generation of errors. One of the best things about the MNT is the fact that they have learned to win when they are not playing well or when the opponent is frustrating us by simply being tougher in than the other team – much like the Honduras game.

    If you watched the last significant failure, the inability to qualify for the Olympics, we lost that last game because of attitude, not talent. You could tell that our boys were slightly cocky from the outset, knowing that they were more talented than their opposition. I can’t remember who we played, but when they hit back it was evident that we shrunk a bit. Once we took the lead near the end, you could see the air of superiority creeping back in, and it was curtains at that point.


  • Mig

    It is a good series of questions but I have to claim ignorance on most of it. I can see the ‘cream rising’ argument for the following reason. Our larger population and even larger pool of players yields better athletes (faster, bigger,etc.) and while we may not teach the skill aspects as aggressively as other countries, our great athletes eventually get enough skill to be effective in the Senior ranks and their physical attributes remain superior. “Late bloomers” you might say.

    Hey, it’s one theory.


  • Dillon

    Are youth teams regularly are the best in CONCACAF. We have made the U-20 Would Cup 9 of the last ten times and the U-20 WC is harder to qualify for than the Senior WC because there are fewer teams. That is also 3 more times than Mexico.

    We have been to 14 of 15 U17 World Cups. Again 3 more than Mexico and by far the most int he Confederation.

    If anything, these youth teams have out performed the senior team when it comes to qualifying for tournaments.

    It is true the teams had some bad luck in the past year but historically,over the past 20 years there is a very good argument that our youth teams have been the best in the Confederation.


    • Mig

      hmm. those are good numbers, nice work. So the U17 failure and the Caleb Porter debacle were abnormalities.


      • USsoccerfan90

        Not sure I would put that on porter. Some players weren’t released by their clubs and also had injuries during the tournament. Also let us not forget that we were a howler of a goal let up by Sean Johnson in the dying minutes away from advancing from our group. Porter has showed that he is a terrific coach.


      • Eurosnob

        I completely agree with your points regarding Porter. And let’s not forget about Bill Hamid letting two soft goals in a very short span of time in that game because he was too immature to admit that he was too injured to continue. I was very disappointed because that team dominated possession in their 2-0 win against Mexico’s U23 team that ended up winning the Olympics.


    • Brett

      That proves our youth teams are better than the others in our region, which they should be considering we have more resources at our disposal than any other country we compete against. And yeah, we’ve qualified more than Mexico, but they’ve won trophies so it evens out.


      • fortunate only

        How exactly does it even out if Mexico has won the U17 WC twice, have placed better than us at the U20 WC (finished 2nd and 3rd) and have won the Olympics?


  • 2tone

    How DeAndre Yedlin is not on the players to watch is a mystery for me. So here it is: Deandre Yedlin is a player to watch.


  • g-dub

    What I really need to know is: will Cristian Higuita unleash the scorpion kick like his papa did in the senior WC?


  • downintexas

    I’d say a bit of all. I think our “kids” continue to develop when other nations cut them off. Look at Demps as great example. Kids in the US have more avenues to develop college, club teams, academies and such.

    Also, the cream rising to the top is another one. Since we have such a larger player pool it takes longer to find those gems. Plus we have the money and resources to develop more players. This is the one of the main reason we and Mexico do so well in CONCACAF WC qualifying. Look at the last two games we played. The opponents were decimated with injuries and suspensions. Yes we were missing some key players but we and Mex have depth.


  • bryan

    our group is ridiculously brutal. France up 3-0 on Ghana right now. the US just needs to hope for a result against either Spain or France and then they have to beat Ghana.


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