By FRANCO PANIZO
Eight teams have packed their bags and headed home from the Under-20 World Cup, but several more are about to join them at a rapid rate.
The pressure cooker that is the knockout phase of the World Cup is set to begin on Wednesday, as the Round of 16 gets underway with some tasty match-ups. There’s a battle between two South American heavyweights, an intriguing clash of styles between a European power and African contender, and more.
Plenty of eyes on the west side of the Atlantic will be on the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team’s clash with Colombia (3:30 am ET, Fox Sports 1/Telemundo) on Wednesday. Much has been made about how talented and deep this group of Americans is, and anything less than advancing to the quarterfinals will likely be deemed a big failure.
That will not be the only match worth watching, however. The future stars of the sport will all be looking to elevate their games, so as to not only showcase themselves on a major stage but also move their teams one step closer to U-20 World Cup glory.
Here is a closer look at the Round of 16 matches:
GHANA vs. MALI
After finishing atop Group B with an undefeated record of 2-0-1, Ghana will look to knock off underdogs Mali at Wellington Regional Stadium (12 am ET, Fox Sports 1). The Black Stars enter the match having scored five times in group play, but are facing a Mali defense that has only conceded three goals so far. Lille midfielder Adama Traore will look to lead the charge for Mali, and should have plenty of confidence after scoring twice in the group games.
SERBIA vs. HUNGARY
Since losing to Uruguay in its opener, Serbia has bounced back by picking up a pair of 2-0 wins. The Serbs will aim to ride that momentum into Otago Stadium in Dunedin (12 am ET, Fox Sports 2), where a Hungary side that just squeaked into the knockout rounds awaits. Serbia has had four different players score so far, but that could change against a Hungarian defense that has surrendered at least one goal in every game so far.
UNITED STATES vs. COLOMBIA
The U.S. is in need of a bounce-back performance after suffering a disappointing 3-0 loss in its group stage finale, but will benefit from the expected returns of Rubio Rubin, Matt Miazga, and Desevio Payne. The three youngsters sat out the last match in part because the Americans had already secured qualification to the knockouts rounds, but their inclusions at Wellington Regional Stadium (3:30 am ET, Fox Sports 1/Telemundo) should provide a boost against a talented but beatable Colombian side that like the U.S. finished second in its group.
UKRAINE vs. SENEGAL
Boasting the tournament’s leading goal-scorer and a defense that has yet to concede, Ukraine is full of belief going into this showdown (3:30 am ET, Fox Sports 2) at North Harbour Stadium in Auckland. The Ukrainians are taking on a Senegal team that has given up more goals (five) than it has scored (three), and that means that there likely will be chances for Golden Boot leader Viktor Kovalenko and co. Still, Senegal has improved as the World Cup has gone on and might give Ukraine a good fight.
AUSTRIA vs. UZBEKISTAN
The undefeated Austrians will be the favorites here (12 am ET, Fox Sports 2), especially since Uzbekistan reached the Round of 16 with just one win and two losses. The Uzbeks might be able to pull off an upset, however. Uzbekistan showed in Group F that it can find the back of net, scoring six goals en route to finishing in second place because of its better goal differential. Austria might be more talented, but need more offensive production – one of its three group-stage tallies was an own goal – from its attacking corps.
GERMANY vs. NIGERIA
Germany crushed the competition in its group, rattling off 16 goals while giving up just two, and the World Cup favorites will attempt to keep that type of dominant form going at Christchurch Stadium (3:30 am ET, Fox Sports 2). Standing in the Germans way, however, is Nigeria, which could give them their stiffest test to date. Nigeria has its share of attacking talent, including Granada striker Isaac Success, and that could help the African nation stand toe-to-toe with the likes of Marc Stendera of Eintracht Frankfurt.
PORTUGAL vs. NEW ZEALAND
The other nation to cruise during the group stage was Portugal, who enters a tricky game at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton against tournament hosts New Zealand (3:30 am ET, Fox Sports 2 Go). The Kiwis will have the full support in this one, but will likely need to piece together a defensive masterpiece in order to keep a Portugal off the scoreboard. The Portuguese have already banged in 10 goals in this competition, and include impressive attacking weapons like FC Porto B forward Andre Silva.
BRAZIL vs. URUGUAY
Arguably the most interesting encounter this round, Brazil and Uruguay will face off at Stadium Taranaki in New Plymouth (3:30 am ET, Fox Sports 1/Telemundo) in a match-up of teams with largely different styles. Brazil is as it normally is very offensive-minded, which is evident by its nine goals scored thus far, while Uruguay tends to play tighter and more organized games. There will be plenty of promising talent on display in this one, including Brazilian midfielder Andreas Pereira of Manchester United and West Ham United’s Uruguayan prospect Diego Poyet.
Which of these matches are you most excited about? Who do you see coming out on top to reach the quarterfinals? Which nation is your favorite to win it all at this point?
Share your thoughts below.
It’s hard to know what to expect after that deflating game against Ukraine. We were all ready to see Zelalem and Hyndman kill it with improved chemistry. That was too much to ask. I’m not sure any of us has a solid argument about whether it was best to win or lose that game, but it was definitely a good idea to rest some players ahead of our next three games.
While I think most of us would like to see the US go far, the fact is that it is very hard to judge how any of these teams will do against their opponents until they play them. The most important part of this whole event is that the US has probably 4 good prospects who have shown themselves in this tournament–Rubin, Hyndman, Zelalem, and Carter Vickers. Miazga might also be in that group, but he showed a lack of composure in the Myanamar game, so he needs to mature. I think all will have good pro careers and 2 or 3 of them are likely good enough to play for the senior national team.
Miazga defeated himself in that game by getting under the ref’s skin and never allowing himself to move beyond the whistle.
Hyndman is my favorite for the group to go on to USA A-team one day. Zelalem may need greater strength in the future. Ukraine played rough like a bunch wild Kazakhs using their strength to keep zelalem from making his mark on the game.
Carter Vickers brings to mind Gale Agbosamonde who looked like a commanding cb with huge upside and got lots of U20 team attention, also playing above age like Carter Vickers. Wiki will show that he’s sadly getting passed around, club to club each year. Nobody sees the upside potential anymore. Nobody will take the long term risk giving him playing and settling-in time. Paul Ariola seemed to stand out for pace and timelessness in one of the games I watched. Like everyone you mention, I think he has potential to be a usmnt winger one day.
If I had to bet on one, it would be Hyndman to be Michel Bradley in 8 years.
Fn autocorrect. Tireless is a word and tirelessness is an adverb of tireless. Fn autocorrect replaced tirelessness with timelessness.
One thing worries me about Hyndman–is he athletic enough for really high level play? While I see good possibilities in all those I mentioned, I really like Carter-Vickers because of his composure on the ball and steady play despite being so young. I could have mentioned Arriola and maybe should have. Last season he played a lot for Tijuana and he has shown well here. However, he hasn’t played as much this year and his best tournament game was against the weakest opponent, so I think the jury is still out on him.
Safe to say the U.S. will come out flat, give up two soft goals, score a late meaningless one, and get plaudits for a valiant effort. lost in all of this will be the fact that as is typical for our lads and lasses, we shrink from the big moment.
That’s some good stuff.
Wait a minute — When does the best youth program in the world Mexico play?
I think the loss to Ukraine didn’t hurt the US one bit.
Columbia and then Serbia / Hungary is essentially the same as Senegal and then Austria / Uzbekistan
After that, it’s either Germany OR Portugal / Brazil. Right now, Germany and Portugal are the class of this competition.
We have 2 winnable games ahead of us.
I agree we have two winnable games ahead and must win them both to show we are a capable as Mexico to beat good teams and make it to hopefully the final.
This proves that Ramos made the right decision by sitting Rubin, Miazga and Payne. By winning the group, Ukraine gets to play Senegal and we get to play Colombia. Look at Colombia and Senegal in the group stage and they are basically equal. They each had the same amount of points, they tied against each other, they both lost to the same opponent and they both beat the same opponent.
Not so sure about that. Plus the QF would have been easier if we’d won the group.
Slow, Explain to me why you think/ or how do you know that Serbia or Hungary are so much better than Austria?
Sitting three players to suffer a spanking by he Ukraine and drawing a tougher opponent in the round of 16 does NOT sound very intelligent from Ramos. Or, let’s be honest and admit that the Ukraine beat us handily.
The whole point of my post was to argue that Colombia IS NOT a tougher opponent than Senegal. They are equal. Now if you don’t agree that’s fine, but on what are you basing that Colombia is better than Senegal? Surely not on the group stage games.
8 out of 10 people here would agree that Colombia is a tougher opponent than Senegal, at least at this tournament.
hah! Ok. Maybe the people that always comment on these u-20 World Cup games and start their comment with, “I didn’t see the game, but …”
I think the US, second in their group, got (potentially) a better draw than the Ukraine, who finished first, The Ukraine has on thier half of the draw, both Austria and Brazil on the way to the finals. On the US side of the draw, you have Germany, which if they advance, the US would play in the semi’s. The Us still have to get past Columbia, and then the winner of Hungary/Serbia, which I believe will be Serbia. These are all teams, Columbia, Serbia, Hungary, which are all beatable by the US. Germany may be an insurmountable obstacle, but I like to believe that thier U20 are not as good as their Sr. Team.
Tonight’s game will be interesting. I say tonight because many people forget that New Zealand is on the other side of the international date line so you subtract a day.
The USA game is not tonight in the contiguous United States. Kick-off is at 12:30am pacific time on Wednesday morning.
In case you’re curious, US winner plays the winner of Serbia/Hungary with Ghana/Germany/Nigeria/Mali waiting in the semifinal.
If this team crashes out before the semis, it would be a huge disappointment and will leave our future as uncertain as before Klinsmann took over the program. Remember this team has prodigy Zelalem.