The 2015 U-20 World Cup is here! While this tournament might now be on par with the senior World Cup, in terms of how national teams build their squad it is very important. Many of the players who will be featuring in this year’s U-20 tournament will become valued assets for their senior squad when World Cup qualification for Russia in 2018.
Need further proof? Here are some of the names of players who have won the Golden Ball in previous year’s tournaments: Diego Maradona, Adriano, Seydou Keita, Javier Saviola, Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, and Paul Pogba. Not too shabby.
So here is some basic information for this tournament:
Dates: May 30th-June 20th
Location: New Zealand. Get ready for some early mornings!
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Number of teams: 24
Groups: 6. The top two teams in each group will qualify for the knockout round. They will be joined by the top four third-place teams in a single-elimination knockout round.
TV: Fox. Most of the matches will available on Foxsoccer2go, Fox Sports 2, or Fox Deportes. In Canada, matches will be shown on the various TSN stations.
May 8, 2015; Commerce City, CO, USA; San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Tommy Thompson (22) heads the ball during the game against the Colorado Rapids at Sporting Goods Park. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Teams: Myanmar, New Zealand, Ukraine, and United States.
Players To Keep An Eye On: Bill Tuiloma (New Zealand-Marseille,) Tommy Thompson (United States-San Jose Earthquakes,) and Mykyta Burda (Ukraine-Shaktar Donetsk)
Key Matches: USA-New Zealand (06/02) and Ukraine vs USA (06/05)
Expected Finish: Ukraine, USA, New Zealand, Myanmar
Outlook: Despite the United States being seen at home as being a virtual lock for the second round, they will struggle against a very strong Ukraine side. New Zealand will also give Tab Ramos’ side some problems but their side is very young and inexperienced. Myanmar meanwhile will be making their first full international tournament and are considered to be minnows in international football.
Teams: Argentina, Austria, Ghana and Panama.
Players To Keep An Eye On:Emmanuel Mammana (Argentina- River Plate,) Konrad Laimer (Austria-Red Bull Salzburg) and Ismael Diaz (Panama-Tauro F.C.,) Godfred Donsah (Ghana-Cagliari).
Key Matches: Ghana vs Austria (05/30,) Argentina vs Ghana (06/02,) and Panama vs Austria (06/02)
Expected Finish: Argentina, Ghana, Austria, and Panama
Outlook: Although there are more difficult groups on paper, Group B may be underlooked in terms of the quality of teams. Argentina are obviously considered to be one of the top candidates to win the entire tournament and Ghana are a power in African football, don’t sleep on Austria and Panama. Austria allowed just three goals during qualifying and have one of the quickest midfielders in the tournament in Konrad Laimer. Panama meanwhile are entering a golden generation and just finished in second place at the 2015 CONCACAF U-20 Championship.
Teams: Colombia, Qatar, Portugal, and Senegal
Players To Keep An Eye On: Alexis Zapata (Colombia-Udinese,) Sultan Al Kuwari (Qatar-Villarreal,) Estrela (Portugal-Orlando City SC,) and Seydou Sy (Senegal-Monaco)
Key Matches: Portugal vs Senegal (05/31,) Qatar vs Portugal (06/03,) and Qatar vs Senegal (06/06)
Expected Finish:Colombia, Portugal, Qatar, and Senegal
Outlook: This is the upside group. Four teams that each have limitless potential but have yet to really show it at the international level, each of these teams could end up being a dark horse in this year’s tournament with Portugal and Colombia vying for the title. Both of these squads will likely be followed quite closely by the scouts of top clubs. Senegal will also be an interesting side, given their ties to French football and that they were finalists at the 2015 African U-20 Championship.
But Qatar will be the team that everyone is talking about. Of course there are the political reasons and with everything going on with regards to the country controversially hosting the 2022 World Cup. But it will also be for their quality of play. The Qatari FA have spent a considerable amount of resources in turning their national team system from a joke to a credible system. They won the 2014 AFC U-19 Championship and will be making their first-ever World Cup appearance.