Want to read part one of MLS Multiplex’s 2015 U-20 World Cup Preview? Check it out here.
Teams: Mali, Mexico, Serbia, and Uruguay
Players To Keep An Eye On: Adama Traore (Mali- Lille,) Hirving Lozano (Mexico- Pachuca) Predrag Rajkovic (Serbia-Red Star,) and Franco Acosta (Uruguay-Villarreal)
Key Matches: Uruguay-Serbia (05/31) and Mexico-Serbia (06/06)
Expected Finish: Mexico, Uruguay, Serbia, and Mali
Outlook: Given their experience, both Mexico and Uruguay should run away with this group. In particular Mexico looks to be a very dangerous squad with most of the team playing significant minutes for their various Liga MX sides. Uruguay will pose problems for El Tri though with a very good attacking corps up front.
In terms of third place Serbia seems to have the advantage over Mali given the experience that many of their players have had in playing with Red Star and Partizan. Mali should see this and their recent appearance in the Africa Cup of Nations as building blocks to prepare them for qualification for World Cup 2018.
Teams: Brazil, Hungary, Nigeria, and North Korea
Players To Keep An Eye On: Malcolm (Brazil-Corinthians,) Zsolt Kalmar (Hungary-Leipzig,) Moses Simon (Nigeria-Gent,) and Jo-Kwang Myong (North Korea-April 25)
Key Matches: Nigeria-Brazil (06/01,) Hungary-North Korea (06/01,) and Hungary-Nigeria (06/07)
Expected Finish: Brazil, Nigeria, North Korea, and Hungary.
Outlook: This group is Brazil’s group to lose. Although they just recently fired coach Alexandre Gallo, Brazil should sweep this group given their size and experience. This team also should have a chip on their shoulder, given that they did not make the 2013 U-20 World Cup. A five-time champion of the U-20 World Cup, Brazil is one of the leading contenders to win this tournament.
Now beyond Brazil is where things get interesting. Nigeria won the 2015 CAF U-19 Championship and did so in convincing fashion, scoring 12 goals and conceding 4. North Korea only narrowly lost to Qatar at the 2015 AFC U-19 Championship but were able to eliminate Japan. Hungary will play spirited football but may be in over their heads against more experienced teams.
The second spot is a toss-up between North Korea and Nigeria. While North Korea will have the advantage in terms of tactical discipline and chemistry, Nigeria will have the advantage in terms of pace and speed. If Nigeria can create sustained possessions over a long period that should be enough to give them second place.
Teams: Fiji, Germany, Honduras, and Uzbekistan
Key Players: Marc-Oliver Kempf (Germany-Freiburg,) Setareki Hughes (Fiji-Rewa,) Bryan Rochez (Honduras-Orlando City SC,) and Zabikhillo Urinboev (Uzbekistan-Bunyodkor)
Key Matches: Uzbekistan-Honduras (06/01) and Germany-Honduras (06/07)
Expected Finish: Germany, Uzbekistan, Honduras, and Fiji
Outlook: If Germany does not win this group it will be the biggest shock in the history of the World Cup. Although the Germans hardly brought their A roster they should destroy Fiji, Honduras, and Uzbekistan. But one has to wonder if the Germans would have been better off playing in a more challenging group to get them ready for more difficult matches later in the tournament. Something to keep an eye on.
Although Fiji will certainly have their supporters in New Zealand, it will be difficult for them to produce a result in this group. Much like in the FIFA Confederations Cup two years ago if they can have a few competitive matches that should be considered a success.
Between Uzbekistan and Honduras, the Uzbeks should have a slight advantage. They are a bit more defensive focused than Honduras and will look to frustrate Los Catrachos in the first match of Group F. It would be great for CONCACAF to get three teams in the knockout round but Honduras do not have a great history in tournament football.