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Group-by-group guide to the 2017 Under-20 World Cup in South Korea

Looking for talented players and future stars. In 2017 as in 1977, the year of the first FIFA U-20 World Cup. Forty years later, starting from 20th May to 11th June, 24 teams from five continents will play in South Korea the 21th edition of the most important youth competition. They would want to follow in the footsteps of Serbia, who won the 2015 tournament held in New Zealand. MondoFutbol present a guide to sides and players of the U-20 World Cup.

Group A – Argentina, South Korea, Guinea, England

Drawn in the same group as hosts South Korea, Argentina will face England, reliving one of the fiercest rivalries in world football. The “Albiceleste” have to give up a talented player like Ezequiel Barco, since his club Independiente didn’t allow him to join Claudio Ubeda‘s side. However, the former Deportivo Magallanes manager can rely on the skills of Estudiantes midfielder Santiago Ascacibar, who provided stunning performances during the 2017 South American Youth Football Championship. Alongside “El Ruso” will play Racing gifted wing Brian Mansilla, coupled with his teammate and emerging striker Lautaro Martínez. Ubeda has also called-up Granada forward Ezequiel Ponce (on loan from AS Roma) and Cagliari midfielder Santiago Colombatto, on loan to Serie B club Trapani last season.
England coach Paul Simpson has decided to fly to South Korea keeping the same group of players that achieved the U19 Euro Championship semifinal in 2016. The squad includes two promising defenders like James Clarke-Salter and Fikayo Tomori, who played a key role to Chelsea’s 2016 Uefa Youth League victory. Simpson’s team will be composed by both young guys sent to smaller clubs to gain experience and already known footballers like Arsenal midfielder Ainsley Maitland-Niles (great physical skills and pretty good technique) or Everton forward Dominic Calvert-Lewin, born in 1997. Another Toffee talent is Ademola Lookman, who was signed from Charlton for less than nine million euros and scored against Manchester City on his debut for Everton. Other players worth watching are Lewis Cook (Bournemouth), Tottenham attacking midfielder Josh Onomah (who made his first Champions League appearance under Pochettino) and Chelsea’s Dominik Solanke.

After a four-year absence South Korea are back in the U-20 World Cup and they rely on Lee-Seung Woo‘s talent. The 19-year-old left winger plays for Barcelona and at 11 he was renamed “The Korean Messi”. The other star of the host side is coach Shin-Tae-Yong, who led local club Seongnam to AFC Champions League victory in 2010. South Korea will probably fight for a spot amongst the four best third-placed teams and they have to outdo Guinea. The National Elephants claimed bronze at U20 AFCON in 2017 led by Arouca attacking midfielder Morlaye Sylla. Furthermore, the African side’s starting line up should feature Juventus midfielder Oumar Touré, born in 1998 like Sylla.

Group B – Germany, Mexico, Vanuatu and Venezuela

Vanuatu come into this group as the most unknown team. They’ve achieved U-20 World Cup qualification for the first time and Serbian manager Dejan Gluščević has called up almost only footballers who play in the local league. The other three sides should all aim at a spot in the round of 16. Venezuela have been one of the most surprising teams at 2017 South American Youth Championship, securing the third place. The tournament in Ecuador saw New York City midfielder Yangel Herrera (on loan from Manchester City) shine as he showed good running skills, ability to provide assists and to manage the game. Future Watford full-back Williams Velásquez, a charismatic player with good physical skills and remarkable insight into the game, and Yeferson Soteldo also deserves a mention. “Minion” is only 1,60 m tall but he has a nice technique, something he has already shown in Quito. Alongside the above-mentioned duo will play a promising goalkeeper like Wuilker Faríñez and an extremely gifted forward like former Udinese player Adalberto Peñaranda.

Venezuela will have in a talented Mexico a fierce opponent who claimed bronze at 2017 CONCACAF Under-20 Championship. El Tri manager Marco Ruiz can rely on three shiny attacking players like Uriel Antuna, Roland Cisneros and 19-year-old Eduardo Aguirre, all from Santos Laguna. After Club América elimination from Liga MX full-back Edson Álvarez has also joined the team. He is a regular first team player at his club under Ricardo La Volpe and during last CONCACAF Under-20 Championship Álvarez has been part of the best XI of the tournament, impressing for his physical skills, charisma and insight into the game, often looking like an experienced player.  A future star that in the second Group B matchday will look to stop Hoffenheim young talent Philipp Ochs, one of the leaders and the best goal scorer of current U20 Germany team. Alongside Nagelsmann’s favourite will play a reliable defender like Hoffenheim youngster Benedikt Gimber (loaned to Karlsruher SC this season), a solid left-back (or if necessary midfielder) like Maximilian Mittelstädt, who has emerged as a valuable back-up at Hertha Berlin. The best prospects’ list also includes a strong defender like Roda Kerkrade’s Frederic Ananou, Greuther Fürth central midfielder (or full-back) Dominik Schad and Mainz talent of Turkish descent Suat Serdar.

Group C – Costa Rica, Iran, Portugal, Zambia

A fascinating group, which could produce some of the tournament’s revelations. Current African champions Zambia can count on one of the best football generation in their recent history. “Junior Chipopolo” manager Beston Chambeshi has called up promising striker Patson Daka, who at the age of 19 led RB Salzburg to 2017 UEFA Youth League victory, a forward showing flashes of potential like Edward Chilufya and have two interesting midfielders in Fashion Sakala and Emmanuel Band, the latter gifted with a powerful and precise shot. Costa Rica, who lost on penalties to United States in the 2017 CONCACAF Under-20 Championship, will be expecting much from their rising star, Randall Leal. An offensive midfielder born in 1997, Leal currently plays for Belgian side Malines, showing a good ability to read the game, run through empty spaces alongside some decent scoring skills. Just like Costa Rica, Iran could also be a surprise. National manager Amirhossein Peyrovani relies notably on recent Rostov signing Reza Shekari. In Russian Premier League he plays alongside his compatriot Azmoun and his club take advantage of Reza’s left foot and of his ability as attacking midfielder or playmaker. Thanks to his height (1,86) he could be a precious resource in set-pieces. However, a strong side like Portugal remains the favourite for the first place in Group C. Their coach Emílio Peixe won the Golden Ball award at 1991 FIFA U-20 World Cup, and spent his footballing career as a midfielder at Porto, Sporting Clube de Portugal, the same “Big Three” of Portuguese top-flight who will give as many as 16 members to the youth Lusitan national team. Among them some names stand out: gifted Sporting Clube de Portugal left-footed attacking midfielder Pedro Delgado (in the past he played for Inter Milan youth ranks) and rugged Benfica B full-back Rúben Dias. He is the captain of “The Eagles” reserve team and showed a good technique. At Benfica he plays with Diogo Gonçalves, a winger boasting a remarkable scoring ability. Another youngster to watch is Bruno Almeida, better known as Xadas. He comes from Sporting Braga and is a fine central midfielder with a good left foot and a superb insight into the game.

Group D – Japan (by Gabriele Anello), Italy (by Aniello Luciano), South Africa (by Bruno Bottaro), Uruguay (by Carlo Pizzigoni).

Group E – France, Honduras, New Zealand, Vietnam

Everyone’s eyes are on France — their supremacy at the 2016 European U-19 Championship puts them amongst the favourites of the upcoming World Cup too. Les Bleuets, coached by Ludovic Batelli, can boast some of the most promising talents of the competition, notably Jean-Kévin Augustin, born in 1997, who earned some playing time, also scoring a goal, with Unai Emery’s Psg. Alban Lafont, a 18-year-old regular starter for Toulouse, has been chosen as goalkeeper, while Lucas Tousart (1997) should be the one-to-watch in the midfield, as he has played more than 30 games with Lyon this season. Although less-experienced, Psg midfielder Christopher Nkunku remains one of the most interesting prospects of the tournament. Guingamp’s Ludovic Blas, a 19-year-old midfielder who already left a deep mark on his side’s victory at the Euro by scoring two vital goals, will also be a keystone for the French team. However, Batelli’s outfit won’t be able to rely on Theo Hernández: the talented full-back, strongly linked with a Real Madrid move, will be retained by his club Alavés with a view to a historic Copa del Rey final against Barcelona.

Behind France, a thrilling and balanced fight should determine the runner-up spot and a possible qualification as best third-placed. New Zealand, who hosted the last U-19 World Cup in 2015, are hopeful for a good campaign thanks to a talented squad that features the likes of captain Clayton Lewis, Auckland City midfielder with 8 caps with the senior team, Moses Dyer and Nike Academy striker Myer Bevan, who took the U-20 OFC by storm. Amongst the others, Sunderland goalkeeper Micheal Woud, born in 1999, should also be on scouts’ radars.
Honduras are ready to embark on their three-week campaign in South Korea with good confidence in their attacking force, composed by New York Red Bulls forward Douglas Martínez and Darixon Vuelto (1998), playing at Tenerife. However coach Tábora couldn’t call-up the “Italian side” of the team, as Rigoberto Rivas (1998) and Paolo Belloni (1999) weren’t allowed to take part in the competition respectively by Inter and Genoa.
It’ll be more difficult to know what to expect from Vietnam, who could be the variable of Group E. The team managed by Anh Tuấn Hoang booked a place in the World Cup thanks to a 1-0 win over Bahrain during a U-19 AFC Championship quarter-final — Thành Trần, offensive midfielder who scored on the occasion, should also be a regular starter. 

Group F – Saudi Arabia, Ecuador, Senegal, United States

A group with no favourites, but potentially showcasing a lot of talent.
United States are the main responsible for it — In march 2017, they won the U-20 CONCACAF held in Costa Rica, a tournament which saw Jonathan Klinsmann, son of Jürgen, shine and emerge as the best goalkeeper. But a bunch of other youngsters are worth keeping an eye on — captain Erik Palmer-Brown, a centre-back also deployed as a defensive midfielder, already led Porto B to winning the Portuguese second-tier. The list also features Real Salt Lake’s Justen Glad, second central defender, box-to-box midfielder Tyler Adams, born in 1999 and good at both offensive raids and covering, the attacking duo formed by Emanuel Sabbi (a past at Las Palmas) and Jeremy Ebobisse (Portland Timbers) and lastly Fulham midfielder Luca De La Torre.
Alongside the little known Saudi Arabia (midfielder Sami Al-Najei deserves a mention for his finishing skills), USA will take on Ecuador, who hosted the South American Youth Championship where they finished runners-up behind a brilliant Uruguay. The team’s best prospects are found on the left flank, with Granada full-back Pervis Estupiñán, on loan from Watford, and Atalanta winger Bryan Cabezas growing up under the watchful eye of his boss Gian Piero Gasperini. Upfront, talented striker Jordy Caicedo looks eager to seize what could be a great opportunity and a huge step forward in his growth process. 

USA and Ecuador hopes for a qualification will be threatened by Senegal — The young Lions of Teranga can count on a strong squad featuring three players born in 1999, who are also the team’s major strengths. Striker Ibrahima Niane, charismatic midfielder Krépin Diatta, who earned a pro-contract with a Norwegian club after some convincing displays in the U20 African competition, and finally solid centre-back Ousseynou Cavin Diagne, not to mention Ibrahima Ndiaye, who showed a good technique and ability of taking set-pieces.

Cover photo ©
Photo of England ©
Photo of Soteldo/Venezuela ©LaPresse
Photo of Portogallo ©Seleções de Portugal/Facebook
Photo of Augustin/Francia ©Maxppp
Photo of Ecuador ©AFP

Written by Davide Zanelli and Roberto Brambilla