World Cup Preview

Friday 29 May 2015 09:00

With the FIFA U-20 World Cup kicking off in New Zealand on Saturday, we look ahead to the tournament which will be graced by two Fulham youngsters in Emerson Hyndman and Tiago Casasola.

Fulham presence

Having been initially named in their nations’ respective preliminary squads, both Hyndman and Casasola made the final cut when the conclusive lists of 21 players were given to FIFA last week. They’ve been given squad numbers befitting their positions on the field of play, with United States captain and midfielder Hyndman taking the eight jersey, while central defender Casasola will don six on the back of his Argentina shirt.


Argentina hold the record for most U-20 World Cup wins, and will be gunning for their seventh this summer. Brazil (five) and Portugal (two) are the only other sides to have won the competition multiple times, and they will both be competing again in New Zealand.

The tournament is famous for allowing future superstars the platform on which to announce themselves, with many of the world’s best players having burst onto the scene during the competition. The second-ever instalment of the showpiece, in 1979, provides the perfect example as Argentina’s Diego Maradona was named best player.

The 1983 tournament featured strikers by the names of Marco van Basten and Bebeto, while four years later Yugoslavia were victorious with a squad that included the likes of Davor Suker, Robert Prosinecki, Zvonimir Boban and Predrag Mijatovic.

In more recent years, Luis Figo, Thierry Henry, Michael Owen, Xavi and Ronaldinho have all featured, while the Best Player and Top Scorer awards were both nabbed by a certain Lionel Messi in 2005.

France – who failed to qualify this year – are the current holders of the trophy, with Juventus’ Paul Pogba named Golden Ball winner two years ago.

Route to the Final

With a strong squad, Argentina will fancy their chances of emerging from Group B without too much trouble, with Ghana likely to be their closest challengers. They will also face Austria and Panama, taking on the latter in their first match on Saturday.

The United States have been drawn to take on Ukraine and Myanmar, along with the hosts. Their first match pits them against Myanmar, and they will be heavy favourites against a side making their U-20 World Cup debut.

There are six groups in total, with the top two of each advancing to the last 16, where they will be joined by the four best third-place nations. If Argentina win their group, and the States finish third in theirs, then the sides could potentially meet at the first knock-out phase. The competition then adopts regular progression rules until the Final.

Familiar faces

In addition to the two Fulham players, there are several other British links to the U-20 showpiece. Midfielder Andreas Pereira has been tipped for a big future at Manchester United, and he is the club’s sole representative at the World Cup after being named in the Brazil squad. Another familiar name is West Ham United’s Diego Poyet who, despite representing England at a younger age, is in the Uruguay party. In total there are 13 players who ply their trade in the UK; three each from Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur, two from Fulham, and one each from Arsenal, West Ham, Manchester United, Ipswich Town and Brentford.

Players to watch

There will be plenty of attention on Argentinean forwards Angel Correa and Giovanni Simeone after they dazzled at the South American Youth Football Championship in January. Simeone – son of Atletico Madrid boss Diego – top scored at that tournament, while Correa was bought by the 2013/14 La Liga winners for a reported €7.5m last summer. German winger Julian Brandt is another from whom big things are expected after the 19-year-old made 35 appearances for Bayer Leverkusen this season. Manchester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho (pictured below) was named best player as Nigeria won the U-17 World Cup two years ago, and he’s in the U-20 group this time around. Iheanacho scored the winner for City as they defeated Fulham’s conquerors Porto in the Final of the Premier League International Cup earlier this month.

The stadiums

Casasola and his Argentina teammates will play all their Group Stage matches in the Wellington Regional Stadium (pictured below) on the North Island. Wellington is New Zealand’s capital city and is most famous in some circles for providing the landscape for the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Meanwhile, the United States will feature in two stadiums in Group A, starting off at the Northland Events Centre in Whangarei, before moving south for their latter two outings at North Harbour Stadium in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city. This is also the setting for the Final on Saturday 20th June.

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