With South American heavyweights Brazil and Argentina missing after shocking performances in the South American Youth Championship, can a European side claim the Under-20 title for the first time since 1999?
The side who lifted the last title for Europe when the tournament was hosted in Nigeria was Spain, and they are the most fancied to do so this time coming off a wave of success after winning the UEFA Under-19 Championship last summer. In the U19 Championship, they were a cut above the rest, as seems commonplace with Spain teams in international competition. The stars of that side, Gerard Deulofeu and Jese Rodriguez, have both had a year of great maturation as they both managed fourth and second in the scoring charts in the Spanish Segunda Division.
A combined goals total of 40, it is fair to say they are both clinical. What might stand in the way of Spain is that their group is arguably the hardest of the six, with it including France, USA, & Ghana. Atletico midfielder Oliver Torres is not fazed by the group:
“If you want to win a tournament, you have to take on the best. And I think it’ll be good for us to have the best in our group because if we get through this, we’ll come out the other side even stronger.”
One can hope Spain and France produce a game as memorable as that of UEFA U19 Championship Semi-Final of 2012, a game which ended with the dreaded spot kicks following a 3-3 draw. Tensions could be ordered to ride high in this years installment of Spain vs France, a final group game; a lot could be riding on the result.
France will be the closest challengers in the tournament, harboring potentially the best central midfield partnership in the seasoned pairing of Geoffrey Kondogbia and Paul Pogba. The two could be the linchpins in what seems like a well balanced French side. Besides both Kondogbia and Pogba, Florian Thauvin will have hopes pinned upon the creative spark in the French attack, after a successful season with Bastia on loan from Lille, he was highly regarded by many French football fans as “the next big thing.” Yet to make an appearance for Lille, the U20 World Cup could allow him to pin down a place in the next season’s starting line up.
From South America, the biggest challengers to the Under 20 crown are Colombia. Defending champions of both the South American Youth Championship and the Toulon Tournament, they certainly have the winning mentality. Three members of their squad have ventured out to European football, all playing their trade in Serie A.
Juan Fernando Quientero particularly impressed in a disappointing Pescara side, earning comparisons with Monaco’s James Rodriguez. The other two who play in Italy, Jherson Vergara Amu and Brayan Perea, have both yet to make their Serie A debuts due to the fact they were both signed ahead of the U20 World Cup.
Another side that could be worth a mention is South American Youth Championship runners up Chile. Competing in a group with England, Egpyt, and Iraq, they are arguably the strongest of the four. Manchester United’s Angelo Henriquez, Chelsea’s Cristian Cuevas, and Sevilla’s Bryan Rabello will be the key in Chile’s success. Henriquez, who has managed 14 goals in 10 games for Chile U20, should be the determiner between success and failure.
Spain seem the most equipped to win the competition, but there is a sense that the vigorous organisation that was made to bring success to senior side has brought a wave down their international set up. The huge amount of direction shown by the U21 side in their success in the U21 Championship will probably be followed by the U20 side in their pursuit of the Under 20 title. If again the same formula is carried out, there is no way in which Spain can fail.