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FIFA Youth (U-20) World Cup Finals New Zealand 2015

 Written by Richard Wilkins
 The twentieth edition of the FIFA Under-20s World Cup is fast approaching with 24 nations vying for success in New Zealand from May 30, with the final staging on June 20 at Auckland’s North Habour Stadium. Current champions France will not be defending their mantel after failing to qualify having not reached the final round of the 2014 UEFA Qualifying bout in Hungary last year. It will be the first time the youth tournament has been held in New Zealand but is to be the third on Oceania soil following prior outings in Australia in 1981 and 1993. One red-letter gesture expected at the tournament is the trialing of video replay technology, should terms be approved by the International Football Association. This will allow managers and coaches to contend the referee’s call.
Historical Background
Formerly known as the FIFA World Youth Championship up until 2005, the competition has been held every two years since it’s inception in 1977. It grew with a true solution having seen some propitious talent move up through the estate to prosper at Under-20 level, which in turn has seen them continue to bloom in both senior club and international football. Despite nineteen previous competitions taking place only nine nations have lifted the honours, with Argentina sitting at the top of the successors with six titles, narrowly tailed by Brazil with five winner’s medals. Ghana, Germany, Spain, France and formerly registered Soviet Union and Yugoslavia have each gained solitary feats.
The ascendancy of the South American’s did not begin directly from the off, as the first outing in Tunisia 1997 Soviet Union clinching the primary accolade from the Mexicans in a long and climatic 9-8 penalty shoot-out. It turned out to be a deserved triumph as the winners became tagged for being extremely well-drilled, organised and most excellent to watch as a team unit. A hard-working trio led by example as the Soviet’s catalyst and their continual brilliance throughout the campaign became indicative of their superiority. Sergey Baltacha, Andrey Bal and Adidas Golden Ball winner Vladimir Bessonov merged to dominate in areas around the pitch where it mattered most.
Although Argentina won the second outing two years later at Japan ’79, beating reigning champions Soviet Union 3-1, it took another sixteen years until Jose Peckerman took over in the mid-90s. 1979 did however brandish a name that would be admired  for eternity, as a young and enthusiastic Diego Maradona taunted defenders with his masterful dribbling ability and vision to turn a game into his very own eye-candy. The South Americans displayed a tropical style known as the “toque”, a one-touch method which devastated from one end of the pitch the the other due to it’s tempo and precision, with Maradona being a the heart of literally every attacking notion.
Within the seven tournaments that Argentina failed to capitalise on the Maradona era, three new glory winners were crowned with West Germany and former named Yugoslavia being victorious once each. Portugal enjoyed back-to-back titles in 1989, hosted by Saudi Arabia and then on their home patch in 1991, becoming the first nation to host to win on their own patch. It was hardly a coincidence that the Portuguese ran out as top dogs for the second time running, with an emphatic team sheet with starlets including Emilio Peixe and Paulo Torres plying their trade with a strong work ethic.
Argentina’s bitter rivals Brazil went on to collect three first placed medals in the space of ten years, with double top of the podium finishes in 1983 and 1985 before there own long-awaited return in 1993, hosted by the Australians, the only country to be awarded the tournament in it’s thirty-eight year history.
In both Mexico ’83 and Soviet Union ’85 the Samba youngsters were the bookmakers number one choice due to their dominance in the CONMEBOL qualifiers whilst they became the first country to win back-to-back titles. The Auriverde dazzled at Under-20 level, proving to be tactically superior, treading in the footsteps of their elders with wonderful artistry in their genes. Heroes inckuded the likes of Geovani, an elegant attacking threat who netted six goals in Mexico and Muller who erected sculptures in front of goal for his team despite the event in Soviet Union in 1985 proving to be one of the lowest scoring tournaments to date.
Then Qatar 1995 arrived along with an Argentine revival, lifting five titles in a twelve year span only to be separated by the Spanish in Nigeria 1999, putting a brief end to South American supremacy at this level having carved three consecutive tournament victories between Argentina and Brazil over six-year period, and then the Brazilians sealed victory in 2003 held by the United Arab Emirates. The Albiceleste regained power in 2001 with manager Jose Pekerman deploying a flexible 3-5-2 formation. As Pekerman was promoted to coach the senior side, he went on to develop players he had brought through the ranks with some of his most notable selections by the names of Juan Pablo Sorin, Javier Saviola, Esteban Cambiasso, Walter Samuel, Diego Placente, Juan Roman Riquelme and Ariel Ibagaza. Many of whom would go on to leave the Argentine Primera División to have illustrious careers in Europe.
Although Pekerman moved onto bigger and better things his philosophies and winning mentalities continued to flourish through former goalkeeper Hugo Tocalli, the man believed to be specifically designed as a perfect surrogate for his predecessor. Tocalli would cotton onto his own property whilst sponsoring some of the most momentous names in the modern game. Lionel Messi exhibited his world-beating dribbling skills in Netherlands 2005 before Canada 2007 launched the career of a raw and prosperous Sergio Aguero.
Since 2007 the Argentineans endeavour to reach the same levels of fortune have been more than a little futile, with he Under-20 World Cup encompassing three alternate winners from three different nations. Ghana went on to become the first African nation to win the accolade with an indelible spot-kick decider over the Brazilians in Egypt, a country that is renowned for it’s historical ancient civilisation, created history by generating a group of Ghanans who for the most would be part of the 2010 squad that reached the Quarter Finals of the South African World Cup. Brazil regained their pride 24 months on by lofting their fifth trophy in front of record-breaking crowds in a 3-2 win over Portugal in 2011, a bout that saw the notability of Henrique come into the frame, a Barcelona prodigy who would go on to find difficulties breaking into the Catalan’s first team.
The most recent spectacle took place in Turkey in 2013 with Paul Pogba embracing the competition for the French in a tight competition. France overcame Uruguay in a 4-1 penalty shoot-out following a calamitous 120 minutes, without a single shot converted at the Turk Telekom Arena, the new home of Galatasaray. Les Bleus were very unconvincing to begin with, finishing second in their group with only four points, far behind the Spanish who edged past them with a 2-1 win in the third game. Favourites Spain took a tumble in the Quarter-finals thanks to runners-up Uruguay in Bursa with a 103rd minute goal from Avenatti.
This is where the French took it upon themselves to create a stampede, netting 10 goals in the knockout stages which shed some light on their talented side. Prior to the tournament beginning, shock news had hit the competition months before as both Argentina and Brazil had failed to qualify, the first and only time that this had happened, the second that Brazil hadn’t taken part in with their initial exodus being in 1979. A massive 152 goals were scored in front of average attendances scaling in at 5,832. The final in Istanbul raked in a better record with 20,601 making the trip.
Preview of the Teams Involved

Group A

New Zealand (Manager: Darren Bazeley)
Automatically certified as hosts. Could suffer from lack of valuable game time due to not benefiting from a qualifying campaign. However, there is growing evidence as the Junior All Whites enter their third appearance at the Under-20 World Cup, that this young crop of players are stringing together nicely under Darren Bazeley, whilst a good proportion of the side play together at Australian A-League side Wellington Phoenix, whereas some can boast about intervals with the senior squad.
Players to watch: Alex Rufer, Bill Tuiloma, Matthew Ridenton
Ukraine (Manager: Oleksandr Petrakov)
Found qualification a bit of a breeze but have found form to be a little unyielding in preparation for the tournament. Still plenty of strength and courage despite the lack of flamboyance in their play. Nonetheless, if the young Ukrainians are to compete it will be due to their inspired team ethic and determination to play to the final whistle.
Player to watch: Bogdan Sarnavskiy
United States of America (Manager: Tab Ramos)
There is always a hearty, healthy togetherness about American football but getting to the finals proved a tricky course. A few sloppy results at the beginning of their campaign for qualification made stiff work for the following games. Although a turn in form saw them well prepared in their play-off clash against El Salvador, which was won with a comfortable 2-0 result. The Stars and Stripes are passionate, willing and particularly strong from the goalkeeper and their back-line. A favoured 4-4-2 formation allows the Yankees to takes control in the middle of the park whilst being connoisseurs of their success in front of goal. With the recent appreciation for the Americans taking a less somber approach the game, development for the Yanks is highly imperative on their agenda.
Players to watch: Emerson Hyndman, Romain Gall, Ben Spencer, Paul Arriola
Myanmar (Manager: Gerd Zeise)
Relatively unknown to the football sphere at all levels of late but the Asians raised many eyebrows in the past with seven continental titles. However, this will be their debut appearance at the Under-20 World Cup. They are lightweight in terms of star names however but do pose an intelligent strategy to their game and will look to frustrate their opposition. German coach Zeise believes in playing as a unit which he believes is how teams of less stature should approach occasions such as this.
Players to watch: Yan Naing Oo, Nan Wai Min
Group B

Argentina (Manager: Humberto Grondona)
La Albiceleste confirmed their status as possibly the most robust Under-20 side in South America by emphatically qualifying with only one loss during their road to success for the continental crown. They always seem to be lethal in attack regardless of how many players move on up through the age levels, with a terrific punch that compliments the hard work and organisation level at the back and in the midfield. Looking to regain power at this level after eight years without winning the Under-20s World Cup is their ultimatum, especially since missing out on the tournament in 2013. Regaining power, especially over Brazil is a must even for these youngsters.
Players to watch: Giovanni Simeone, Angel Correa, Emanuel Mammana, Augusto Batalla
Panama (Manager: Leonardo Pipino)
Los Canaleros have almost certainly improved at Under-20 level with 2015 being their fifth appearance at the World Cup in the last twelve years. They went on to win their qualifying group in the CONCACAF with comfort, running out triumphant in all five of their matches. This is a side with a disciplined defense, which breeds coordination towards other areas on the pitch. They are capable of providing the entertainment value with their 4-3-3 formation which sees an unsatiable instinct to get the ball forward with pace.
Player to watch: Ismael Diaz
Ghana (Manager: Sellas Tetteh)
The Black Satellites continue to breathe a characteristic of boastfulness and pace throughout their senior and developments teams, whilst also being more than able to win more than a game or two. With four top three finishes at this level, including taking gold in 2009 in Egypt, the African side are a definite threat. They have the knowledge at this level of how to turn the next group of players into winners, there record on this stage is more than stable despite having only featured in six World Cups at Under-20s. Football is religious to Ghana, it lifts spirits and creates new ones. They have elevated their level of pace whilst adding in some expensive looking trickery. Having reached the semi-finals two years ago, making that extra step to Auckland will be a crucial achievement they will crave for.
Player to watch: Richmond Boakye, Ebenezer Assifuah, Babe Rahman, Clifford Aboagye
Austria (Manager: Andreas Haraf)
Getting to New Zealand 2015 was a close shave but the Austrians are a determined bunch. Andreas Heraf’s side have some very talented individuals playing across Europe, in particular in the first team of few Bundesliga outfits. The loss of star player Sinan Bytyqi to an ongoing knee problem could be a clinical blow but having the lust for improvement will be a motive Haraf want try to install in time for the finals.
Players to watch: Florian Grillitsch, Sascha Horvath, Francesco Lovric
Group C

Qatar (Manager: Felix Sanchez)
Making a stance this summer will be crucial to Qatar’s movement towards the 2022 World Cup senior competition.  These players will more than likely attend in seven years time, with the intention to overturn the criticism thrown at representatives behind the World Cup bid. Putting on a show in New Zealand is crucial for the country’s profile and for Sepp Blatter should he be relected as FIFA President. Coach Sanchez has embedded a team with a few players who play in Europe and something to prove may just the perfect stimulus.
Players to watch: Ahmed Doozandeh, Ahmed Al Saadi
Colombia (Manager: Carlos Restrepo)
Colombian football is definitely blossoming at senior level and the belief that greatness exists has also been transferred through to the youngsters. The philosophy of gaining as much possession as possible and retaining the ball after losing it has conversed down through the generations. This is a smart, energetic side which could push the favourites with their potent attacking capabilities and rigid tacticians on the sidelines.
Playerw to watch: Alvaro Montero, Juan Quintero, Jarlan Barrera, Brayan Rovira, Rafael Borre, Jeison Lucumi
Portugal (Manager: Helio Sousa)
The Portuguese are a stylish outfit and qualified in style, despite finishing runners-up up to Germany in the European Under-19 Championships. They base their attributes around skill, pace and remaining physically and mentally strong. Watching the Portuguese in attack promises to be a pleasure in New Zealand as they never give up on outscoring the opposition.
Players to watch: Bruma, Marcos Lopes, Andre Silva
Senegal (Manager: Joseph Koto)
Senegal are a passionate outfit, full of spirit and ready to pounce. There is a strong contingency of young talent under Jospeh Koto who is a true believer in finding players who can reach the calibre levels that has seen many seniors go onto do great things in the past decade.
Players to watch: Samba Ndiaye, Moussa Ndione, Dominique Mendy, El Hadji Bop
Group D

Mexico (Manager: Sergio Almaguer)
It is said that Almaguer’s young players are well balanced, emphatic in front of goal whilst on the other hand they concede very few. The manager is not afraid to change his formation nor does he hinder on varying combinations in the final third. The question is to whether El Tri can finally turn their good qualification form into success on the bigger stage.
Players to watch: Alex Diaz, Hirving Lozano, Rodrigo Gonzalez
Mali (Manager: Moussa Keita)
A surprise entrant, running through as the last African team to qualify having lost five of their ten CONCACAF Under-20 Championship games. However, Moussa Keita’s young bunch have proven to be resilient and ready to battle. They may not be expected to escape beyond the first round in New Zealand but will certainly try and give a good account of themselves.
Players to watch: Samaba Diallo, Adama Niane, Tiecoro Keita
Uruguay (Manager: Fabian Coito)
Runners-up two years ago, Uruguay will anticipate a better than average run but the new crop only just scrimped into the 2015 addition, finishing third in the South American Under-20 Championship. The sky blues do boast a strong frame, being hard to break down whilst their flame will continue to burn throughout each ninety minutes they encounter. They are industrious in their work rate and could prove to be one of the most deadly forces in the attacking areas.
Players to watch: Franco Acosta, Gaston Guruceaga, Fabian Castro, Rodrigo Amaral
Serbia (Manager: Veljko Paunovic)
Serbia have become closer to a being a mainstream side in Europe at Under-20 over the past couple of seasons, although finding consistency with regular success is something they are still working on. Nevertheless, the eastern Europeans are a well-developed unit with a manager who knows his best team and formation. Maybe a worthy bet as the team to watch should they provoke the weaknesses of their opponents with their stylish output.
Players to watch: Sergej Milinko, Nemanja Maksimovic, Mijat Gacinovic, Srdan Babic, Vukasin Jovanovic
Group E

Nigeria (Manager: Man Garba)
The Flying Eagles are not actually too bad, finishing runners-up in the Under-20s World Cup in 1989 and 2005 whilst booking a bronze medal back in 1985. As a development side, many of the players will be scouted by the national side as Manu Garba’s crop are seen as the future of the country’s football. The Nigerians have always been known for their exhilarating pace but their tactical abilities have come across as being a little inept against those with a little more stature.
Players to watch: Christian Pyagbara, Chidera Eze, Musa Muhammed,  Dele Alampasu
Brazil (Manager: Alexandre Gallo)
The five-time Under-20 champions have been trying to find the blend they once had in the mid-80s and mid-90s. Despite winning the top prize in 2011, failing to qualify for Turkey 2013 has hit the men in yellow in their recent development. The eleven time South American winners recently took a defensive approach which saw them struggle for goals. The style of Brazilian football seems to be veering away from the fanciful footwork, from the senior side down, but in comparison to most sides the Auriverde will be expected to entertain. With graduates including Dunga, Jorginho, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldinho, Kaka and many more, A Selecao cannot be ruled out.
Players to watch: Marcos Guilherme, Thailes, Malcom
Korea Democratic People’s Republic (Manager: An Ye Gun)
The North Koreans continue to play their trade with a terrific militant spirit on the field . Unlike most Asian sides, the Young Chollima draw in the pressure, making the opposition surrender bodies forward before hitting them on the counter-attack, playing a game of reverse psychology. Should the youngsters of Korea DPR continue with the momentum they have, only a rise in fortune on the senior stage can occur.
Players to watch: Jo Kwang Myong, Ri Un Chol, So Jong Hyok, Kim Yu Song
Hungary (Manager: Geza Meszoly)
The Magyars found their path to the finals a long and windy road, squeezing through and finishing third in their group in the UEFA European Under-19 Championships,  despite two defeats from three games. Nonetheless,  Hungary do have a talented array of individuals, who feature on the books of the likes of AC Milan in Serie A and Heerenveen from the Erevidisie. Should Geza Meszoly ring together a team unit from these individuals his team may be able to go further than what they hope.
Players to watch: Krisztian Tamas, Szabolcs Varga, Zsolt Kalmar
Group F

Germany (Manager: Frank Wormuth)
It has taken time but the Under-20s continued the party atmosphere, taking inspiration from the senior team after their World Cup triumph in Brazil last summer, by lifting the Under-20 European title. The traditional stereotype of being extremely efficient carried on through to the young side by winning four of their five games, beating Portugal in the final to secure their first title in Europe since 2008. Expect physicality, expect to be punished by tactical minds, the German’s have become very stylish and a huge threat.
Players to watch: Davie Selke, Niklas Stark, Julian Brandt, Marc Stendera
Fiji (Manager: Ravinesh Kumar)
Improvement for Fiji has ascended drastically, easing their way to this summer’s finals which could see them provide a genuine threat from the Oceania region, a continent that has lacked confidence with the qualities in comparision to others, despite this being their debut on such a huge stage. Exposure to more football of late has helped the Fijan’s greatly and there is only higher scale improvements with the youth game expected to follow.
Players to watch: Ravnit Chand, Saula Waqa, Antonio Tuinuva, Jale Dreloa
Uzbekistan (Manager: Ravshan Khaydarov)
Unlike on the senior international stage, Uzbekistan at Under-20 level are renowned as being a force to be reckoned with, especially with three World Cup appearances since their first at UAE 2003. Each tournament they have encountered they have improved their record, historically reaching the Quarter-finals in 2013. A philosophy of strength,  organisation and balance are key components to their rise, going even further in 2015 will be a stunning achievement, especially having only being registered by the Asian Football Association in 1994.
Player to watch: Zabikhillo Urinboev
Honduras (Manager: Jorge Jimenez)
Los Catrachos make their return to the World Cup finals after a four-year absence, battling through the North American qualification process. The manager is a firm believer in a traditional 4-4-2 formation, with the aim of controlling the pace of the game by working hard in the middle. Shape is important to Jimenez, this is a team that will be patient with the desire of building up to the opposition’s eighteen-yard area as a unit.
Players to watch: Alberth Elis, Bryan Rochez, Deybi Flores, Michaell Chirinos
Star Players: Who to Watch

Angel Correa (Argentina), Age 20,  Striker, Club: Atletico Madrid
The Rosario born forward has yet to make an appearance for Atletico since his move from San Lorenzo in 2014 due to being sidelined with a heart tumour. He has huge potential mind, which saw the Spanish champions fork out €7.5m for his services. He bares quick feet, a picturesque first touch and endeavours to get beyond the last defender. Compared mostly between Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez, for being technically quick but also bullish and resolute.
Giovanni Simeone (Argentina), Age 19, Striker, Club: River Plate
Most notably known for being the son of his famous characteristic father Diego, manager of Atletico Madrid, Spanish born Giovanni has inherited his older man’s passion for the game whilst also carrying on the Simeone personality. He once sported a rather bizarre haircut and has been criticised for his scoring record, but Giovanni works hard and will be eager to follow in his father’s footsteps. He is seen as a classic No9, who moves well and has a decent record on the international stage.
Bruma (Portugal), Age 20, Winger, Club: Galatasaray
Bruma will be arguably Portugal’s most prized asset this summer in New Zealand. He quickly earned promotion from Sporting Lisbon’s B team to the first side before Turkish giants Galatasaray snapped him up above many suiters, including the likes of Manchester United. He has featured for every age range for the national team from as young as fourteen, appearing recently in the senior side at the Brazil 2014 World Cup. Expect bursting runs and trickery, some cracking whipped in balls to the box and a good range of shots at goal should he get the opportunity.
Jherson Vergara (Colombia), Age 20, Centre Back, Club: Avellino
On loan at Avellino from AC Milan to increase his development, Vergara is heading in the right direction. For a South American, the young Colombian is tough, resilient and ready for a battle. He has impressed at each club he has played for, both in his home nation at Deportes Quindio and Universitario Popayan, and also for Parma recently on loan seven months after Milan signed him up.
Julian Brandt (Germany), Age 18, Attacking Midfielder, Club: Bayer Leverkusen
The 18-year-old, Bremen born, advanced midfielder is mightily confident in his ability. Having progressed through the youth set-up at Bayer Leverkusen, he has regularly featured for the German side, netting an impressive 20 goals, a ratio of 1.6 goals a game. Brandt will be difficult to handle, quick on his toes and ready to latch onto a chance at goal whenever he sees fit.
Andres Tello (Colombia), Age, 18 Midfielder, Club: Juventus
Tello currently plays on the B side for Italian giants Juve after the Serie A champions took the midfielder on loan from his parent club Envigado in his homeland. Tello made his senior debut for Envigado at just 17 which led him to make an impressive sixteen appearances before catching the attention of many European outfits. He is said to be a utility midfielder, with good vision and a strong passing technique.
Malcolm (Brazil), Age 17, Striker, Club: Corinthians
At just 17, this young man is in high demand. The tabloids have been reckoning him up as the next big name to come from the Brazilian sands with some of Europe’s biggest hitters following his trails, including Juventus, Barcelona and most notably Chelsea. He has proven to many that he has a keen eye for goal whilst also possessing terrific swiftness and energy. Expect much from the young man as many scouts will be following him around the New Zealand borders.
Rodrigo Amaral (Uruguay), Age 17, Attacking-midfielder, Club: Nacional
Amaral loves an assist with his catalogue of visionary passing. His through balls have been likened to Uruguayan national hero Enzo Francescoli whilst his prancing feet are said to imitate those of Diego Maradona and Zinedine Zidane. Although he will be one of the tournaments youngest players, Amaral is ready to wow audiences and put in a riveting show.  Possibly another young man destined for the stars at some of Europe’s biggest and most successful club sides, especially after becoming one of the first names on the team sheet at Nacional shortly after linking up with the senior squad.