The Group Stages have come to a close and the tournament now moves into the Knockout Stages.
After a slow start in Colombia, the U-20 World Cup started to gain momentum as the games progressed. There have been some great performances, some great goals and some shock results. Let us begin our round-up in Group A.
This group included the hosts Colombia, France, Mali and South Korea. The hosts came bursting out of the blocks in their opening game against a talented French side, playing to a tremendous crowd in Bogota. After going down to a great strike by Gilles Sunu, they came back to win 4-1, thanks largely to James Rodriguez of Porto and and a brace from Luis Muriel of Udinese. France recovered from the heavy loss to beat South Korea with two late goals. Colombia ensured they finished top with a 100% record beating Mali 2-0 and South Korea in their final game 1-0. France also beat Mali 2-0 which ensured the European side finished second, with South Korea in third with three points gained from their opening victory over Mali.
Group B was a low scoring group, with only a total of 7 goals scored in 6 games. It was Portugal who came out on top in what proved to be a very tight group. Both opening games ended level, with Cameroon drawing against New Zealand whilst Portugal and Uruguay also shared the points. Portugal were the first team to take 3 points in the group during the second round of matches, beating Cameroon 1-0 with Nelson Oliveira the star of the squad. He has carried Portugal’s main threat and will be a key for them as they hope to progress. Uruguay again drew with New Zealand with Adrian Luna rescuing a point for the South Americans after a fantastic team move. However, both New Zealand and Uruguay were dumped out of the competition on 2 points which was not enough to secure a best placed spot in the Round of 16.
Spain absolutely dominated their group, as expected, qualifying without dropping a point. They scored 11 goals and only conceded 2, signalling the threat they pose to the remaining teams. Ecuador and Costa Rica follow them through having all won a game. Alvaro Vasquez has been in scintillating form, totaling four goals, including a hat-trick against Australia in the final group game. Joel Campbell’s two goals against Australia also helped secure their only points of the round and enabling their qualification. Thomas Oar scored a fantastic free kick in the dying moments to earn Australia a point against Ecuador in the second round of matches.
The only team to score more than Spain in their three group games was Nigeria. Their squad boasted nine of the players who reached the FIFA U-17 World Cup final in 2009. Ahmed Musa managed a goal in every game, contributing to the 12 goals scored by the squad. Saudi Arabia followed them through in to the next round beating both Guatemala and Croatia convincingly. The other two sides had a chance of qualifying as they played each other in the final game, where a win would be enough to send either team through. It was Guatemala who came out on top with a shock victory, scoring their only goal of the stage through Marvin Ceballos late on. Croatia had failed to capitalise on the expert set-piece taking of Zvonko Pamic who brought them close on so many occasions.
In Group E some of the opening games were played, concluding in two draws between Egypt and Brazil, and Panama and Austria. Brazil and Egypt both won their remaining two games, with Brazil finishing top thanks to a better goal difference. Phillipe Coutinho of Inter and Henrique of Sao Paulo have been in great form providing the firepower for a Brazil team that will be difficult to beat. Mohamed Ibrahim’s hat-trick against Austria came courtesy of some awful goalkeeping by Samuel Radlinger. With Austria and Panama only achieving one point each, they too fell out of the competition.
In one of the toughest groups in the competition, Argentina came out on top with 7 points. The were set well on their way in a tight opening game against Mexico. Having just won the U-17 World Cup, hopes are high for Mexico but Erik Lamela’s goal was the only one in the game, handing Argentina the initiative. Mexico managed a win against North Korea in their next game including a terrific strike from Taufic Guarch in a 3-0 win as Argentina drew 0-0 with England. Argentina secured top spot with a 3-0 win over North Korea whilst England drew their third successive game 0-0 with Mexico. This was enough to see them through, though they will need to rapidly improve if they hope to progress past Nigeria in the Round of 16.
Round of 16 fixtures:
Argentina vs Egypt – 09/08
Portugal vs Guatemala – 09/08
Colombia vs Costa Rica – 09/08
Cameroon vs Mexico – 09/08
Nigeria vs England – 10/08
Spain vs South Korea – 10/08
France vs Ecuador – 10/08
Brazil vs Saudi Arabia – 10/08
Brazil and Spain have looked very strong in the group stage and will most likely reach the quarter finals where they would face each other. England will need to vastly improve if they are to stand any chance against an attacking Nigeria team, whilst the hosts could set up an interesting Quarter Final against Mexico if they both emerge victorious in their next ties. The support behind the South American sides will be a huge advantage as the competition heats up with hopefully more thrills and spills to follow.
Read more from Tom at his excellent blog Purple Patch