FU­TURE STARS ON SHOW

Wide-open U-20 World Cup kicks off with­out Ser­bia and Brazil

New Straits Times - - Sport -

SEOUL

THE Fifa Un­der-20 World Cup kicks off in South Korea to­mor­row and looks wide open af­ter the 2015 cham­pi­ons Ser­bia and beaten fi­nal­ists Brazil both failed to qual­ify.

Some of the world’s top young foot­balling tal­ent will be on dis­play with more than 500 play­ers in 24 teams tak­ing part, but the book­mak­ers are split on who to make favourites.

Bet365 make 2013 win­ners and 2016 Un­der-19 Euro­pean cham­pi­ons France 6/1 favourites, fol­lowed by Ger­many at 7/1 and Uruguay and Ar­gentina, both at 9/1. But Bwin have Ger­many 4/1, with Ar­gentina 5/1 and France 7/1 and Italy 9/1.

France’s Bleuets will be with­out Monaco prodigy Kylian Mbappe, who misses out at the in­sis­tence of his club and se­nior French coach Di­dier Deschamps, whose team have three matches to play early next month.

To­mor­row’s open­ing game sees Venezuela — whose squad in­cludes four full in­ter­na­tion­als in­clud­ing the 12-cap Malaga for­ward Adal­berto Pe­naranda — take on Ger­many in a Group B en­counter in Dae­jeon.

It is fol­lowed in Jeonju by one of the most ea­gerly-an­tic­i­pated World Cup ri­val­ries when Eng­land take on six-time win­ners Ar­gentina.

The two old ri­vals were drawn to­gether in Group A by Ar­gentina’s leg­endary for­mer cap­tain Diego Maradona — whose in­fa­mous “Hand of God” goal set Eng­land on the way to elim­i­na­tion in the 1986 World Cup quar­ter-fi­nal — and coun­try­man Pablo Ai­mar.

The two coun­tries’ long his­tory of se­nior World Cup clashes have in­cluded Eng­land’s David Beck­ham be­ing vil­i­fied for his in­fa­mous red card in France 1998 and the com­ple­tion of his redemption as cap­tain when he scored the win­ner against Ar­gentina in Sap­poro, Japan, four years later.

This Eng­land squad fea­tures right-back Kyle Walker-Peters, who has just signed a new con­tract with Premier League run­ners-up Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur who think highly of his po­ten­tial, and striker Do­minic Solanke, who will be out of con­tract with Chelsea this sum­mer.

Solanke, who is thought to be on the wish­lists of clubs such as Liver­pool, RB Leipzig and Celtic, en­joyed a suc­cess­ful loan spell at Vitesse Arn­hem last sea­son where he bagged seven goals in 21 ap­pear­ances in the Dutch top flight.

Hosts South Korea are also in Group A, along with Guinea, and coach Shin Tae-Yong has hopes of at least mak­ing the quar­ter­fi­nals.

His main weapon is the “Korean Messi” Lee Se­ung-Woo who plays for Barcelona and who the hosts hope can em­u­late 2005 Golden Ball win­ner (most valu­able player) and name­sake Lionel.

The Un­der-20 tour­na­ment is held ev­ery two years and can boast a rich his­tory with many of its top per­form­ers go­ing on to global su­per­star­dom.

Among them have been Ar­gentina trio Messi, Ser­gio Aguero (2007) and Maradona (1979), who is one of only 10 play­ers to be part of Un­der-20 and se­nior World Cup win­ning sides.

Messi and Manch­ester City’s Aguero also won the “Golden Shoe” awarded to the tour­na­ment top scorer while Aguero is the only player to have won the Un­der-20 World Cup twice, in 2005 and 2007.

The world’s most ex­pen­sive player, France’s Paul Pogba of Manch­ester United, won the Golden Ball in 2013 when the tour­na­ment was held in Turkey.

The for­mer pro­lific Eng­land for­ward Michael Owen was an­other who has graced the tour­na­ment in the past (scor­ing three goals in 1997) and said that the Un­der-20s “gave me a great ground­ing.”

“You learn so much at tour­na­ments like th­ese.”

Aside from the ma­jor foot­balling pow­ers among the 24 teams, Van­u­atu and Viet­nam are mak­ing their first ap­pear­ances.

The fi­nal takes place be in Su­won on June 11. AFP

EPA PIC

The Eng­land Un­der-20 World Cup squad ar­rive at In­cheon In­ter­na­tional Air­port in South Korea on Mon­day.

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