Part 2 of my preview for the latest international youth football tournament continues with groups D-F. This of course includes England who will be looking to do slightly better than their U21 counterparts.
Mexico always produce good footballers and their current crop will be favourites for this group. Paraguay will rely on their notable industrious game and Greece will also be dangerous whilst African wildcards Mali should be interesting to watch.
The Mexicans have a solid history in this tournament but this current generation of players will be looking to improve that. A large number of them were involved in the side that won the 2011 FIFA U17 World Cup and they cantered through the CONCAF U20 Championships without even breaking sweat. At the back captain Antonio Briseño is the steel of the side and if he performs to the best of his ability the Mexicans will be hard to beat. Briseño was outstanding in the 2011 triumph and was the captain in that tournament too. He scored the opening goal in the final against Uruguay and he won the most valuable player of the tournament at the CONCAF U20s. Up front Julio Gomez and Jonathan Espericueta are the real danger men and both were also part of the U17 tournament win. Julio Gomez in particular shone as he won the Golden Ball for the tournament. In a dramatic semi-final with Germany he scored the opener before having to leave the field following a head collision with Samed Yesil. With Mexico out of substitutes he bravely returned to the field and scored the winning goal, in stoppage time, with a bicycle kick.
Probably the weakest South American side in this tournament although that shouldn’t take away from their ability, don’t forget that both Brazil and Argentina failed to qualify. Paraguay’s main danger will come through talented midfielder Jorge Rojas. The 20 year old had a €30 million clause in his contract with Cerro Porteno but he recently agreed a five year deal with Portuguese giants Benfica in a transfer believed to be around €2.5 million. He is best when he is employed out on the wing and creating chances for his team-mates. Cecilio Dominguez is a terrific all-round forward whose versatility makes him a real danger. His strike partner Derlis Gonzalez is a quicker player and he was their top scorer in qualifying, he is also contracted to Benfica.
Mixed feelings is probably how Mali would consider this tournament. In 1999 they finished 3rd and a 19 year old Seydou Keita became the first ever African winner of the Golden Ball. Two years ago in Colombia though they finished bottom of their group, without even scoring a goal. The main goal threat is Tiecoro Keita who plays for Guingamp in France. He has won many plaudits for his close control and dribbling and he has even been dubbed the “Malian Messi”. Whilst these comparisons may be taking things a little far Keita is undoubtedly a talented player and he shone in the Africa U20 Championships. So too did Boubacar Diarra whose impressive performances won the defender a place in Caf’s team of the tournament.
Given their relative success at continental U19 level it does seem a tad surprising that this is the first time Greece have participated at these championships. They will be relying on the goals of Dimitrios Diamantakos who plays for Greek giants Olympiakos although he hasn’t featured for the senior side yet. One player who you may well have heard of is 20 year old midfielder Georgios Katidis. The midfielder generated headlines worldwide when he celebrated a winning goal with what resembled a Nazi salute. He was given a lifetime ban from all Greek football by the country’s football federation so he has recently secured a move to Novara in Italy as he attempts to get his ban overturned. Obviously he won’t be at the tournament which is a shame in footballing terms because he is one of Greece’s better players. Bayer Leverkusen’s Kostas Stafylidis is one to look out for, he can play left back or left wing and he already has a cap for Greece.
If England fans think their boys will have it easy (does anyone actually have high hopes for England anymore?) then they will be in for a nasty surprise, this is a very tough group. Chile are one of the most dangerous sides in the competition and Egyptian youth football is arguably at its peak right now. The Iraqis were very impressive in qualifying and only a resilient South Korea prevented them arriving as Asian champions.
Right let’s start with England shall we? Led by former national U21 team manager Peter Taylor this squad isn’t exactly packed with house hold names or established stars like the U21s were. Plenty of Premier League players but not so much playing experience on offer. Everton can boast five players in the squad and most notable of these is attacking midfielder Ross Barkley. The youngster hasn’t featured too often for Everton but when he has, he has impressed. Southampton fans will know all too well about the ability that central midfield James Ward-Prowse possesses. Given his Premier League debut at the home of the champions Manchester City on the opening day of last season Ward-Prowse is extremely highly thought of on the south coast. The one player who plies his trade outside of England is Sporting Lisbon’s Eric Dier and he is one that England fans should definitely look out for. He has performed extremely well for Sporting this season and he is a good leader at centre-back. He might be on the move back home this summer and looks like a good prospect if he is given game time.
This is a team that it would be wise not to ignore or underestimate. Iraq come into this tournament on a good run of form and they have the ability to surprise even the strongest of sides. The one thing that you can expect from this Iraq side is goals. 32 of them came in qualifying for these finals and Mohammed Jabbar Shwkan is one to watch but the real star is Monhannad Abdul-Raheem. Monhannad is the current Asian Young Footballer of the Year and was voted MVP at the Asian U19 tournament. A terrific target man Monhannad is very tactically aware and is good at bringing his team-mates into the game, he can use both feet as well.
Although Chile are not South America’s U20 champions they are arguably the continent’s most dangerous side. Their defence is strong and well-organised and up front they can be irresistible at times. Bryan Rabello is the team’s creative hub with excellent passing and dribbling. He is also a dead-ball specialist and will be a real danger. Chelsea fans should keep an eye on left winger Cristian Cuevas who will link up with the Blues shortly. He is quick and when he gets going he is extremely good at taking his man on and beating him. Up front Manchester United fans will be keen to see exactly what Angelo Henriquez has to offer having failed to appear for the Red Devils since his move from Universidad de Chile last year. His lack of appearances shouldn’t detract from his undoubted talent and although he was banned from taking part in the SAM U20’s by United he will be keen to prove his worth to Chile in these finals.
If Iraq guarantee goals then the Egyptians often guarantee a lack of goals. In the African U20 Championship (which the Egyptians won on penalties) they only conceded two goals. That was down to the form of Mossad Awad in goal and captain Ramy Rabia who were both in terrific form. The only player who plays outside of Egypt in this squad is Ahmed Hassan who plays for Rio Ave in Portugal. He is a real danger but their goal scoring prowess extends into the midfield. Saleh Gomaa is arguably the team’s strongest player and he has already won numerous caps for the Egyptian senior side. Dubbed the “Egyptian Iniesta” Gomaa is rumoured to be tracked by clubs like Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund and he was the player of the tournament in Algeria.
You’d expect Croatia and Uruguay to walk this group but New Zealand seem to be improving with each generation. Uzbekistan too deserve to be treated with respect after an impressive showing at the Asian U19 championships, they have a strong crop of players.
Probably not the strongest group of Croatian youngsters given that some of the recent stars such as Mateo Kovacic have progressed to the senior side. Nevertheless Croatia were impressive in qualifying at times and they do have the ability to cause problems at this level. Stipe Perica is probably the most obvious one to watch, after the forward was linked to Manchester City. A very direct player the youngster has impressed so far this season, racking up eight goals.
The form that Uzbekistan are in means that this group is probably going to be a lot tighter than people realise. They were tremendous in the Asian U19 championships and one man in particular stood out. Without the goals of Igor Sergeev there is little chance Uzbekistan would even be in Turkey. Sergeev scored in every single one of his country’s games and he finished the tournament’s top scorer with seven goals. His club team-mate Vladimir Kozak is another to watch. The defender is already well established at club level and he has been known to pop up with the odd goal.
Comfortably Oceania’s strongest team, much like the national side, New Zealand cantered through qualifying and now must raise their game against some of the world’s best. Coach Chris Milicich has been able to call upon the already capped Tim Payne and Cameron Howieson to boost his team’s chances. Blackburn Rovers’ fans may already be aware of Payne as the youngster is already on their books although he hasn’t appeared for the team yet. Howieson is currently with Burnley and he has produced some impressive performances for the side’s youth team. The two will be vitally important in the Junior All Whites’ midfield. Wellington Phoenix striker Tyler Boyd is New Zealand’s best goal threat although it was Hamish Watson who impressed in the country’s warm-up games.
Much like some of the other South American teams Uruguay’s main strength is in their attack and they can boast some notable forwards in their squad. Chief of these is Roma starlet Nicolas Lopez. He was the top scorer at the South American U20 Championships and he really is an all-round forward. He is very good at creating space for himself and he is a lethal finisher. Diego Rolan is a real speed merchant and he should be the man to partner Lopez up front for Uruguay. Also keep an eye out for Ruben Bentancourt with his height and power (and uncanny resemblance to Edinson Cavani). Diego Laxest is a terrific worker on the wings and his industry will be very important to Uruguay. Of course Manchester United fans will be eager to catch a first glimpse of Guillermo Varela, the first signing of the David Moyes era.