The groups for the FIFA U-20 World Cup in South Korea have been drawn. Football In Oceania takes a look at who New Zealand and Vanuatu are up against and how they got to the tournament. Part 1 takes a look at Vanuatu’s group-buddies.
Vanuatu were drawn into Group B with the mighty Germany and Mexico as well as Venezuela. A really tough group for the debutantes and OFC U-20 Championship runner-up’s, and even a point here will be a result worth cheering for Dejan Gluscevic’s boys.
Let’s start with the least known of the three opponents. The Venezuelans are in the U-20 World Cup for the second time, the first coming back in 2009 in Egypt, and although theyon-paper look the weakest out of the three opponents they must not be taken lightly.
On their way to this tournament they drew all their matches in the First Stage of the Campeonato Sudamericana U-20, including games against later winner of the tournament, Uruguay and Argentina.
In the Final Stage the remaining teams were pitted against each other with the top four teams going to the World Cup. Venezuela drew with Colombia, beat Ecuador 4-2, then lost to Brazil before beating Uruguay 3-0 before the final set of matches.
The Venezuelans lost 2-0 to Argentina but that didn’t matter as they were above Argentina on goal difference and no matter what happened in the game between Brazil and Colombia they would be through. In the end the Brazilians could only draw against the already knocked out Colombians and will therefor miss out on the tournament for only the third time in their history.
With Yangel Herrera at New York City (on loan from Manchester City) and Williams Velasquez at Udinese in Italy (on loan from Watford) as well as the tiny (160 cm) playmaker Yeferson Soteldo – who was the team’s top scorer in the Campeonato Sudamericana U-20 with three goals – this team has a lot of potential. They showed in the First Stage of the South American Championship that they have a strong defence only conceding one goal in the four games. But they need Soteldo and the other attacking players to step up and play like they did in the Final Stage as they only scored once from their first four games, but scored eight in their final five.
Germany are favourites for the top spot in this group but the Germans had a disappointing U-19 European Championship at home soil last summer, a tournament won by France in the end. They got knocked out in the group stages to Portugal and Italy and had to play a play-off against neighbouring Netherlands to get to this tournament.
The play-off was an exciting affair with Germany scoring just before half-time through Phillip Ochs. Then just as the home crowd had started celebrating they got ice poured into their veins. First by Abdelhak Nouri, with Netherlands first shot on target from a free-kick after 81 minutes, and then by Dennis van der Heijden who headed the ball into the goal in the 88th minute to put the Netherlands 2-1 up.
But the Germans weren’t dead. Mainz player Suat Serdar headed in the equalizer three minutes into the added time and the match went into extra time. Here both teams scored one goal each so the nerve-wracking game would be decided on penalties. Amara Conde missed Germany’s fourth penalty but when Nouri missed Netherlands last, the advantage was with the Germans. Benjamin Henrichs scored Die Mannschaft’s sixth and it all came down to Michel Valp for Oranje. The pressure became too much and Vlap hit the post, thus sending the Germans to the World Cup.
Germany has never won this tournament as a unified country but won it once with West-Germany back in 1981. With players from all of Germany’s top clubs to choose from the Germans have a vast pool of talent at their disposal. Phillip Ochs will most likely be in the squad again, the Hoffenheim player scored four goals in the U-19 Euros and will be important to the Germans once again. Phil Neumann was in the Team of the Tournament and the Schalke defender will be keen to show off his talent once again.
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The German team that beat the Netherlands to get to South Korea will be excpecting more in this tournament
The Mexicans are the only ones with recent matches in their legs as the CONCACAF U-20 Championship finished just ten days ago. El Tri who has won the tournament 13 times failed in defending their 2015 title.
The tournament started well for Mexico who beat Antigua and Barbuda 3-0 in the first match before dispatching Canada with an easy 5-0 win. The final game of the group was a hard-fought 1-0 win over Honduras.
In the classification stage they ended up in a group with USA and El Salvador. The Mexicans lost 1-0 to the Yankees and beat El Salvador 6-1, but as the U.S. also beat El Salvador, the green-clad Mexicans were knocked out but finished in the World Cup qualification spot. The Americans went on to win the tournament, their first U-20 title.
The Mexicans will be out to show that they can make it with the best of them and they have a tradition for being strong in the youth competitions. They finished runner-up’s in this tournament in 1977 and got third in 2011 while they have won the U-17 World Cup twice, in 2005 and 2011, and they finished third in 2015. Five of the players from that 2015 team played in the recently finished U-20 tournament and are very likely to also be a part of the World Cup.
Mexico’s key players are spread well over the pitch but the big star man is Ronaldo Cisneros who became the top scorer in the CONCACAF U-20 Championship with six goals. In the All Star team Mexico had centre back Edson Alvarez, right winger Uriel Antuna and Cisneros.
The Mexicans are group favourites alongside Germany, while Venezuela and Vanuatu must fight it out to not end last in the group.
The tournament in South Korea will kick off on the 20th May and Vanuatu play Mexico on the opening day and play all their matches at 17:00 local time. They then play Venezuela on 23rd, before finishing off with Germany on the 26th.