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 2 looks at New Zealand’s rivals.
New Zealand are in a group that they have quite a real possibility of qualifying from. France are clear favourites for not only this group, but maybe also the entire tournament. The other two teams are Honduras and debutants Vietnam.
Perhaps the biggest surprise at this year’s tournament, alongside Vanuatu, is the inclusion of the south-east Asian country of Vietnam, who are in their very first U-20 World Cup. They started their road to Korea in 2015 with the qualification to the AFC U-19 Championship. They easily dispatched of hosts Myanmar, Timor-Leste, Hong Kong and Brunei, winning all four games and only conceding twice.
They had never before gotten out of the group stages of the AFC U-19 Championship despite being in the tournament seven times prior. This time they were drawn into a group with Iraq, United Arab Emirates and North Korea. A tough group by the look of things.
But the Vietnamese boys continued their great form from the qualifiers a year earlier as their first match against North Korea ended in a 2-1 win at the Khalifa Sports City Stadium in Bahrain on the 14th October 2016.
The next two games would be crucial as U.A.E. and Iraq were the big favourites in this group prior to the tournament. In the match against the Emirates Vietnam took the lead after 20 minutes through Ho Minh Di and only a penalty from Husain Abdulla on the hour marked saved a U.A.E point.
This meant that going into the final game of the group against Iraq, Vietnam only needed one point to see of the Emirates regardless of the result in their game. The Vietnamese didn’t disappoint and secured qualification to the quarter finals with a 0-0 draw, the Iraqis topped the group.
Vietnam faced hosts Bahrain in the quarters and as had become custom the Vietnamese shut up shop and denied the hosts time after time. Tran Thành secured Vietnam a place in the semi-finals after 72 minutes when he put his foot to a cross and sent the ball looping over the goalkeeper in the Bahrain goal. No matter the result in the semi-final against Japan they would be going to the U-20 World Cup.
In the end the big favourites of Japan were too much for the Vietnamese and they ran rampant winning 3-0. Japan ended up winning the tournament after beating Saudi Arabia 5-3 on penalties.
They’ll be looking to keep that strong defensive statistic going for the World Cup as that is their biggest chance of success in this upcoming tournament.
As with Mexico, Honduras have just finished the CONCACAF U-20 Championship earlier this month. Honduras were in a group with Mexico, Canada and Antigua and Barbuda. They started off well beating Canada 1-0 and Antigua and Barbuda 4-1. The last match for the group victory against Mexico ended in a 1-0 loss.
That meant that Honduras were in a group with Costa Rica and Panama in the fight for the final or a spot in the U-20 World Cup. Panama were defeated 2-0 and against Costa Rica they came from behind to win 2-1 and advance to the final where they would face USA.
In the final, they managed to hold the U.S all the way to penalties were they lost 5-3. But the spot in the U-20 World Cup was secured.
Jorge Alvarez was a dominating factor for Honduras and the midfielder was Honduras’ top scorer in the tournament with three goals and was selected for the All-Star team. He’ll be important for Honduras’ success in the World Cup.
The French are big favourites to win this group and anything but will be seen as a slight disaster as I’m sure Les Bleus have their sights set on the trophy waiting after the final in Suwon on the 11th of June.
The French qualified for this tournament through the European U-19 Championship that was held last summer. They were drawn in a tough group with Croatia, England and Netherlands. The first match against the English ended in defeat as they conceded an own goal after three minutes before Dominic Solanke scored to make it 2-0 after only nine minutes. The French managed to pull a goal back but could never get all the way back in the game and lost 2-1.
Their next game against Croatia was won 2-0 after goals from Jean-Kévin Augustin and Kylian Mbappé (who was called up to the French Senior National team today). The final group game ended in a 5-1 thrashing of Netherlands as Augustin scored a hat-trick while Mbappé scored twice.
In the semi-finals, the French once again found themselves a goal down after three minutes against Portugal but thanks to Ludovic Blas and two goals from Mbappé they made it to the final where they would face Italy.
The final turned out to be a walk in the park as Augustin and Blas scored before 20 minutes had gone. Then, as Italy threw men forward in the hunt for goals, Lucas Tousart and Issa Diop scored twice in the final ten minutes to give France the title with a nice 4-0 win.
If both Mbappé and Augustin come to Korea, France have real hopes of winning this tournament as they finished second and first in the goal scoring charts with 5 and 6 goals respectively. Mbappé might very well be too tired after a long season with Monaco where he is currently dazzling the crowds with fantastic football for his Monaco side.
But they have strength in numbers, France. Seven of their players were picked into the team of the tournament so if Mbappé do end up staying home, they should be just fine.
Embed from Getty Images
The French team that won the Euros are keen on doing the same in Korea
The tournament in South Korea will kick off on the 20th May. New Zealand play their first game the 22nd of May against Vietnam at 20:00 local time. They then play Honduras on the 25th at 20:00 before playing the last game against France at 15:00 on the 28th.