FIFA Under-20 World Cup: Predictions for All 8 Last-16 Ties
As the Confederations Cup comes to an end, the footballing world turns its attention away from Brazil and towards the Under-20 World Cup. Over in Turkey, an exciting and engrossing tournament is bubbling away.
The Group Stage has come to an end and 23 has been cut down to 16 for the knockout rounds.
Despite the elimination of sides such as England, Egypt and the United States, the competition retains oodles of star power and the eight second-round ties offer intrigue aplenty.
In this article, Bleacher Report proposes its predictions for the eight last-16 clashes. Read on and let us know your predictions in the comments section down below.
France vs. Turkey
France were unlucky to be drawn into the same pool as the imperious Spanish U-20 side, but still managed to qualify despite defeat to La Rojita and conceding a late equaliser against the disappointing United States team.
Their opening 3-1 rally against the Black Starlets of Ghana demonstrated what this young French side are capable of.
Their clash with the hosts will surely be one of the ties of the round.
Turkey were impressive against El Salvador in their opening game, but were defeated by Colombia before only just scraping past Australia.
Home support may well spur them on—the Turkish side have naturally enjoyed attendances greater than the other competitors, but France may well have too much quality.
Greece vs. Uzbekistan
An opening rout of New Zealand was enough to see Uzbekistan through as the second-best third placed team.
That 3-0 victory was certainly impressive, but hasn’t been replicated. The team did well to manage a draw with Croatia in Bursa before being taken apart by Uruguay in Antalya. That 4-0 defeat may well have damaged morale in the squad and it will be a big task for Uzbekistan to pull themselves together to face Greece.
The National Team of Hopes showed resolve to bag a late winner against opening clash with Mexico, but have struggled for goals since. A 0-0 draw with Mali and a 1-1 draw with Paraguay proved enough to see them advance.
Expect Greece’s grit to carry them past their central Asian opponents.
Portgual vs. Ghana
There aren’t many nations that can boast the pedigree of Ghana when it comes to the U-20 World Cup.
Fourth place in 1997, they were twice runners up (in 1993 and 2001) before winning the tournament in 2009 when they beat Brazil on penalties. In an international set-up that isn’t afraid to look to its youth teams to furnish the senior squad there is constant encouragement and motivation for the Black Starlets to make the most of the under-age tournaments.
A first round draw of France and Spain meant that ultimately, Ghana were lucky to qualify as one of the best four third-placed teams.
They have once again been unfortunate in the draw and Portugal represent a monumental hurdle to overcome.
Portugal have been in impressive goal-scoring fettle thus far, putting three past Nigeria in a thriller in Kayseri, scoring two in a tie with South Korea and spanking Cuba 5-0 last Thursday.
In the Guinea-Bissau-born pair of Bruma and Aladje they boast two of the most devastating forwards in the competition. The former, in particular, has been on of the tournament’s most exciting prospects so far.
Whoever qualifies from this contest will doubtless be among the favourites to claim the title. Portugal were worryingly flat in their draw with South Korea, while Ghana may well have learned from their defeats to Spain and France.
Don’t bet against the Black Starlets providing a stern test for Portugal’s menacing forward line.
Croatia vs. Chile
Croatia qualified unbeaten after victory against Uruguay and New Zealand, and a draw with Uzbekistan—this is a major improvement on their last outing in the competition, when they lost all three group games at the 2011 edition of the tournament in Colombia.
Chile will doubtless prove to be more testing opposition and the Mali vatreni may need to improve their success in front of goal in order to progress.
The South Americans are another national setup who put great stock in the development and progress of their youth sides.
They qualified from Group E despite defeat to group winners Iraq in Antalya and will look to a squad laced with players still learning their trade in their homeland.
It is a contest that could go either way, but I back La Rojita to overcome their Eastern European opposition.
Iraq vs. Paraguay
Iraq performed impressively to escape from Group E in top spot. The complexion of their competition changed in the final 15 minutes against England, when goals from Ali Fayez Attiya and Ali Adnan Kadhim secured a point when only defeat had appeared possible.
While the result sent England into tailspin, Iraq went from strength to strength. Another late goal sealed victory over Egypt, before a competent display was enough to overcome Chile in Antalya.
In Paraguay they meet a side who are themselves unbeaten in the competition thus far.
The South American youth side has been responsible for the progress and development of many of the country’s stars and there are some lofty expectations surrounding this latest crop of Paraguayan youngsters.
While they were pipped to first place in the group by Greece, their 1-0 victory over much-fancied Mexico in Gaziantep was indicative of their collective potential.
Look for the predominantly domestic-based side to dispatch Iraq in their second round clash on Wednesday.
Colombia vs. South Korea
Colombia romped to first place in Group C, while South Korea only find themselves in the last-16 having qualified as one of the best third-placed teams.
In truth, this should be one of the more straight-forward second-round clashes. Colombia are one of the best teams in the competition, with quality throughout the starting line-up.
South Korea did well to secure a draw with Portugal, but were concerning in their opening contest with Cuba—which was heading towards a draw until Ryu Seung-Woo’s late winner.
Colombia showed their class to dispatch the hosts Turkey in front of a partisan crowd in Rize.
Look to them and star players Jhon Cordoba and Juan Fernando Quintero to do something similar to South Korea.
Nigeria vs. Uruguay
Another clash that will bring plenty of intrigue, particularly following the senior sides’ clash in the Confederations Cup recently. Uruguay picked up the victory in Brazil, but don’t expect La Celeste to advance this time around.
While the successful Nigerian national side of the last eight months has been built on youthful foundations, with players showing maturity and assuredness beyond their slender years, this collective suggests that the future will bring promise of its own.
Defeat against Portugal aside, Nigeria eased through the group stage with an impressive victory over Cuba and a steady walk-through against South Korea.
With Olarenwaju Kayode, Aminu Umar and Abdul Jeleel Ajagun driving the team forward, Nigeria may have too much for Group F runners-up Uruguay.
Spain vs. Mexico
While the Spanish senior side fell to pieces against Brazil in the Confederations Cup final, their U-20 side are unlikely to succumb so horrifically during their march to the youth World Cup title.
La Rojita were irresistible in their group stage battles. Despite finding themselves in the so-called ‘Group of Death’ the side are the only team remaining in the tournament with a 100% record—a truly remarkable feat.
The likes of Jesé, Gerard Deulofeu and Paco Alcacer combine to forge a truly devastating forward line, one that is likely to be too powerful for Mexico.
El Tri have reasons for optimism, not least the talent identified by Bleacher Report’s own Timothy Rapp. However, while the likes of Jesus Corona and Marco Bueno thrived against Mali in the group stage, Spain will prove a very different test.