FIFA Under-20 World Cup Preview: Spain vs. Mexico Pick of Last 16
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After a rather stuttering, inconclusive group stage, which saw just eight teams removed from the competition, it's beginning to get serious for the participants of the Under-20 World Cup.
Defeats and draws are no longer good enough. From the last 16 onwards it is sudden death for all the remaining teams, and the hope is that this will bring the best out of the tournament's dazzling young talents.
The knockout rounds begin in exciting fashion this Tuesday with a mouthwatering clash between Spain and Mexico. Across the draw, however, there are plenty of ties worth catching to see the most promising young footballers across the world.
Spain vs. Mexico (July 2, 12 p.m. ET)
In what is undoubtedly the most enticing fixture of the entire second round, European Under-21 champions Spain take on Olympic gold medallists Mexico.
The North Americans have struggled for form so far in the tournament, losing narrowly against both Greece and Paraguay in their opening ties. They showed their potential in the final match though, a crushing 4-1 defeat of Mali, giving them the necessary goal difference to qualify as one of the best third-placed teams.
La Furia Roja, on the other hand, made short work of the group stage. Three straight wins saw them top Group A, with seven goals scored and only two conceded.
With Real Madrid prospect Jese in electric form, Spain start as clear favourites both for their upcoming test and for the tournament itself.
Greece vs. Uzbekistan (July 2, 12 p.m. ET)
While Spain and Mexico do battle in Istanbul, Gaziatep will be the stage for a rather less spectacular tie. Neither Greece nor Uzbekistan sparkled during the group stage, but they are solid teams that could spring a few surprises.
Greece finished atop Group D by the virtue of drawing lots, after finishing with an identical record to Paraguay. They went unbeaten through the first round, and with just two goals conceded and a victory over Mexico under their belts confidence will be high.
Uzbekistan's championship started with fireworks thanks to a 3-0 drubbing of New Zealand. That was the highlight so far, and a bruising 4-0 reverse against Uruguay damaged confidence. One of the best third-placed teams, the central Asian nation will need to improve if they are to shock Greece on Tuesday.
Nigeria vs. Uruguay (July 2, 3 p.m. ET)
The Confederations Cup clash between these two nations ended in a narrow victory for Uruguay, as they downed the Super Eagles 2-1. The in-form youngsters from Nigeria have a fantastic chance to set the record straight on Tuesday evening.
Inspired by three goals from Abdul Ajagun, Nigeria breezed past Cuba and South Korea in Group B to finish second. Their only defeat came in a memorable clash with Portugal, a 3-2 loss that is a candidate for game of the championship so far.
The Celeste youngsters suffered in their opening match against Croatia, but bounced back with some terrific attacking form. New Zealand were disposed of 2-0, while Uzbekistan found themselves on the wrong end of a four goal humiliation.
Watch out for new Manchester United signing Guillermo Varela, an offensive full-back on the right. The forward trio of Nicolas Lopez, Giorgian De Arrascaeta and Ruben Betancourt has also proved formidable so far.
France vs. Turkey (July 2, 3 p.m. ET)
This should prove another exciting clash for Tuesday evening, as the hosts look for an improvement in form against a strong French team.
Handed a place in the tournament's "Group of Death," the French youngsters performed admirably to take wins from Ghana and United States. There was no disgrace in a 2-1 defeat to Spain, and a place in the quarter finals should be well within reach even with a hostile crowd against them.
Turkey left it late to seal their place as runners up of Group C, an 87th minute strike from Okay Yokuslu finally downing Australia, who made an early exit. With two wins and the solitary reverse against Colombia, the hosts are playing well.
While France will start as favourites, this game is open for either team to take glory.
Portugal vs. Ghana (July 3, 12 p.m. ET)
Portugal have been a tough team to judge so far in the Under-20 World Cup. No team managed to score more than the Lusitanians' 10 goals during the first round, an impressive average of 3.3 per game.
Five of these came courtesy of marauding winger Bruma. The Sporting Lisbon winger is a real talent, and having come from the same academy as one Cristiano Ronaldo, he is hoping to put himself in the spotlight with a sparkling World Cup campaign.
Defensive frailties, however, have plagued the Portuguese team. This is what Ghana will hope to exploit in order to spring an upset and progress to the next round. With a squad that contains the likes of young Chelsea star Daniel Pappoe, the Black Stars are hardly short of talent themselves.
Croatia vs. Chile (July 3, 12 p.m. ET)
Neither Croatia nor Chile were at their best during the opening games, but qualification was still secured with little fuss. Now that that pressure is behind them, the pair will hope for improvement as they seek to continue their campaigns.
Croatia were the model of efficiency through Group F, scoring just four times but making those strikes count for an impressive harvest of seven points. The Balkan nation topped their group, and are a tough side for any of 2013's competitors to take on.
The South Americans were unconvincing in finishing second to Iraq in the first round, but don't be fooled by an indifferent start to the World Cup. The Roja have a forward of great potential in Nicolas Castillo, and there is enough talent elsewhere in the side to make them real challengers.
Colombia vs. South Korea (July 3, 3 p.m. ET)
Two-time Under-20 World Cup winner Jose Pekerman may not be directly involved, but the influence of the senior team coach is being felt in Colombia. His appointment, Carlos Restrepo, led the Cafeteros to the South American championship at the start of the year, and the World Cup has started in a similarly impressive vein.
Colombia advanced unbeaten through Group C, handing out a thrashing of El Salvador in the process. In Pescara's Juan Fernando Quintero, they possess one of the top talents in the entire competition.
South Korea were not as impressive, but still claimed qualification as the best third-placed team. The South Koreans demonstrated they have no problem scoring goals, but defensive frailties could prove costly against one of the best attacks in the World Cup.
Iraq vs. Paraguay (July 3, 3 p.m. ET)
Iraq have been the surprise of the tournament so far. The Middle Eastern outfit went through unbeaten in Group E, and helped contribute to England's humiliating exit with a last minute 2-2 draw in their opening clash.
Paraguay also advanced unbeaten to the second round, and only missed out on topping Group D by chance, when they lost the drawing of lots to Greece. Benfica striker Derlis Gonzalez is one to watch within the Guarani ranks.
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