Group D of the World U-20 Championships might just stand for ‘desire’. With two sides that finished as runners-up in their respective tournaments, there will be plenty of hunger to go one step further at this competition. Goal.com runs the rule over the participants.
If failure focuses the mind to strive to do better, then there should be plenty of scope for improvement within this group for half of its contenders: England and Uzbekistan. The England U-19 side finished as runners-up at the European Championships over the summer losing to the hosts, Ukraine. Meanwhile after knocking out China and the Korean Republic, the Uzbeks also fell at the final hurdle in the final in Asia to the United Arab Emirates.
However, there is a winner in the group in the form of Ghana, who come to the tournament as defending African Champions following the recent African Youth Championships held in Rwanda. Finally Uruguay finished in third place at the South American Championships, and will also fancy their chances of claiming a berth in the knock-out stages.
Brian Eastick, manager of the English side, may be hampered by not being able to call on all his best players at this level, but can still assemble a strong side. Many of the squad have already amassed a reasonable degree of experience largely at lower league level, and this will certainly give this English side potentially a competitive edge.
Although not many of this side remain from the summer team that made it through to the finals of the 2009 European U-19 Championships, hopes will still be high that this squad can perform creditably at this tournament.
Player to watch: After scoring freely at League 1 level (the third tier of English football) Sam Baldock from the MK Dons could be a real handful. Quick and with a terrific eye for goal, many experienced and battle-hardened lower league defenders struggled to contain him. If he can find his feet at this competition, Baldock could be a real talisman for the English.
The African Champions at youth level come into the tournament as potential outsiders for outright victory thanks to a combination of a strong squad and a better understanding of the prevailing local conditions.
Ghana has always possessed one of the strongest sides on the continent, and after qualification for the 2006 World Cup and already wrapping up their place in South Africa in 2010, the youngsters will also be hoping to continue on their successful path. Victory in Rwanda showed their ability, thanks to the goals of Ransford Osei, who finished the competition as top scorer with seven goals, including a pair in the final.
The squad is made up largely of players already plying their trade abroad, although the local Ghanaian league also contributes several.
Player to Watch: Marseille’s Andre Ayew has already made some fleeting appearances for the Stade Velodrome side. With a dad like Ghanaian striking legend Abedi Pele, who also played for Marseille, the pressure will always be intense, but the initial signs are that he could develop into an excellent player.
Prediction: Quarter finals
After recent failures to qualify for the World Cup at senior level, there has been an increased focus in Uruguay in bringing youngsters through the various professional sides. Whilst results have been somewhat mixed in the past, it would appear that finally their efforts are paying off. The Uruguayan senior side are still in with a good chance of making it through to the World Cup, Uruguayan club sides made a strong impact on the recent Copa Libertadores and the youth team made it through to third place at the South American Championships.
With many of the side based in Uruguay, there have been plenty of opportunities for these youngsters to gain valuable first team experience, and this could be vital at the Championships.
However, there will be a note of caution for Uruguay after suffering disappointment two seasons ago in Canada. After only scrabbling through as one of the four best runners-up, they were knocked out by the US in the round of 16, despite assembling a talented squad spearheaded by starlets Edison Cavani and Luis Suarez.
Player to watch: With plenty of experience already under his belt at club and continental level, Nicolas Lodeiro from Nacional could be one of the stand-out players at the tournament. His thoughtful range of passing helped Nacional to the semi-finals of the Copa Libertadores, and he also caught the eye at the South American U-20 Championships. With rumours of interest from Liverpool, Lodeiro might not be spending much longer in his homeland.
Prediction: Round of 16
The qualification to such a prestigious tournament represents another massive step forward for Uzbek football. Along with Venezuela, who also qualified for this tournament, there are fewer global sides developing as quickly in the game. With club sides Bunyodkor and Pakhtakor through to the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League and this tournament to look forward to for the U-20 side, it’s an exciting time to be a fan of Uzbek football.
With just one player based outside the country in the shape of Davron Mirzayev at Russian champions Rubin, little is known about the overall ability of the team. Nevertheless after reaching the finals of the AFC U-19 Championship before losing out to the UAE, the other teams in the group would be wise not to overlook their threat.
Player to watch: Based with Pakhtakor Tashkent, captain of this side, Sherdzodbek Karimov, could be one to excel. On the fringes of the first team with the side currently lying second in the Uzbek league, Karimov has already made a goal scoring impression on his club side after coming off the bench in the first week of the season to score a late goal. More is undoubtedly to come from the talented midfielder.
Prediction: Group Stages
26th September: Ghana – Uzbekistan
26th September: England – Uruguay
29th September: Uzbekistan – Uruguay
29th September: Ghana – England
02nd October: Uruguay – Ghana
02nd October: Uzbekistan – England
Picking a side to top the group will be tricky with all bar Uzbekistan laying genuine claim to favourite status pre-tournament. Much like Group C with all the teams potentially tripping each other up this could be a group that sends only two teams through to the group stage, making each match of vital importance. England and Ghana may just be able to sneak through, although don’t discount Uruguay from also forcing their way into contention. For Uzbekistan it’s hard to see beyond a premature exit.
Walter Townsend, Goal.com