It’s harder to image a more eclectic mixture in a four team group at any level of a FIFA tournament in recent years. Spain and Nigeria may fancy their chances of racking up some good scores against the lesser known sides of Venezuela and Tahiti, but this tournament is famous for throwing up some noteworthy shocks. Whilst Spain have won four of the last eight U-19 European tournaments and this Nigerian side has already proved its quality at U-17 level at both African and world level, there are still a few questions to answer.
A number of this Spanish side failed to make much of an impact at the 2008 European tournament, the qualifying competition for this one, whilst Nigeria bowed out at the recent African Youth Championships at the semi final stage. Nevertheless it will still represent an amazing shock if both fail to progress to the knock out round.
The Super Eagles are undoubtedly one of the most exciting youth teams, not only in Africa, but across the world. Whilst participation at the World Youth Championships has remained sporadic; when they are there expect them to make an impression. They have twice finished as runners-up, most recently in 2005 when a side containing the like of John Obi Mikel and Taye Taiwo were beaten by Argentina in the final.
The squad is made up of a mixture of locally and internationally based players and a number who are still only 18, which will make them a lot younger than many of the teams at the tournament on average.
One to watch: Whilst Nigeria might be missing the top scorer from their triumph at the World U-17 Championships in 2007, Lukman Haruna may be one who can help fill the void. The AS Monaco based striker has already played for the senior team in the south of France, and is certainly considered one for the future. Also look out for Sone Aluko; the former Birmingham City striker has been catching the eye in the SPL with Aberdeen, and the left winger could be one of a number of exciting players for Nigeria.
Prediction: Quarter finals
This may be the South Americans' first ever qualification for an international tournament, but they will be cautiously optimistic of springing a surprise in Egypt. Football has been growing rapidly in the country and the hosting of the Copa America finals in 2005 helped the popularity of the game immensely. This has now been further built upon by the qualification for this tournament, and the Venezuelan FA will be hoping that this might be the final step before a big tilt for qualification for the World Cup in 2014.
Qualification for this tournament was achieved with something of a flourish after topping the group at the South American Youth Championships earlier this year, heading more established nations such as Argentina and Colombia. They then reached fourth place in the final group phase after victories against Colombia and Uruguay.
One to watch: Captain Angelo Pena was born on Christmas Day in 1989 and he could yet prove to be a gift to Venezuelan football. The attacking midfielder has been touted as one of the most exiting prospects to come out of the country for many seasons, and after emerging at Estudiantes de Merida, was snapped up this summer by Sporting Braga.
Prediction: Group Stages
It’s been a difficult 12 months or so for Spain, since they were knocked out of the European U-19 Championships in 2008 after failing to perform in the Czech Republic. An improved performance at the Mediterranean Games in the summer may be the catalyst for this side to once again show their potential.
Despite their disappointing performance at those 2008 Championships, they did enough, thanks to their third place finish in the group, to scrape through to this tournament. There is an immense amount of talent in this team, the majority of which is based in Spain; the notable exception being Fran Merida at Arsenal. Therefore there is every chance that they can make a strong impression at this tournament.
One to watch: Emilo Nsue has long been touted as a potential star of Spanish football, and has scored at numerous youth levels, despite not being considered a regular starter at his parent club Real Mallorca. This season could be his breakthrough after being loaned out to Segunda side Real Sociedad, and a few goals at this tournament could really launch his career in the Basque country.
The tiny island country of Tahiti has pulled off something of a coup in qualifying for this tournament. Their appearance gives the lie to the fear that following the relocation of Australia to the Asian section, New Zealand would have it all their own way in the Oceania section. After claiming the 2008 OFC U-20 Championship after beating New Zealand and Fiji in the four-team tournament, Tahiti now have the chance to represent the continent in Egypt.
It’s hard to know what to make of the team announced, which includes just one player based away from the country; Taumihau Tiatia with Wasquehal in France. The squad have been training in France and no doubt benefiting immensely from the professional facilities at their disposal, but it’s hard to see beyond an educational, yet premature, exit from the tournament.
One to watch: Coach Lionel Charbonnier has achieved something of a football miracle by guiding this team to the championships. The former Rangers and Auxerre goalkeeper cited his involvement with Tahiti as his way of giving something back to the amateur game. It will be fascinating to see whether his continued involvement with Tahitian football will bear further fruit in the future.
Prediction: Group Stage exit
25th September: Nigeria – Venezuela
25th September: Spain – Tahiti
28th September: Spain – Nigeria
28th September: Tahiti – Venezuela
01st October: Venezuela – Spain
01st October: Tahiti – Nigeria
Whilst Tahiti are unlikely to be able to match the other sides in the group, the Venezuelans could be dark-horses and shouldn’t be dismissed lightly by big boys Spain and Nigeria. That latter pair should qualify comfortably, and both will fancy their chances of qualifying as winners. Much depends on results in other groups; if Venezuela can rack up a big score against Tahiti they could also muster enough points to squeeze through as a third placed team.
Walter Townsend, Goal.com