As the group stage draws to a close, the FIFA U-20 World Cup moves on to the knockout phase with the best 16 teams in the tournament. From local heroes to tournament shockers, teams have shown what they can do in their respective groups and there’s a lot of action still to come.
The Albiceleste weren’t even supposed to be in this U-20 World Cup as they failed to qualify, but they’re making the most of their chance. They quickly left the nervousness of their first game behind and looked dangerous in attack with Luka Romero and Alejo Veliz. They still need to improve in defense and will face their most difficult challenge yet when they go up against Nigeria on Wednesday, but the Albiceleste have a trick up their sleeve: the crowd. Over 30,000 people on average have attended the host’s games, so they can count on getting that extra push when they need it.
Many started doubting Brazil after their debut loss to Italy; without big stars like winger Endrick de Sousa and Vitor Roque they looked far from their usual unstoppable style. However, they qualified as top of their group thanks to their 6-0 thrashing of the Dominican Republic and a key win against Nigeria. They’re looking stronger and stronger, led by midfielder Marlon Gomes and forwards Sávio de Oliveira and Marquinhos Alencar.
They have perhaps the most approachable route to the semis with Tunisia, Israel and Uzbekistan on their side of the tree.
In a tournament that has historically favored the flair and speed of attackers almost to the detriment of everything else, England has shown you can also win as a team. The Three Lions haven’t been flashy, but they’ve certainly been solid, with top performers across every line of the team and they’re yet to have a bad game. After pushing past the heat of a rival atmosphere against Uruguay, they secured the top spot against Iraq.
However, it may have been a thankless task, because as winners of Group E, they’ll have a tough nut to crack in Italy, Group D’s runner-up.
The ones to watch
A nation of rising footballing stock, Ecuadorian players are now a mainstay of top European leagues and the next generation looks ready to push on. Their 9-0 wrecking of Fiji shows their resolve, and 16-year-old phenomenon Kendry Páez is an unmissable spectacle to those interested in watching him before his transfer to Premier League giants Chelsea goes through in 2025.
The Azzurri have lost some steam since their debut against Brazil and they needed a good win in their last game to reach the sweet 16, beating Nigeria to the second spot in the group on goals scored. Still, midfielder Cesare Casadei remains one of the best players of the tournament and if they get past England, they have a good route to the semis.
Another team that’s through due to their solid effort across the team rather than a flamboyant attack. The US is the only team that has yet to concede a goal, not least thanks to the efforts of Gabriel Slonina, one of the goalkeepers of the tournament. Up top, forward Cade Cowell is another candidate for the Golden Ball should the US push far, although they are in for a potential clash with Brazil if they want to reach the final game.
This side is talented enough to get Colombia to the semis after twenty years, with electric wingers like Yaser Asprilla and Oscar Cortés and the safe hands of goalkeeper Luis Marquínez. However, they’ve also struggled for consistency, and they were lucky to escape Israel with a 2-1 win in their debut. They will need to be at their best against Slovakia to keep it going.
The Blue and Whites are taking part in their first-ever World Cup at any level since the first team appeared in Mexico in 1970. Unlucky in their debut against Colombia, they were fortunate not to get routed by Senegal. However, luck had nothing to do with their impressive comeback against Japan in the last fixture, winning it 2-1 in the 91st minute with 10 men. They’ve enjoyed the support of the local Jewish community, visited La Bombonera stadium and have an approachable clash with Uzbekistan for a chance to go to the quarter-finals.
The underdog to beat all underdogs, the Young Scorpions are only making their second appearance in the FIFA U-20 World Cup. Led by the performances of midfielder Muhammed Jobe and striker Adama Bojang, they shocked France and South Korea to win Group F. Now, they’ll have to face one the most storied World Cup nations ever in Uruguay, but they’ve never needed to have the odds in their favor.