FIFA U-20 World Cup: Five things we learned before the final

Everything is set for the big game on Sunday between Uruguay and Italy

Of the 24 teams that started, only two are left. The FIFA U-20 World Cup final is nearly upon us, and the semis left plenty to discuss; from candidates to shocking results, this is what you need to keep in mind before the champion is decided.

Uruguay hopes hard work and defense wins championships

The Uruguay National Teams suffered a big blow in Qatar 2022, as a historic generation of players bid farewell to the World Cup in the Group Stage. They now have Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa at the helm, and Uruguay’s showing in the tournament is proof the former Argentina and Chile boss has something to work with. 

Uruguay, a scrappy and hard nosed team. is in the final. Credit: Télam
Uruguay, a scrappy and hard nosed team. is in the final. Credit: Télam

Narrowly beating Israel 1-0 in the semifinal, this Uruguay team has been far from the highlight of the tournament, but managed to get by through teamwork and tenacious defense. The hard work of full-back Alan Maturro, the key goals of striker Anderson Duarte (who so far has scored in every knockout game), and the safe hands of goalkeeper Randall Rodriguez has got them further than most favorites. The scrappy goal that put them past Israel is proof this team may lack flair, but is more than willing to make up for it with hard work. Only one step left. 

Israel was entertaining but ultimately lacked depth

Make no mistake, Israel should head home with its collective foreheads high. They recovered from an unfair loss in their opening match against Colombia, and pulled off a colossal effort against Japan to make it  to the knockout stage, but that was only the beginning. They completed a remarkable feat in FIFA U-20 World Cup history, coming back from  behind twice to beat Brazil for a place in the semis in what will surely turn out to be the match of the tournament.

Israel was the tournament's Cinderella. Credit: Télam
Israel was the tournament’s Cinderella. Credit: Télam

They came up short against Uruguay, however, failing to break its defense. Once the Charrúas found a way to get ahead, Israel had no way of creating scoring opportunities and ultimately paid the price. This is a historic result for Israeli football regardless, and while U-20 doesn’t always translate neatly to elite football, they have a foundation they hope to build on.

Italy’s goal-scoring crisis could cost them the final… and the future

Italian National Team head coach Roberto Mancini faced criticism after Argentine-born striker Mateo Retegui made his debut with the Azzurra. Mancini has insisted he has no qualms about looking outside Italy for the players he needs, and judging by the U-20’s performance, when it comes to strikers, he may need to continue on that path. 

Midfielder Cesare Casadei has been the Azzurrini’s main goal threat, with strikers combining for just three of their 12 goals. They struggled to capitalize on their chances against South Korea, turning a match they should’ve won comfortably into a hard fought 2-1 victory. With no young prospects coming up through the ranks, one has to wonder if Mancini’s approach isn’t indeed the right idea.

South Korea misses out again, but they are well on their way

Countries host World Cups for a number of reasons: home field advantage, showcasing themselves to the world, or even sports-washing. When South Korea co-hosted the 2002 World Cup, however, they did it to kickstart a footballing project that is now soaring. With big names like Son Heung-min and Kim Min-jae already leading the line for top European sides, South Korean football development is going strong. 

They were runners-up last tournament, and their repeated semi-finals appearances are nothing to snub. They may focus on tactical discipline and lighting-fast counters, but this team is no pushover. When seeing the performances of far more favored teams like France, Argentina or England, you have to wonder what the future of South Korean football looks like with this level of talent.

The final will be a hard-fought affair

Youth football has traditionally been a bit more free-flowing and goal-happy than the elite-level. Players more prone to mistakes and attackers with less to lose are bound to make quick-paced games. However, this Sunday’s final is looking to be be anything but. 

When you take Uruguay’s hard-nosed, scrappy style together with Italy’s scoring troubles and flashy but inconsistent play, you’re in for a game where the likely winner will be the one who can minimize its mistakes and pack more of a punch with each blow. The condition of the pitches is hardly going to help things go smoothly, so if you’re a fan of fiercely fought games this one’s for you. It’s set to be a drama packed event one way or the other.


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