If the ability (or lack thereof) to finish is quickly coming to define these finals more than most even, the success of the Czech Republic in their Round of 16 match against Japan on Wednesday in Victoria should come down to one man, forward Martin Fenin.
While the organised and solid Czech defence will be trusted to contain the speedy attacking options of the Japanese, it will be Fenin's ability to find that one moment of brilliance or that one clinical finishing touch that could decide between going home and a place in the quarter-finals. It's a task the Teplice man, who turns 21 in October, says he is up to. And, as he told FIFA.com, the anxieties of the start of the tournament are mostly gone from the Europeans after a mostly successful run through Group E and they have nothing to lose against the Japanese.
"I feel like the pressure is kind of off of us now that we have advanced," he admits a few days before their second round match. "We didn't come here as one of the favourites like Argentina or Brazil, so in a way we are just happy to be here. And maybe people won't be expecting that much from us, and we can pull a few surprises."
Taking heart from the opener
Fenin was the key man for the Czechs in reaching Canada, scoring four times in five matches through qualifying and the opening round before their scoreless defeat to Scotland in the semi-finals. While he has yet to equal that kind of form here, he drew the majority of attention from opposing defences in the group stage and tallied the go-ahead goal in the eventual 2-2 draw with Korea DPR. It was a straightforward striker's poach at the end of a perfectly timed run.
"I think everything went according to plan in the group, and maybe even better than we expected because of our draw with Argentina," says the nimble forward. "Qualifying for the second round was the best feeling I've ever had in my career. The moment was just about indescribable. Plus, I scored my first goal in my first championship and we've created a good amount of chances, so I am satisfied with how things have been going."
Speaking of their scoreless stalemate with the defending champions to open the tournament, Fenin says that has given the side a lot of confidence: "We drew with probably the best team here 0-0, so we feel like we should be able to beat anybody."
And despite a surprising late draw with the Koreans and a
hard-fought 2-1 win over Panama that saw them through, he thinks
the team are ready to face Japan: "Our coaches have taken a
close look at them, and we've played two very similar teams
recently - North Korea in this tournament and South Korea before -
so I think we know what to expect. I mean, we are worried about
them because they are very fast, but if we play and fight as a team
we should be able to overcome that strength"
Eye on the future
Like many of the players in Canada, Fenin sees the U-20 World Cup as something of a career launching pad. However, unlike most, the player who is a regular for his Czech club, nicknamed the Glassmakers, is not looking for a quick move into Europe's elite leagues.
"I play in the top division in the Czech League, which is pretty good," says the promising lad. "I would rather do that than be with a bigger club and never play in a more high-profile country. I would rather move somewhere when I am a more finished player and start and be able to make an impact. It's no use to go somewhere and sit on the bench like many younger players do. If you don't play, you don't get better."
Sound words from the youngster who played 28 first team matches and scored four goals in Teplice's mid-table campaign last year. He does see the opportunity that is all around when playing against the world's best however: "Don't get me wrong, this is the best thing that has ever happened to me in terms of developing as a player and for my career. And, I am hoping that maybe somebody will see me and that I may be able to play abroad later on."
But, he says, he knows he has time to emulate his idols Henrik Larsson and Milan Baros and for now he just wants to bring more success to the long tradition of Czech football. "I am very proud to be Czech and to be a Czech footballer," he says. "It means very much to me because I am still young and trying to prove myself, but I am wearing the same shirt as Peter Cech and Milan Baros. And that I don't forget."