Draw yields mixed reactions

Most of the coaches attending Wednesday evening’s Official Draw for the FIFA U-20 World Cup Colombia 2011 took the diplomatic approach when asked to assess their opponents in what looks to be an evenly matched group phase. Yet, as FIFA.com discovered, others were more forthright in their opinions.

Blind faith
Korea Republic coach Lee Kwang-Jong was among those speaking his mind at the Julio Cesar Turbay Ayala Convention Centre in Cartagena, downplaying the challenge his side will face in Group A. “I don’t think Colombia will be that good a team, even though they’re playing at home,” was his frank assessment of the hosts. “We haven’t seen France yet and we don’t have too much information on Mali either. My boys really work hard as a team though, as you’ll soon see for yourselves.”

The South Korean supremo did not stop there, however: “Our aim is to improve on our performance last time, when we reached the quarter-finals. I think the semi-finals would be a good objective for us.”

Also giving his views was Colombia coach Eduardo Lara, who was his usual calm self as he surveyed the group. “The key for us will be the opening game against France. If we win that, we’ll have a real chance of reaching the second round. We’ll have to wait and see what happens. We’ve got the resources to do that but it won’t be easy. The boys will have to handle the pressure of playing at home.” Lara certainly knows the level required, having coached Los Cafeteros at the 2005 edition.

Old foes meet again
There is not much that Argentina and Mexico do not know about each other at youth level. Few are better placed to discuss the rivalry than Humberto Grondona, Argentina’s assistant national team director and a former youth coach with Mexico. “It’s just crazy. We always seem to get drawn with each other,” said a resigned but smiling Grondona to FIFA.com after the two sides had been paired off in Group F. “It happens in youth competitions and it’s happened in the last two senior World Cups as well.”

The two have met twice in recent FIFA U-20 World Cups, with El Tricolor romping to a 4-1 win at Nigeria 1999 and La Albiceleste gaining revenge in the quarter-finals at Canada 2007, en route to retaining the trophy. Who will prevail when they meet again in Medellin on 29 July?

One man keeping a close eye on that game will be Brian Eastick, whose England side have been drawn into the same section. “At this level we all say that every rival is tough, and though you can’t choose your opponents, there’s no way I would have picked the ones we’ve got,” he said before naming his favourites to win the group. “It has to be Argentina because they’ve got a great side. Mexico are strong as well and we’ll have to watch out for Korea DPR. It all depends on what team we can put together, but if we get to the last 16 anything can happen.”

A test for Spain
Attending the draw on behalf of the Spain team, Julian Lopetegui was in somewhat pessimistic mood; not about La Roja’s chances of getting past Costa Rica, Ecuador and Australia in Group C, but about getting some coverage in the Spanish press. “After tonight’s Real Madrid-Barcelona game, I don’t think there’ll be much space left over for us.”

Turning his attention to the group itself, Lopetegui made it clear that the runners-up at last year’s UEFA European U-19 Championship cannot expect to have things all their own way when the section gets under way: “Every game starts at 0-0 and at this level things very often hinge on the smallest of details. Spain have a great youth system, there’s no doubt about that, but this is the time to prove that on the pitch.”

You might remember Vicente del Bosque making similarly cautious comments in the build-up to South Africa 2010. The question is, will Spain be tasting glory again in Colombia?

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