Mali, Korea Republic seek quick lift-off

Group A will kick off with a fascinating encounter at the Estadio Nemesio Camacho in Bogota, with Mali and Korea Republic expected to contest the first of several tight games in an evenly balanced pool.

The two sides exploded out of the blocks in qualifying before later losing momentum, and they will be keen to make a similarly strong start to keep the pressure on Colombia and France.

The game
Mali-Korea Republic, Bogota, Saturday 30 July, 17.00 (local time)

The stakes
As outsiders, Mali and Korea Republic will be desperate to rack up early points and that should make for an entertaining spectacle in the Colombian capital. The Africans have been careful not to play up their chances in the competition, but they boast an experienced youth coach in Cheik Fantamady Diallo, who has labelled his squad “one of the best generations in Mali’s history”.

The challenge for Korea Republic will be to cope without key attacking trio Ji Dong-Won, Son Heung-Min and Nam Tae-Hee, whose performances for the U-17s have earned them promotion to U-23 and senior levels. Coach Lee Kwang-Jong is not unduly concerned, however, and has played up his side as potential semi-finalists who can beat all three of their section rivals.

If they meet his target, the young Taeguk Warriors will grace the last four for the first time since 1983, when they were stopped in their tracks by eventual winners Brazil. As for the Flying Eagles, they can look a little closer to the present for inspiration, having reached the semi-finals of Nigeria 1999 with a line-up featuring Seydou Keita.

The stat
– The number of goals Korea Republic slotted past Mali in their only previous U-20 meeting, in 1999. However, the African side went on to finish third – the best-ever performance by any Malian side in a major global tournament. Their successors would no doubt cherish a repeat display.

The words
"Our youngsters will show that they’re ambassadors for the whole continent and make Mali the showcase for an Africa that wins things. I can only encourage them to be willing to make sacrifices and tell them that the people of Mali will be behind them during this adventure,” Amadou Toumani Toure, Mali President

"Our goal is to do better than we did last time, when we reached the quarter-finals. The semis would be a great result for us,” Lee Kwang-Jong, Korea Republic coach