Though it is Portugal and Uruguay who currently enjoy the Group B favourites’ tags, Cameroon and New Zealand will be determined to show that their lesser FIFA U-20 World Cup pedigree does not rule them out of chasing a knockout berth. This Saturday’s clash between the latter pair could therefore prove decisive for both teams’ hopes, with defeat for either a significant first step towards an early exit.
After finishing runners-up at April/May’s CAF African Youth Championship, Cameroon will aim to continue their good run of form and kick off their Colombia 2011 campaign with all three points. On the back of a 15-day preparatory period in Venezuela, featuring friendly clashes and a win over Guatemala, the Cameroon contingent arrived in Cali in confident mood. However, they may rue the absence of Edgar Salli, one of the country’s brightest talents, whose non-involvement is a blow to the Africans’ hopes of finally making a serious impact at what will be their sixth FIFA U-20 World Cup.
New Zealand, for their part, find themselves in a similar situation. After a preparatory sojourn in North America, where they found the going tough against a number of local teams, the Kiwis touched down in Cali only for the promising Marco Rojas to promptly succumb to a thigh injury. “He’s a huge loss,” said coach Chris Milicich, whose medical staff will surely be working on Rojas round the clock so the attacking midfielder can play some part in the competition. Without him, can the New Zealanders improve on the three group defeats and just one goal scored from their only previous FIFA U-20 World Cup appearance in 2007?
5 – Cameroon’s best performance to date at a FIFA U-20 World Cup came when finishing fifth at the 1995 event. They have never finished higher than 12th in their other four appearances, a statistic they will be keen to improve on at Colombia 2011.
“All our group games will be tricky, mainly because all the teams have different styles. We need to get off to a good start and then try and pick up as many points as possible from the other games,” Cameroon coach Martin Ndtoungou
“Our preparations had been going excellently. The conditions were ideal in California, but we now need to fine-tune a few small things in attack. That’s mainly because we’ve lost our main attacking threat,” New Zealand coach Chris Milicich