Brazil and Saudi Arabia meet for the third time in the FIFA U-20 World Cup on Wednesday. Of the previous two matches between the two, A Seleçãozinha won one and drew the other, and there is every reason to expect a close encounter in Barranquilla after both sides advanced from the group phase in some style.
Brazil began a tournament many are expecting them to win with an underwhelming draw against Egypt before hitting their stride with big victories over Austria and Panama. Nevertheless, coach Ney Franco does have some concerns, especially at the back, having been forced to make two first-half substitutions in Brazil’s final group game against the Panamanians in a bid to address their defensive failings.
Franco is pondering whether to stick with the players who came on then, and push makeshift full-back Danilo into a more familiar midfield role. He has no such problems up front, where Henrique, Philippe Coutinho, Oscar and the versatile Casemiro have been carving out chance after chance with their snappy passing and fluid movement, which could yet provide the key to the country’s fifth world title at this level.
Brazil’s back-line will need to be at its tightest against the dangerous Saudis. Prompted by the pacy duo of Ibrahim Alibrahim and Yahya Dagriri, the Saudis scored eight goals in their opening two group games, seven of them by different players, before turning in a listless display against Nigeria, one that left coach Khalid Alkoroni an unhappy man. Even so, the Middle Easterners had already qualified for the last 16 by then (for the first time ever at the FIFA U-20 World Cup), and are justifiably confident they can cause an upset.
17 - The number of times that Brazil have appeared at the FIFA U-20 World Cup finals and the number of times they have reached the second round. On only one occasion have they been knocked out in the last 16, however, at Canada 2007.
“We need to make a few adjustments for the next round because whoever loses that game is going home. Saudi Arabia scored eight goals in the group phase and they’re an attack-minded side so we need to up our game to avoid any surprises,” Brazil coach Ney Franco.
“We scored eight goals in two games, but we rushed things a little bit in our last game and there are a few problems we need to sort out up front. We won’t have any problem getting motivated for the next match, though,” Saudi Arabia coach Khalid Alkoroni.