The months of waiting are over for the world's best young players, as the hotly-anticipated FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013 gets underway on Friday. And with an action-packed Matchday 1 on the agenda, the tournament promises to begin in quite some style.
The spectacular official opening ceremony in Kayseri, which will take place after the first set of simultaneous games there and in Istanbul, will set the tone for the 24 participating teams as they jostle for the coveted trophy. The competition promises to be fierce on the opening day, with former champions Ghana, Portugal and Spain all out to make their presence felt at the event.
Friday 21 June (all kick-off times are local)
France-Ghana (Istanbul, 18:00)
USA-Spain (Istanbul, 21:00)
Cuba-Korea Republic (Kayseri, 18:00)
Nigeria-Portugal (Kayseri, 21:00)
Yordan Santa Cruz (striker, Cuba), one-match ban*
Shane O’Neill (defender, USA), one-match ban*
* In both cases the suspensions were carried over from their respective qualifying campaigns.
The Match of the Day
Ghana announced their arrival among the world’s elite youth sides by lifting the trophy four years ago at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Egypt 2009. Now the Black Satellites are eager to cement their reputation and take Turkey by storm too. Just how realistic an objective that is should become more apparent after the opening fixture in Group A. Coach Sellas Tetteh’s team’s first opponents are none other than France, who have likewise arrived at the tournament eyeing the silverware on offer.
The sides’ styles are similar too, with both combining outstanding physique and exceptional technical ability. While France boast the presence of Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba in their squad, Ghana have landed in Turkey with a full-strength ensemble, setting up a mouthwatering opening tie. With fellow favourites Spain also in the group, both teams will be determined to avoid a defeat that could prove costly even at this early stage.
The Other Highlights
The second Group A fixture pits underdogs USA against a much-fancied Spain side. The North Americans, who have several players already under contract at leading Mexican clubs, are intent on causing an upset and the 2012 UEFA U-19 European champions would be well advised not to underestimate their opponents. “It doesn’t matter if it’s Spain, you have to get a result,” USA coach Tab Ramos told FIFA.com.
The tournament's official curtain raiser in Kayseri marks Cuba's debut on the global stage at this level, as they take on Korea Republic. While the Cubans have their sights set on more than merely winning over the neutrals, the Asians are focusing on going through a FIFA U-20 World Cup group stage unbeaten for a second time. The first instance came at the 1993 tournament edition, although the Koreans' three consecutive draws were not enough to reach the next round.
The day's second encounter in Kayseri brings together a highly-fancied Portuguese outfit and a Nigerian side with potential to become the tournament's dark horses. In the absence of reigning champions Brazil and record tournament winners Argentina, coach Edgar Borge's Portugal team are the most highly-decorated of all the participants, having taken the crown on two occasions, as well as registering second and third-placed finishes. Nigeria's hopes rest in part on 18-year-old striker Aminu Umar, whose four goals during the most recent African championship at this level secured him the top scorer's honour and helped the Flying Eagles to third place.
The Player to watch
As reigning U-19 European champions, increased levels of attention in the build-up to Turkey 2013 were only to be expected for Spain. And after Gerard Deulofeu's performances earned him the adidas Golden Boot as the best player at last year's continental showdown, the focus will be particularly sharp on the Barcelona winger. Having already drawn regular comparison with Lionel Messi, it will be fascinating to see if he can inspire Spain to success once more.
0 - Ghana have never lost a group game at a FIFA U-20 World Cup. The West Africans have chalked up nine victories and six draws in their five editions thus far.
"In these short tournaments there’s an element of luck that you need to have on your side at key moments, because any mistake can potentially send you home."
Spain U-20 national coach Julen Lopetegui in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com