Group A was tipped to be one of the toughest groups at this year's FIFA U-20 World Cup, and it certainly lived up to its billing. Technically outstanding football combined with real athleticism were on display in each of the six matches, with hot favourites Spain running out as winners ahead of France. The two European heavyweights thus made it through to the last 16 along with 2009 champions Ghana, while USA are heading home having fallen at the first hurdle.
These four teams provided little in the way of genuine surprises, although Ghana certainly made life hard on themselves by losing their opener 3-1 to France. Their second-half performance against Spain was full of eye-catching attacking football but was not enough to prevent at 1-0 loss. It all came together in a 4-1 win over bottom team USA in the final match however, enabling the Africans to grab a lifeline as the fourth-best third-placed team and squeeze into the knock-out stages.
While the US youngsters gave a good account of themselves in terms of technique, they lacked a cutting edge in front of goal and the necessary defensive stability to produce any results other than a 1-1 draw with France. Speaking of whom, Les Bleuets did not live up to expectations in the group stage, and while they have plenty of stand-out individuals, they are not yet clicking as a team and will have to step up a level once the knock-out phase starts. La Rojita, meanwhile, were comfortably the group's outstanding team. Coach Julen Lopetegui was able to rotate his squad throughout the three games and Spain still emerged as the only one of the 24 teams not to drop a point in the group stage.
1. Spain 9
2. France 4
3. Ghana 3
4. USA 1
Round of 16, all local times
Spain-Mexico, Tuesday, 2 July, 18.00, Istanbul
France-Turkey, Tuesday, 2 July, 21.00, Gaziantep
Portugal-Ghana, Wednesday, 3 July, 18.00 local time, Kayseri
Sellas Tetteh is a well-known and respected figure in the world of youth football. The 56-year-old Ghana U-20 coach also always conveys a friendly demeanour, even in the most tense of situations – perhaps since he has nothing left to prove to anyone. After all, Tetteh is the man who steered the Black Satellites to victory at the FIFA U-20 World Cup four years ago. But there is more to it than that. This year, he never lost faith in his young charges, despite their opening losses to Spain and France. To him, losing is an integral element of age-group football and all part of the learning process. It was his faith in his players after their early setbacks that underpinned their eventual triumph. "Everything they pick up here will help them later on in their career," explained Tetteh, demonstrating his uncanny ability never to lose sight of the bigger picture.
Four goals and one assist in three games: these are the impressive statistics compiled by Spain's Jese, with the Real Madrid forward standing head and shoulders above the rest in Group A and making his team one of the favourites to go all the way here in Turkey. He combined wonderfully with flying Barcelona winger Gerard Deulofeu throughout the group stage, and is just the second Spaniard - after David Silva in the Netherlands in 2005 - to score in three consecutive games at a FIFA U-20 World Cup.
French midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia, who also plays his club football in Spain with Seville, was a solid presence in the middle of the park in all three group games, while Ghana's Moses Odjer, who is just 16 years old, has already shown that he knows how to turn defence into attack and will be a name to look out for at future FIFA youth tournaments.
2 - In their final group match, Ghana defeated USA 4-1, scoring four goals in a single game for just the second time at a FIFA U-20 World Cup. Back in 2009 in Egypt, the Black Satellites thrashed England 4-0 en route to the title.
What a great experience it was to play against some of the best youth players around the world!Proud of my boys! Well fought! Heads up #USA
— Luis Gil (@luisitogil21) June 27, 2013