The journey to Korea Republic begins
There is less than 12 months to go until some of the world’s most talented young footballers convene in Korea Republic for the FIFA U-20 World Cup. However, while dreams of the finals may be forming in the minds of aspiring Diego Maradonas and Andres Iniestas, there is no time to have your head in the clouds.
The 23 remaining spots, joining hosts Korea Republic are set to start getting sewn up in the coming weeks, right through to March 2017, when the African contingent will be the final quartet to book their flights to east Asia. But, first up is Europe.
The UEFA Under-19 Championship kicks off in Germany on 11 July, running until 24 July. With two groups of four, the line-up leaves no margin for error for some continental heavyweights. Hosts – and 2014 champions – Germany kick-off against Italy, with Austria and Portugal making up the rest of their group. While Croatia, France, Netherlands and England – who qualified ahead of holders Spain – make up a similarly tough Group B.
After the dust settles in Europe, the focus shifts to the opposite side of the planet for the OFC U-20 Championship. Vanuatu are set to host the tournament, with the action taking place from 3 to 17 September. Fiji – who earn an appearance in their first ever FIFA tournament at the last edition – will no doubt be hoping to triumph again, with this the first time teams from Oceania have been fighting for two spots to the global finals.
Asia are next in line, as the AFC U-19 Championship pitches up in Bahrain. Four sides will join Korea Republic next May, with 16 teams all jostling for continental success between 13 and 30 October. Even without a U-20 World Cup place to fight for, with an average of more than six goals per game in qualifying, Korea Republic could pose many a challenge to the likes of reigning champions Qatar.
South America’s four representatives will be decided at the South American U-20 Championship 2017 in Ecuador, with dates still to be decided - though traditionally kicking off in the first month of the year. Argentina will arrive as 2015 holders, though Brazil, who triumphed at the continent’s U-17 edition two years ago – and were only knocked out of the FIFA U-17 World Cup by eventual winners Nigeria – will as always be ones to watch.
The CONCACAF Under-20 Championship kicks off on 17 February, with the final set for 3 March, with four teams battling for a place in Costa Rica. The sides who will be joining the hosts, Canada, Mexico and USA will be revealed when qualifying concludes at the end of October.
Finally, the CAF Africa U-20 Cup of Nations heads to Zambia from 26 February-12 March, with the seven teams set to compete alongside the home team being decided over two-legged ties this July.