Three of the tournament’s most menacing strikers are preparing to torment defences once more in the third and final matchday of Groups A and B at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013. Spain’s Jese, Portugal’s Bruma and Nigeria’s Abdul Ajagun have each hit the net three times already at the competition and now have their sights trained on firing their sides into the knockout rounds.
Of the eight teams in action on Thursday, only Spain are sure of their place in the Round of 16, although the other seven all still have a mathematical chance of joining them there. However, the situation looks particularly bleak for 2009 champions Ghana, who have yet to pick up a point.
Spain-France (Istanbul, 20:00, local time)
Ghana-USA (Kayseri, 20:00, local time)
Korea Republic-Nigeria (Istanbul, 17:00, local time)
Portugal-Cuba (Kayseri, 17:00, local time)
The Match of the Day
The duel between European powerhouses Spain and France is the standout fixture of the round. The former can keep both top spot and their perfect record so far with a victory, while Les Bleuets are out to knock their neighbours off their perch with a win of their own. The French know, however, that even a point would be enough to cement second place in the standings.
Their chances have been hampered by the loss of midfielder and captain Paul Pogba, who received his second booking of the competition in the 1-1 draw with USA. Coach Pierre Mankowski’s charges were already the underdogs ahead of their encounter with the reigning U-19 European champions and also have history against them, as the only previous meeting between the sides at a FIFA U-20 World Cup came in the group phase at Tunisia 1977, when Spain ran out 2-1 victors.
The other highlights
Group A's other match is an all or nothing occasion for both Ghana and USA, as a stalemate will be of little use to either when it comes to determining the four best third-place finishers. USA will have the wind in their sails after equalising late on in their 1-1 draw with France, while it is the last chance for the West Africans, who dominated for large spells against Spain before eventually losing.
There is a more clearly established favourite in the tie between Portugal and Cuba, with the Europeans needing a high-scoring victory to be certain of topping Group B. Nevertheless, their opponents have nothing to lose and are eager to cause an upset against Edgar Borges’ side, who have yet to hit the heights in Turkey so far.
The day’s fourth game between Korea Republic and Nigeria is an intriguingly tough one to call. While it pits two differing styles together - the Asians’ technical ability against the Africans’ dynamism and physicality - it should also give an indication of where each team truly stands. The South Koreans only scraped a narrow victory over Cuba, but managed to hold Portugal to a draw, while Nigeria eased past Cuba but lost against the Portuguese. The last meeting between these two was in the group phase at the Netherlands 2005, where Korea Republic emerged 2-1 winners.
The Player to watch
Forwards may once again have stolen the limelight with spectacular goals and attacking flair, but a defender will be the key man in the final round of group matches. France’s Samuel Umtiti will be charged with keeping Spain’s Jese at bay and, if the Olympique Lyon centre-back is successful, it could be the first step on the way to a surprise French victory.
9 - Nigeria have scored at least one goal in each of their last nine FIFA U-20 World Cup games. Having netted a total of 27 times in that period, averaging three goals per game, the South Koreans will need to be on their guard.
— Griedge Mbock (@MGriedge) June 24, 2013
Griedge Mbock Bathy, the Golden Ball-winning central defender of the France U-17 women's team, tells her U-20 male counterparts: "Ah, now you really have to win against Spain boys..."