FIFA U-20 World Cup 2015
Draw whets appetite for debutants, hosts
10 Feb 2015
The FIFA U-20 World Cup has a rich, star-studded history, and grasping the opportunity it presents will be the goal of all 24 teams involved in today's draw. Yet for three of those nations - Fiji, Myanmar and New Zealand - the competition's 20th edition will be especially momentous.
The Kiwis, of course, find themselves in the role of hosts, while the former pair will be enjoying their first taste of this or any other World Cup. Myanmar were the surprise success story of the Asian qualifiers, succeeding where the likes of Australia, Japan and Korea Republic failed by securing a finals berth and, with it, a place in history. Their reward was a spot in Group A alongside New Zealand, Ukraine and USA, leaving the team's German coach Gerd Zeise eyeing another momentous achievement.
"I'm sure we will not disappoint our fans," he told FIFA.com. "We are going to face three teams that play a different style from us and I'm pleased in that respect to have avoided the South Americans. I think we play a bit more football than the teams we're up against, although they are sure to present a tough physical challenge.
"There is only so much we can do to improve the physical constitution of our small players - you cannot make them big or really strong - but my target is to work on their stability in one-on-one situations so they cannot be muscled off the ball easily. If we can do that, and exploit our own attributes, I think we have a good chance."
A meeting with his home country had been among the possible options facing Zeise, but there was no room for sentiment in his calculations. "I'll be honest - I'm happy we didn't get Germany. Them and Brazil - any of the South Americans really - were the teams I was hoping to avoid. It's still a tough group but our target is definitely to make it through to the knockout rounds."
When you look at the teams we haven't drawn - the big hitters we were hoping to avoid - you'd have to see this is a big chance to make history.
The fate Zeise had been desperate to dodge - a meeting with European champions Germany - ultimately befell the tournament's other newcomers. But while Fiji could hardly have picked a tougher baptism than an opening match against one of the competition's true heavyweights, coach Ravinesh Kumar sought to accentuate the positive.
"Getting Germany is fantastic for us," he insisted. "We could have had an easier start, it's true, but to play the European champions at this level - world champions at senior level - is an amazing opportunity for our players. They are sure to learn from it and it will be invaluable for their development. We also know that we will be able count on plenty of support from all the Fijians living in New Zealand, particularly for a game like this."
But while Myanmar are targeting a place in the last 16, Kumar admitted that his debutants will approach the tournament with more modest expectations. "Realistically, this will be a learning experience for Fiji," he told FIFA.com. "It's our first time at this tournament, or at any World Cup, and it will all be new for our players. We want to do well and to make a name for ourselves, but our country is 192nd in the world (in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking) and it's an honour for us just be among the 24 teams here."
Fiji are already in uncharted territory and that is just where the hosts hope to find themselves once the dust settles on this year's group phase. New Zealand, after all, have never made it into the knockout stages of a U-20 World Cup, a statistic that their current coach has firmly within his sides.
As Darren Bazeley told FIFA.com: "When you look at the teams we haven't drawn - the big hitters we were hoping to avoid - you'd have to see this is a big chance to make history. That said, managing expectations might come into it now because we haven't drawn any of the real giants. The fact is, Ukraine, USA and Myanmar are still really strong and have qualified from some tough regions."
Bazeley is certainly under no illusions about the importance of maximising home advantage if his side are to overcome their Asian, European and North American opponents. "We need the crowd to be our 12th man," he said. "We're playing at home and have to make that count.
"It also won't do us any harm that it will be winter here, and maybe one or two of the other teams won't quite be quite as used to the conditions as our boys are. We'll need to use all those factors - the crowd, the weather and anything else in our favour - to make the most of this opportunity we have here."