The FIFA U-20 World Cup has forged a reputation for staging pulsating matches and showcasing future mega-stars. With its latest instalment just around the corner, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter spoke to FIFA.com about Turkey’s organisation of the competition and what it could do for the country, why it’s a must-watch event and some of the teams he’s looking forward to seeing.
FIFA.com: In one month, the FIFA U-20 World Cup will kick off. What is your view on the organisation of Turkey’s first-ever FIFA competition?
President Blatter: The Turkish Football Association has created an excellent Local Organising Committee (LOC). I have no concerns from an organisational point of view. Critical points like stadium infrastructure, training facilities and travel arrangements for the team are under control. Turkey has organised several high-profile events and therefore we are very confident that the 23 teams from all over the world will have a great experience.
Is there anything which is not yet on the level of such a competition?
I have been informed that there is still some work to be done with ticket sales, but it does not worry me so much. I am sure stadiums will be full as this is not only a unique opportunity for fans to watch the best youth players of the world, but also a great chance for the country to showcase itself to the world. Turkish football fans in the seven host cities should not miss it!
Diego Maradona won the competition and he heads an impressive list: Marco van Basten, Davor Suker, Luis Figo, Raul, Ronaldinho, Xavi, Kaka, Andres Iniesta. Not to mention a certain Lionel Messi.
Did you mention this to Prime Minister Erdoğan when you met him earlier this month?
I told him that the FIFA U-20 World Cup is a showcase for Istanbul’s bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games. The whole world will be watching when a new champion emerges from the best U-20 teams. You can say it is only a youth competition, but it is probably the most important youth sport competition of all, and FIFA’s oldest one. The first U-20 World Cup was played in Tunisia in 1977.
Why would you buy a ticket to watch matches at the FIFA U-20 World Cup?
The FIFA U-20 World Cup is one of our most important competitions. In fact, in terms of size, it is second only to the FIFA World Cup™ with 24 teams taking part, and in terms of age it is also second only to our flagship competition. To get an idea of its importance, just look at the famous players who have participated over the years. In 1979, Diego Maradona won the competition with Argentina and he heads an impressive list: Marco van Basten, Davor Suker, Luís Figo, Raul, Ronaldinho, Xavi, Kaka, Andrés Iniesta – they all played at the FIFA U-20 World Cup. Not to mention a certain Lionel Messi, who won the competition in 2005 before going on to win the FIFA Ballon d’Or four times.
Will the teams only see the stadiums and the training pitches or will they also have the chance to experience their host city?
I am confident that all seven cities can add their own flavour to the tournament. It will be great for the teams to discover the culture of their host city and to experience a part of the world which is new for most of them. Turkey is a very big country, on the border between Europe and Asia and with so much history. I am sure that every single one of the players, coaches and officials will enjoy their stay in this country.
Is there a particular team fans should follow?
It will be a very exciting competition. There are numerous teams who will play an important role. For example, Cuba and El Salvador, who have never played at the FIFA U-20 World Cup before. It will be interesting to see how it goes for them. Also the situation in South America is very interesting. For the first time ever at a national team competition, neither Argentina nor Brazil has qualified, which shows how competitive this age level is. We can expect a lot from the South American champions Colombia and the other three teams from that part of the world. Finally, also Greece is a newcomer and they might surprise again after reaching the final at the qualifying competition in Europe. I am looking forward to seeing them.
How important is the FIFA U-20 World Cup for the future of football in Turkey?
It is a great opportunity. For FIFA, the U-20 World Cup is an important development project. It is very important that a long-lasting legacy can be left in the country. Turkish football is already at a very high level, just look at the success on club and national team level in the past decade. However, I am sure the FIFA U-20 World Cup will help football to grow even more in this country. It will cement the incredible popularity of football in Turkey and, who knows, maybe the Turkish team can achieve another historic success.
Will you visit Turkey during the FIFA U-20 World Cup?
The FIFA U-20 World Cup and the FIFA Confederations Cup overlap and, of course, the latter is also very important as it paves the way for the FIFA World Cup, our most important event. However, I am definitely planning to watch the final in Istanbul. I can’t wait to see the two best U-20 teams.