The 18th FIFA U-20 World Cup has reached its quarterfinal stage and it couldn’t get any better for the Latin lovers, in soccer that is.
All the quarter-finalists are from Latin America or Latin Europe except the African nation of Nigeria, which is playing a style that is even more enjoyable to watch. It doesn’t only play a Latin style but also adds the African flare to it.
Four quarter-finalists have won the U-20 WC title before (Argentina 6, Brazil 3, Portugal 2 and Spain 1) for a total 13 cups out of 17. The other winners (Germany, Ghana, Russia and Serbia) didn’t even qualify for this cup.
Argentina vs. Portugal
Saturday 6 pm EST
This game is a meeting between the two stingiest defenses remaining in the cup. Portugal is the only team that has not conceded yet while Argentina conceded one goal only.
Attacking-wise, they aren’t that good. Portugal scored only 3 goals in 4 games and one of them through a PK, while Argentina scored only 6 and ranked 6th in the last 8 ahead of only Mexico (4 goals) and Portugal.
As a matter of fact, the Argentinean display was the most disappointing one. With all the hoopla and the reputation of Iturbe and Lamela, they didn’t deliver what was supposed to be their coming out party.
Their performance against Egypt in particular left a lot to be desired. Egypt was by far the better team and if it wasn’t for the diving and poor refereeing, we might have not seen Argentina in this stage.
Iturbe, I thought, showed some flashes of brilliance during his time on the field but, can he be consistent and help his team reach their record 7th title? They have to go through a very strong defensive Portuguese team that frustrated the likes of Uruguay and Cameroon.
Argentina is making its 10th QF trip winning 8 previously, while Portugal is in its 5th QF winning 3 times in this stage.
My prediction: Argentina
Colombia vs. Mexico
Saturday 9 pm EST
Colombia has history against them. Only twice before, a host won the U-20 WC (Portugal 1991 and Argentina 2001). But what they lack in history, they make up for in geography and sociology.
Their familiarity with the surroundings and the enthusiastic crowds might push them all the way to the title. And above all, they are one of the most entertaining sides of the cup.
They will be playing a CONCACAF opponent for the second time in a row and in Mexico they will have their hands full. Mexico has never been a push over and their recent success at other age groups might indicate that they will give the Colombian a run for their money.
Colombia was one of two teams to win every game (Nigeria is the other one) while Mexico had one win only. Also, Colombia has the better offense (10 vs. 4 goals) but on the other hand, they have equal defense (conceded 2 goals each). Mexico needed PK shoot-out to beat Cameroon in the round of 16.
Colombia has two players in the top three goal scorers: Muriel with 4 and Rodriquez with 3. Mexico has no player that scored more than one goal. Rodriquez (3 goals and 3 assists) is one of the candidates for the MVP so far.
This is the 4th trip for Colombia to the QF and the 7th trip for Mexico with both winning only once in this stage.
My prediction: Colombia
Nigeria vs. France
Sunday 4 pm EST
Nigeria is featuring one of the most exciting stars of this cup in Ahmed Musa whose runs on the left side unsettled even the stingiest defense; the English. Musa tops the assists table with 3 (tied with Rodriguez) to go with his 3 goals. Kayode and Egbedi also have 3 goals each to make Nigeria the most potent team with 13 goals.
Their opponent is France which started the cup very slow, losing to Colombia 1-4 but since then they recorded 3 wins in a row. France came as the champion of Europe after they went unbeaten in the European U-19 tournament (4 wins and 1 draw) and beat Spain 2-1 in the final, but they never looked comfortable here and disappointed a lot of observers.
Nigeria, in my opinion, is the most impressive side at this cup and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them making it all the way to keep the trophy in Africa after Ghana won it in 2009.
Nigeria is making its 6th appearances in the QF while this is France’s third one. France never passed this stage while Nigeria won 3 times and reached the final game twice.
My prediction: Nigeria
Brazil vs. Spain
Sunday 7 pm EST
Save the best for last. This will be the tie of the round. History-wise, it is the meeting between the team in form against the most prestigious one.
There is no doubt the huge historical success Brazil had on the international level at all ages but the glory in the current days belongs to the Spanish teams. Spain, it seems, could do no wrong these days, winning almost every competition they participate in.
In this U-20 cups, they have similar records. They both won 3 games and drew one and scored 12 goals in the process. The only exception is that Brazil conceded one goal to Spain’s two.
Spain has the top scorer so far in Vazquez (4 goals) but the real star power of this game are Coutinho for Brazil and Canales for Spain. Canales didn’t see a lot of playing time because of injury but Coutinho is the strongest candidate for the MVP if Brazil goes any further in the cup.
Playing-wise, though, Spain didn’t convince in some of the group games and especially against South Korea, while Brazil is playing some of the most exciting soccer in this cup.
Brazil’s only hiccup was against Egypt and this is no shame because Egypt was the best team not to make it to the QF and if it wasn’t for the antics from the Argentinean players, we might have seen a repeat game between them in the finale.
This is Brazil’s 14th appearances in the QF (the most by any team) winning on 8 occasions while it’s Spain’s 10th appearances winning only 4 times.
My prediction: Brazil
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