U-20 World Cup preview: The groups, the favorites, USA outlook and the game’s future stars

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Night owls, rejoice, for the 2015 U-20 World Cup, which is being played in New Zealand, kicks off late Thursday night or very, very early Friday morning (depending on what time zone you live in).

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s U-20 WC coverage ]

The bi-annual tournament returns and brings with it yet another showcase of some of the world’s very best up and coming talent from all corners of the globe. Want to see the next great South American star from Brazil or Argentina? The U-20 World Cup is the place to do just that. Oh, and the Americans are back for a second straight cycle, carrying expectations as heavy as any wave of youngsters dawning the Stars and Stripes have in quite some time.

The groups

Group A — Myanmar, New Zealand (hosts), Ukraine, United States

Group B — Argentina, Austria, Ghana, Panama

Group C — Colombia, Portugal, Qatar, Senegal

Group D — Mali, Mexico, Serbia, Uruguay

Group E — Brazil, Hungary, Nigeria, North Korea

Group F — Fiji, Germany, Honduras, Uzbekistan

The favorites

Hey, guess what — Brazil, Argentina and Germany have lots more really good, young players coming through the pipeline, so expect them to be around for the latter stages.

Unlike the big World Cup, winning at the youth level isn’t so much about being the best team as it is having the best player, or collection of two or three players. Fortunately for the above mentioned sides, they’ve got both top-end talent and overall better, deeper squads than most.

But don’t be surprised when someone unexpected — think Uruguay, Nigeria or Mexico — has one of the tournament’s leading scorer or assist men, and rides that wave of production to a semifinal or finals appearance. It happens almost every youth tournament — Ghana and Iraq bowed out in the 2013 semifinals.

USA outlook

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Emerson Hyndman, Fulham FC & USMNT

This time around, the draw was kind to Tab Ramos & Co. Remember that vicious 2013 draw — Spain, France and Ghana? Woof. It went about as poorly as was to be expected — one point and a minus-6 goal differential.

Ukraine, New Zealand and Myanmar is an infinitely better draw. In fact, failing to make it out of the group would be a massive failure. From there, the Baby Yanks could face any one of Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Portugal, Mexico, Uruguay, Serbia or Nigeria. Obviously winning the group becomes advantageous to avoid some of the heavyweights.

Qualification was pretty straightforward for Ramos’ squad after struggling in their first two group games (1-1 vs. Guatemala, 0-1 vs. Panama). The roster features a number of changes from qualification, but optimism surrounds a side with first-team regulars for their respective club teams — Emerson Hyndman (Fulham), Rubio Rubin (Utrecht), Tommy Thompson (San Jose Earthquakes), Matt Miazga (New York Red Bulls) and Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas) — making up much of the expected starting 11.

Stars of the future

Angel Correa, forward, Argentina & Atletico Madrid — 20 years old — Moved from San Lorenzo (Argentina) to Atletico Madrid last summer, but missed six months of his first season in Spain after a tumor was discovered on his heart. Scored 12 goals in 65 league games in Argentina’s first division, as a teenager.

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Kelechi Iheanacho, Manchester City & Nigeria

Kelechi Iheanacho, forward, Nigeria & Manchester City — 18 years old — Was the star (Golden Ball winner) of Nigeria’s U-17 World Cup-winning side back in 2013. Moved to Man City shortly thereafter, where he’s impressed for the Citizen’s reserve side.

Andreas Pereira, midfielder, Brazil & Manchester United — 19 years old — Made his Premier League debut this season, before signing a new three-year contract weeks later. Belgian-born, but a frequent standout for Brazil’s youth teams at all levels.

Giovanni Simeone, forward, Argentina & River Plate — 19 years old — The son of Atleti manager Diego, Giovanni made his first-team debut for River not long after his 18th birthday. Born in Madrid, could have played for Spain, but elected to play for the country of his father’s birth.

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Hirving Lozano (left), Pachuca & Mexico

Hirving Lozano, midfielder, Mexico & Pachuca — 19 years old — Nearly 50 appearances for Pachuca’s first team, including 29 this season (7 league goals); 2015 CONCACAF U-20 Championship (qualifying tournament) Golden Boot winner

Andrija Zivkovic, midfielder, Serbia & Partizan — 18 years old — 60 first-team appearances for Partizan; scored 5 league goals each of the last two seasons (12 total, all competitions); made 10 appearances in Champions League qualification playoffs and Europa League this season.

Diego Poyet, midfielder, Uruguay & West Ham United — 20 years old — Another son of a famous father — former Sunderland manager Gus — Diego made a handful of first-team appearances this year, his first season with the Hammers.

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Gedion Zelalem, Arsenal & USA

Gedion Zelalem, midfielder, United States & Arsenal — 18 years old — Crowned the next savior of American soccer long before his switch from German to American international was approved. Just a pair of first-team appearances for Arsenal, but rave reviews from Arsene Wenger have USMNT supporters crazed with hope and excitement.

Godfred Donsah, midfielder, Ghana & Cagliari — 18 years old — Made his Serie A debut at 17 years old; scored twice for a relegated Cagliari side this season after becoming a regular in the first team (20 starts).

Rapids name Robin Fraser as head coach

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COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (AP) The Colorado Rapids have named former Major League Soccer player and longtime assistant Robin Fraser as their head coach.

Fraser steps in for Conor Casey, who’s been the interim coach since the team fired Anthony Hudson in May. Colorado is 7-14-6 and at the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

Fraser’s first match in charge will be Saturday at the New York Red Bulls.

The 52-year-old Fraser has served as an assistant coach at Toronto FC since 2015.

Fraser was the fourth overall pick in the 1996 MLS player draft by the Los Angeles Galaxy. Over his career, Fraser suited up for the Galaxy, the Rapids and the Columbus Crew. He said in a statement Sunday he considers Colorado home because he’s so familiar with the soccer community.

Rapids general manager Padraig Smith said Fraser has a “deep knowledge of what it takes to be successful in MLS.”

Pochettino upset with attacking stars, speaks on Eriksen status

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Mauricio Pochettino might’ve understood Tottenham Hotspur dropping points last week at Man City, but he didn’t plan on not taking anything from Newcastle United on Sunday at home.

“You need the capacity to step up in this type of situation but we didn’t show that quality today,” Pochettino said. “When the ball arrives in the last third you need something from the talent and quality we have there and today we didn’t have that.”

[ RECAP: Spurs 0-1 Newcastle | Bruce reacts ]

So that’s pretty straight forward, but Pochettino was less happy to answer the question of why he didn’t start Christian Eriksen. Some (read: this writer) have questioned the philosophy of putting a man you may sell for $50 million on the bench. Either put him in the Starting XI and risk him, or leave him off the 18.

“When you lose, the players who don’t play are the best. With Christian we win and we lose a lot of games. I accept that situation is like this. If we won 3-0 today no one talks about different names.

“I cannot find excuses about the transfer window being open to justify that performance or the result. We cannot find the way to be solid and to have consistency for different reasons. I am going to be happy in 10 days after we play Arsenal when the transfer window closes in Europe and to have the player involved until the transfer window again in January.”

We’re not gonna read too much into it, but it does sound a bit like Pochettino is daring teams to bid for Eriksen. Would it make sense for him to hold onto Eriksen until January before cashing in?

Newcastle’s Bruce heard criticism, happy to beat Spurs

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Steve Bruce heard a lot of the criticism from fans upon his hiring at Newcastle United, and it rang out louder after the Magpies started 0-2 including a loss at newly-promoted Norwich City.

[ RECAP: Spurs 0-1 Newcastle ]

He may well hear plenty more down the road, but the childhood Newcastle supporter was feeling relieved and maybe redeemed after a fortunate and wonderful 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday. From the BBC:

“We came to this fantastic stadium, this fantastic club and we performed. I mean, to say I ‘cannot even do a warm up’ is mad. I have managed 900-odd games and over the years you would think there would be some sort of respect but I go back to the fact that whoever took over from Rafa Benitez was going to get the abuse.”

Newcastle faces struggling Watford at St. James’ Park next week, and another result will ease a lot of nerves (though certainly not all of them.

Wolves snatch late point versus Burnley

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Raul Jimenez’s penalty seven minutes into stoppage time gave Wolves a point with a 1-1 draw against Burnley on Sunday at the Molineux Stadium.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ] 

Wolves now have three draws in three matches, while Burnley has four points.


Three things

  1. We’re paying rent in Ashley Barnes‘ world — Known most for his combustible, some-would-say dirty nature, the Burnley striker now has four goals this early season and more than one, including Sunday’s opener, have been bangers.
  2. Nuno’s men could use a break — Wolves fought well, but you can tell the Europa League schedule has heavily taxed their spirit. How tired are they? Here are the thoughts of an exhausted Raul Jimenez, and you can read the “Thank you, God” inside them –> “I think [the penalty] is the right decision. When I get in possession he tried to kick the ball, then he kicked me. It came at a good moment for us.”
  3. Don’t ever bet against Sean Dyche — We’ve written it 100 times. The big man can get a result from anywhere, at any time.

Burnley was easily the better unit over the first 45 minutes, and was rewarded with a goal even after VAR ruled one out.

Barnes chested a neatly-headed flick into shooting position and unleashed a missile that zipped past Rui Patricio for a 1-0 lead.

Both sides began the second half brightly, with Morgan Gibbs-White lashed a shot offf the outside of the netting and Barnes unable to get purchase on a ball over the top of the Wolves back line.

But Erik Pieters cut down Jimenez in the box late to set the Mexican international up for a win.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]