Diego Maradona’s boyish grin, Cha Bumkun’s gasp, Shin Taeyong’s wry smile and the buzz in the crowd… what were the chances that Korea would draw Argentina, then later England and Guinea in the U-20 World Cup? Already called the Group of Death, Lee Seungwoo and Paik Seungho aren’t going to have it easy in their home showcase. Found out what Shin Taeyong said about the draw as well as a little primer on each of Korea’s opponents after the jump.
The draw was held at 3pm KST today at the Suwon Atrium ahead of the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup. The tournament will be held in 6 venues across South Korea, but the Koreans will contest their Group Stage games in Jeonju and Suwon. Though Korea was in Pot 1 and would avoid some of the superpowers including France and Germany, the difficulty of each group was bound to vary greatly with teams like New Zealand in the same pot as teams like Argentina.
Without further ado, here are the groups:
Group A: Korea Republic, Guinea, Argentina, England
Group B: Venezuela, Germany, Vanuatu, Mexico
Group C: Zambia, Portugal, Iran, Costa Rica
Group D: South Africa, Japan, Italy, Uruguay
Group E: France, Honduras, Vietnam, New Zealand
Group F: Ecuador, USA, Saudi Arabia, Senegal
Both Group A and D look like the toughest… Group C and F look easiest.
If you’re into it, here’s the full draw… KBS’ announcer Lee Jiyeon with a surprisingly good English!
Shin Taeyong: “It is obvious that there are no easy teams in this group, and many are calling it the “Group of Death”. That said, our goal has not changed – we want to reach the quarter-finals and see if we can progress beyond that. The opening match is the most important, but I think England are the hardest team in this group. France are title favorites – and behind them are the English. But of course, we cannot underestimate Argentina.”
Diego Maradona: “What a draw for Argentina! We have some tough games, including a game against the hosts… that should be a thrilling match here in Korea, especially in front of a big local crowd.”
Cha Bumkeun: “This is unfortunate! Korea drew easier teams in the practice run… This is the best stage for preparing players ahead of appearing in the FIFA World Cup. There are no easy match-ups here. I hope the participating teams will take advantage of the two months before kick-off to prepare themselves and show the best on the main stage.”
There were so many friendlier scenarios for the Koreans, and yet they got possibly one of the toughest.
It will come as a relief to Shin Taeyong that they won’t be opening the tournament against Argentina or England, but Guinea are no push-overs. Though it is their first participation since 1979, Guinea’s U-17 team gave Korea some trouble at 2015’s U-17 World Cup. Lee Seungwoo couldn’t get off the mark and it took a late 92nd minute winner for the Taeguk Warriors to break the deadlock. Even if Guinea aren’t the toughest African side, finishing 3rd in their qualifying tournament, the quantity of unknown means that Shin Taeyong has promised to play some friendlies against African nations leading up to the tournament “to adjust to the style and intensity of Guinea.” After all, African teams tend to perform well at youth tournaments.
A win against Guinea will be imperative for the Koreans, because they will not want to go up against the Argentines with less than 3 points under their belts. The South Americans’ have won the U-20 trophy on 6 occasions and of course players like Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero have transcended through their youth ranks. However, the South American side does remain a beatable opponent for the Koreans. They were winless in the 2015 U-17 World Cup and the 2015 U-20 World Cup, and qualified in South America by the skin of their teeth on the final matchday. Korean football observers have remarked that the Los Albicelestes’ defense is as fragile as Korea’s.
England will be Korea’s toughest opponent, though hopefully their clash in Suwon won’t be a life-or-death match of the Koreans. Their players include future Premier League stars (their 2013 team gave us John Stones, Harry Kane and Erik Dier) as well as a couple players already having made their pro-debut – West Ham United’s Reece Oxford and Manchester United’s Axel Tuanzebe. Chelsea’s Dominic Solanke was their top goal-scorer in qualifying, though the English didn’t progress to the finals of European qualifying. It’s a continuation of their woes at the U-20 level – they have not won a game in the U-20 World Cup since 1997. Lee Seungwoo squared off against the Three Lions at the 2015 U-17 World Cup in a 0-0 draw that meant the Koreans topped the group and sent the English packing.
All in all, it’s not an easy draw for the Koreans, considering all the teams that have qualified. But they face no continental winners and instead face teams who have struggled at previous tournaments of the same age group. It’s a winnable group just as it is a very lose-able group. All bets are off ahead of this May’s tournament.
What are your thoughts of the draw and expectations of the team?