With the young squad from Mikey Varas kicking off their 2023 World Cup campaign in less than two days, Yanks Abroad takes a look at the opponents that await the team in their three upcoming group-stage games.
The 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup will be held in Argentina, with 24 teams competing for the championship between the opening games on May 20 and the final on June 11. Following Indonesia’s loss of the hosting rights, Argentina, who did not advance to the football tournament in the CONMEBOL qualifying tournament, has stepped up to take over.
The following 24 nations have qualified for the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup: Argentina (hosts), Uzbekistan, Guatemala, New Zealand, the United States, Ecuador, Fiji, Slovakia, Senegal, Japan, Israel, Colombia, Italy, Brazil, Nigeria, the Dominican Republic, Uruguay, Iraq, England, Tunisia, France, the Republic of Korea, The Gambia, and Honduras.
On May 10, the final U-20 USYNT roster for the tournament was announced. Despite the fact that a few well-known players were dropped because their clubs refused to release them for the competition, the pool still contains some significant prospects. Team USA were drawn in Group B along with Ecuador, Fiji, and Slovakia.
Ecuador just barely made it into the competition by the skin of their teeth, as they beat Paraguay in their second to last game, which was enough to see off Venezuela for the last qualifying spot.
The United States have indeed faced Ecuador in this competition in the past, in fact, it was their final game of the previous edition in 2019. Ecuador defeated the boys in red, white, and blue in a quarterfinals, halting their quest to glory. Perhaps their meeting in Sunday’s opener will be their chance for revenge!
In the opinion of the author, this opener against the South Americans is the most challenging of the three games, so as long as the team doesn’t lose, they should be in good shape to advance.
Argentinian Rodolfo Zapata took over in 2022 as manager of Fiji. Before accepting the position in Fiji, Zapata spent the previous ten years coaching at the club level in Africa. Early in his career, he started out as the Head Coach of the USA Olympic Development Program in 2001-2002. A lopsided win here is a must for the USA, and hopefully one that will boost our goal differential.
Slovakia, the final group-stage opponent, qualified through a play-in game versus Austria in UEFA qualification. It is the second time they have played in the U-20, previously qualifying in 2003. Despite losing only once in their previous five friendlies, the Europeans have not kept a single clean sheet in any of their last five games, conceding seven. A win here is very much possible, if not the expectation for the yanks.
The top two teams from each of the six groups, along with the four best third-place teams, advance to the round of 16. While anything worse than a third-place finish would be unthinkable for the squad, both points and goal differential will play a role in the rankings of the third-place teams, putting some emphasis on the opportunity to gain an advantage in the latter category in their second game.
Historically, the Americans’ best finish was just over 30 years ago in Saudi Arabia. The United States finished in fourth place at the 1989 U-20 World Cup, after losing to Nigeria in the semifinals and subsequently to a loaded Brazil team that featured future World Cup winner and PSG executive Leonardo in the third-place match.
Despite reaching the quarterfinals in three straight U-20 World Cup tournaments, the United States will be hoping to advance further this time around given the caliber of the team, which is laden with seasoned professionals, particularly from MLS.
Mikey Varas’ boys will kick off their campaign on Sunday against 2019 bronze medalists, Ecuador, in a test to see who’ll have their foot into the next round early on. Fiji will come up next three days later after the opener, and Slovakia to wrap it up. All of the fixtures will be played at Estadio San Juan del Bicentenario.
All of the United States’ group stage matches kick off at 2PM EST.
Follow Yanks Abroad on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn for news and views on Americans playing the beautiful game around the world and the U.S. national team.