The U-20 World Cup kicked off with games from Groups A and B. The latter of those offered the more interesting fixtures. There is no such thing as a group of death in underage competitions, because consistency of both squad and individual quality are too variable to handicap effectively; but Group B looks like one of the most interesting of the groups at the tournament’s outset (Group F, with Argentina, Portugal, and South Korea is the other). Italy, Mexico, and Ecuador all have serious players on their rosters, but one of the three will not go through.
Mexico – Italy kicked off alongside Tahiti – Senegal, and it was a good start to the tournament. Italy were the better team, scoring early and then responding to an equalizer to take the lead in the group. They worked well as a team, with Davide Fratessi, a Sassuolo player currently on loan at Serie B’s Ascoli, looking particularly creative in Paolo Nicolato’s 3-5-2. Striker Gianluca Scamacca (Sassuolo) also had a good game, and the deployment of defender Luca Pellegrini (Roma) on the left side of the midfield three was an interesting quirk. Well-regarded keeper Alessandro Plizzari (Milan) was solid.
Mexico looked exciting in patches, though largely confined to attacking up the right flank, where emerging star Diego Lainez (Real Betis, formerly of Club América) looked not quite at his best. Likewise, striker José Macías could have looked sharper, as he did at the weekend in helping León past Club América in the Clausura semi-finals. Both arrived late to camp, and Mexico will hope that they are able to further integrate into the side. Second half substitute Antonio Figueroa (Pachuca) looked to shake things up, coming in freely from his nominal role as left wing, and could be one to watch as well.
Ecuador and Japan did Mexico a favor by tying in the afternoon, a game that Ecuador in particular will feel like they should have won. They had the better of play, especially in the first half, and had a penalty kick saved–brilliantly, by Tomoya Wakahara, called up when Keisuke Osako was promoted to the senior side in anticipation of the Copa America later this summer. Everything is still to play for in Group B, especially if Italy continues to show the willingness to relax with a lead that they demonstrated against Mexico.
I’ll be away for the weekend, but will try to get a summary of the first round and/or an account of the US – Ukraine match out by Monday. Until then, happy watching.