With the U20 World Cup 2015 now over, spectators can reflect on having had the opportunity to see some of the new Messis, Ronaldos and Neuers of the future. A total of 20 teams participated in the tournament, with Serbia being crowned the champions. In this article, the finalists Brazil and Serbia will not be mentioned, as both deserved an article of their own, but will be listed other top eleven teams of the tournament.
This was Austria’s fifth appearance in this competition, and for the fifth time they didn’t manage to reach the final – their biggest achievement was second place in 2007. They were second in Group B above Panama and a disappointing Argentina. Having been knocked out in the round of 16, this year’s outing will not be something they will look back at with pride.
Colombia finished second in Group C, above Qatar, who recorded three losses, and Senegal, who ended up fourth in the tournament. They lost in the round of 16 to a very organized USA team, despite being the better side. They had 60% possession and three times as many attempts on goal (although only one eighth was on target). Also, their Jarlan Barrera failed to score from the penalty spot. In the end, the match ended 1:0.
Ghana finished first in Group B without having lost a match. They played an interesting match against Argentina, in which they were leading 3:0 but in the last 10 minutes, when their focus dropped, they conceded two goals and managed to win by one goal after a tense finish to the match. They showed the most in their group, having scored five goals in three matches, and perhaps didn’t have much luck in the draw – they played against and lost 3:0 to an incredible Mali side.
USA, like their senior squad, are a regular participant of the World Cup – they missed only four tournaments since the beginning of the competition in 1977. One of their biggest stars is the goalkeeper Zackary Steffen, who arguably was the main reason for USA’s heading to New Zealand – he denied El Salvador’s Jose Villavicencio’s penalty in the CONCACAF U20 Championship play-off. Steffen also successfully stopped a penalty against Colombia, who were the better side in the round of 16, but he couldn’t repeat this in the penalty shootout against Serbia. They finished second in Group A with Ukraine, New Zealand and Myanmar.
Although their results were not the best ones – they finished third in Group E with two losses and a win, they played excellent football. They scored seven goals in the competition, with Bence Mervo scoring five. They drew Serbia in the round of 16. They were leading 1:0 and conceded a goal in the 91st minute of the match. Despite having more men on the field after Gajic’s red card, they didn’t push for the win enough, and lost to a late misfortunate own-goal by Attila Talaber.
Uruguay started the competition with a 1:0 win against Serbia, who ended up becoming champions. They had the same group statistics as Mali – 4 points, goal difference 0 (with 3 goals scored and conceded), and played a draw between themselves. With nothing to decide between these two squads, Uruguay were given the second place by a drawing of lots. Ironically, they drew Brazil in the round of 16, opposed to Mali’s drawing Ghana. Although they lost to Brazil in a match they were dominated in, they defended greatly and kept Brazil from scoring after 35 attempts. They lost on penalties, after just one missed penalty shot.
Uzbekistan’s side surprised many with their performances in the tournament. They finished second in Group F, with Germany above them. They played above expectations and went through to the quarter-finals by winning 2:0 against Austria, and lost to Senegal, despite not being the weaker side. Their best player, Zabikhillo Urinboev scored two goals and had an assist. They once again showed their European style of football with an organized and physically strong side.
Germany came to the tournament as one of the favorites, having won the U19 European Championship last year having won 1:0 against Portugal in the final. They showcased their quality in Group F, where they were the best side by a mile. They finished the group first with three wins and an incredible tally of 16 goals, which was the highest number of goals in the group stage. They dominated Nigeria in the round of 16, who managed to have just one shot on target for the whole match. Despite being the favorites in the quarter-final and having better stats in the match, they lost on penalties to Mali.
Senegal had a similar story in the World Cup and in the 19th CAF African U-20 championship. They lost their opening match and needed a win in the last group match to go through. With nobody expecting them to go all the way, they managed to reach the final and thus qualify for their first World Cup appearance. In New Zealand, they finished third in Group C with a negative goal difference and drew first-placed Ukraine in the round of 16. They went through on penalties after a 1:1 draw. They succeeded in reaching the semi-final after a win against Uzbekistan, where they were defeated 5:0 by Brazil. They finished as the fourth best team in the world, having lost to Mali in the play-off for third place.
U19 European Championship finalists Portugal finished first in their group with 10 goals in three matches. They came to the tournament with the ambition of going all the way, and showed that they do have the quality for it. André Silva, who scored four goals and made two assists in five matches, was arguably their best player. They reached the quarter-finals after defeating hosts New Zealand 2:1 in the first knockout stage. They played a scoreless draw with Brazil in a match in which they had more attempts on goal, both on and off target. They lost 3:1 on penalties to the tournament runners-up.
Mali were perhaps the biggest surprise of the tournament. They finished third in Group D after having a draw of lots which saw Uruguay finishing above them. They lost to Serbia and drew with Uruguay in the group stage, having scored 3 goals and conceding as many. They played against Ghana in the round of 16 and won by scoring three incredible goals with each being scored in a different fashion – a long range curler, a team goal and individual trickery. They won on penalties against the favored Germans in the quarter-final, and despite losing, they had a great game of football against Serbia in the semi-final. They finished third after a win against Senegal, and their best player Adama Traore won the Golden Ball as the best player of the tournament. The 19-year-old Traore scored 4 goals and assisted three times, making himself the vital part of Mali’s incredible World Cup performance.