Enticing matchups set for round of 16 at under-20 World Cup
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) The group stage of the FIFA Under-20 World Cup produced a number of major surprises, goals galore and an equal number of enticing matchups in the round of 16 starting on Wednesday.
The biggest surprise in group play was the elimination of South American champion Argentina, which finished third in Group B with only two points after a loss to Ghana and draws with Austria and Panama.
The best of the matchups in the round of 16 is likely to be the clash on Thursday between Germany and Nigeria - either of whom could go on to win the tournament.
The quality of soccer has also been outstanding despite the poor weather, with 244 goals scored in 36 matches at an average of almost seven per game.
European champion Germany has been the most dominant team so far, scoring 16 goals and conceding only two to top Group F, while Portugal scored 10 goals and gave up just one to finish with three wins in Group C.
Brazil scored nine goals and conceded three to top Group E with three wins, finishing just ahead of Nigeria. Serbia topped Group D with two wins.
Germany coach Frank Wormuth said he was pleased with his team's performance in the group stage, but added that the knock-out rounds will require even more focus and determination.
''The players have two different faces: in training they joke around a lot but in the match they are absolutely focused,'' Wormuth said. ''But we also know that we still have to improve. There is still a lot of work to do.''
Brazil coach Rogerio Micale said achieving first place in Group E was ''mission accomplished'' for his team, but he is aiming to go even further in the tournament. The Brazilians meet Uruguay in the round of 16 on Thursday.
''We were in a strong group with difficult games and we played very well,'' Micale said. ''I believe that we have a chance to win this title, but Serbia are a team to watch. They have been impressive in this tournament, as well as competitive and disciplined.''
Serbia faces Hungary on Wednesday.
''We've achieved history for our country and we've also managed to get out of the so-called `group of death' which makes the achievement even greater,'' Serbian coach Veljko Paunovic said.
Uruguay and Mali joined Serbia in progressing from Group D.
Mali will play Ghana on Wednesday, the United States faces Colombia, and Ukraine meets Senegal. In Thursday's other matches, Austria plays Uzbekistan and Portugal takes on New Zealand for a spot in the quarterfinals.
Argentina brought a number of rising stars to New Zealand, among them captain Angel Correa, who plays for Atletico Madrid, and Giovanni Simeone, son of Atletico coach Diego Simeone. But despite their impressive roster, the six-time champions scored only four goals and allowed five in its three group matches.
Argentina joined Asian champions Qatar, Mexico, Panama, Honduras, North Korea and first-time competitors Fiji and Myanmar on the sidelines after the group stage.
''It has been useful to judge ourselves against the best, experiencing games against top-level teams from Africa, Europe and South America,'' Qatar coach Felix Sanchez said.
Fiji pulled off the tournament's biggest upset when it beat Honduras 3-0 for its first win at a FIFA tournament and had a chance to advance to the round of 16 until results on the final day of group matches eliminated the team.
Myanmar also competed at the Under-20 tournament for the first time. It finished without a win in Group A, but gained valuable experience for the future.
''I think we have to look to some European teams and see what they are doing better than us,'' Myanmar's German-born coach Gerd Zeise said. ''This tournament was very helpful but it also hurt us because we learned that we are just at the start of our development.''