SEOUL, Korea, Republic of, May 29 – France will look to soar into the Under-20 World Cup quarter-finals this week when they take on Italy in a rematch of last year’s U19 European final.
Just 10 months ago, the French thrashed Italy 4-0 to lift the European trophy and they will have little to fear after a perfect tournament in South Korea so far.
Les Bleus are yet to concede after reaching the knock-out stage with three straight wins against Honduras, Vietnam and New Zealand.
Of the 16 teams that reached the second round, only Venezuela had a better record.
France’s Jean-Kevin Augustin, the top scorer at the U19 tournament, has bagged three so far but the European champions insist they’re not getting carried away ahead of Thursday’s game.
“It’s a good memory (last year’s victory) but memories don’t win matches,” said France coach Ludovic Batelli.
“There have been changes in both teams and we have to analyse the Italians but we know that it will be a difficult match. It is always difficult against the Italians.”
Italy were in a tougher group but they were hanging on against Japan in the final group game to take second place behind South American champions Uruguay.
The young Azzurri raced into a 2-0 lead after just seven minutes but Japan spent much of the rest of the match in Italy’s half and were a little disappointed to draw 2-2.
– Perfect stage –
Ritsu Doan scored both goals for Japan, including a superb second when he dribbled through a tight Italian defence and finished from close range.
“We gave up two goals at the start, but we managed to adjust and get back in the game,” said Doan after the game. “We need to turn our sights to the knock-out phase now.”
On Tuesday Japan will meet Venezuela, the other perfect performer in the group stage with three wins against Germany, Mexico and Vanuatu and no goals conceded.
It is the perfect stage for Doan, with three goals so far, to enhance a growing reputation. Just 18, the 2016 Young Asian Player of the Year has been linked this week with European giants Ajax of Amsterdam and AS Monaco.
Not to be outdone, Lee Seung-Woo, the Barcelona U19 player dubbed the “Korean Messi” scored a fabulous goal in the hosts’ 2-1 win over six-time winners Argentina, who became the biggest team to fall in the group stage.
Lee and his Barcelona colleague Paik Seung-Ho have impressed so much that there have been calls for them to be drafted in to South Korea’s senior team to help qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
South Korea host Portugal at an already sold-out Cheonan Stadium on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Group A table-topppers England play Costa Rica, Uruguay meet Saudi Arabia and Germany, who squeezed through as one of four best third-placed finishers, take on Group C winners Zambia.
The United States, who finished top of Group F, play New Zealand on Thursday, while Mexico and Senegal meet in Incheon.