BUENOS AIRES (AP) — Argentina will play on the opening day of the Under-20 World Cup on Saturday just over a month since it replaced Indonesia as tournament host and participant.
After such a dramatic race to the start line, 24 competing teams and soccer’s international governing body can breathe a sigh of relief.
Four cities in Argentina will feature some of the sport’s best young prospects while the South American nation is still celebrating Lionel Messi and his national team’s 2022 World Cup triumph in Qatar.
Protests in Muslim-majority Indonesia against hosting the Israel team forced FIFA into a very late switch of venues. Indonesia does not have formal diplomatic relations with Israel.
Defending champion and war-torn Ukraine will not take part, which makes continental champions England, Brazil and Senegal favorites to lift the title. Argentina, the record six-time champion, failed to qualify initially but FIFA decided it should take the guaranteed spot as tournament host.
Coached by Argentina great Javier Mascherano, the hosts are aiming to emulate the team of 2001 and clinch the title on home soil. Mascherano held the Argentine record for most international caps until it was broken by Messi, who won the 2005 under-20 World Cup at the start of illustrious career.
Clubs needed to authorize their contracted players so they could selected for the Under-20 World Cup, and many talented footballers called by their coaches will not take part in the tournament because they were not allowed.
Champions in 2017, England will bring players who won the Under-19 European title in 2022, including Chelsea midfielder Carney Chukwuemeka. Its main rival for the top of Group E will be Uruguay, runners-up in the South American championship earlier this year.
Real Madrid did not allow Uruguay to bring striker Álvaro Rodríguez.
Five-time winner Brazil will not be able to field two of its star teenage strikers; Athletico Paranaense’s Vitor Roque and 16-year-old Endrick, who has already signed a deal with Real Madrid. Ramon Menezes’ Brazil team will have Italy and Nigeria as Group D rivals.
Argentina will kick off in Group A against Asian champion Uzbekistan in Santiago del Estero. The hosts will have to do without striker Alejandro Garnacho of Manchester United or Real Madrid’s Nicolás Paz.
Senegal, which had a perfect qualification campaign in Africa, will be in Group C with Colombia and Japan. Winger Samba Diallo is regarded as one of the players to watch in the tournament. That is also the case of 16-year-old Ecuadorian striker Kendry Paez, who plays for Independiente del Valle and is expected to join Chelsea in 2025.
The top two teams of each of the six groups and the four best third-place finishers will advance to the round-of-16.
The U.S. Will find tough rivals in Group B, starting with Ecuador on Saturday and then Slovakia on May 26.
European teams have won the latest four editions of the Under-20 World Cup, which is being staged for the 23rd time.
Savarese reported from Sao Paulo.
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