The 2019 FIFA U20 World Cup has been decidedly mixed for the four CONCACAF participants, and that’s being generous.
If it wasn’t for the US making the quarter-finals, knocking out France in the Round of the 16 in an exciting five-goal encounter, disaster wouldn’t be too strong a word to describe how the CONCACAF nations had fared.
Both Mexico and Honduras finished bottom of their groups, pointless, and in the case of the Hondurans with a minus 19 goal difference, the worst of all of the 24 teams taking part. Panama scraped through to the second round as the fourth of the third placed qualifiers, by way of scoring three goals to Portugal’s paltry two, only to then be dispatched 4-1 by Ukraine.
It’s been left to the US to keep some CONCACAF pride intact, finishing second in their group to those Ukrainians, and then beating France 3-2 in the first knockout round, setting up a quarter-final on Saturday with an impressive Ecuador side.
And to think, Canada weren’t even close to qualifying for this tournament, perhaps illustrating the work John Herdman and his team have in store to make the country a force to be reckoned with at all levels on the world stage.
This tournament is always a fun watch, as you see the starts of tomorrow emerge and you try and peg which ones will go on to be future giants of the game. When Canada hosted the U20 World Cup in 2007 winners Argentina boasted a squad with the likes of Golden Boot winner Sergio Aguero, Angel di Maria, and Sergio Romero, while the likes of David Luiz, Luis Suarez, Carlos Vela, Kendall Waston, and Willian also burst onto the international scene for their countries.
As a fan, it’s fun to try and scouts some of these players and wonder if the likes of the Whitecaps should make a move for some of them. And we’re not alone, for ‘Caps coach Marc Dos Santos has been avidly watching the games and doing some scouting of his own.
There certainly some players from the tournament now on his radar, but it’s not like playing Fantasy Football, as acquiring any of them runs into a variety of issues.
“There’s players on my radar,” Dos Santos admitted to AFTN. “I would tell you that at the World Cup I’m looking at a group of 12 players, but when I wake up in the morning and I Google them, Chelsea’s looking, Benfica’s looking.
“It’s tough to look at the very average player and say something like, oh this guy from Japan, Milan’s not going to want him, but maybe if we get him and we work with him. That’s tough to do. So the guys I look at, I already know that big clubs are looking. That’s the tough part. You need to see after the World Cup how it comes and then with the list that I have, what’s going on with these guys.”
Scouting any of these players produces a plethora of problems. Some are unknowns and may have raised their game on the big stage, but can they be consistent with that? Others may be relatively unknown to us, but not to some of the European clubs who already have them on their radar, particularly those from the African countries, three of whom reached the knockout stages and two of them, Mali and Senegal are now into the quarter-finals.
“The guys from Mali, they’re all linked to French First Division [clubs],” Dos Santos explained. “And you’re like oh I like this number six. There’s a guy, the number six of Mali, although he plays with the number eight on his jersey [Mohamed Camara], a very good player.
“You watch the game against Panama and this is a very good player. He has the character of [Diego] Chara. But then when you Google the name and you click on news, and he’s already linked.”
That’s not the case for all the countries. New Zealand being a good example. A number of their players impressed in their journey to the knockout stages, where they eventually lost out on penalties to Colombia.
They may not have the interest from clubs in some of the top European nations, but that doesn’t mean they don’t come with a heavy price tag, even if they’re not regulars with their current clubs.
“A lot of these players are in the Australian league, so these are good guys to try and follow up,” Dos Santos said of the Kiwi players before cautioning, “But I made an enquiry about a winger from New Zealand. He doesn’t start in his team and his buying price was $4 million. Inbeom Hwang was $1.8 million. How is this guy four? So the market is very aggressive right now. Very inflated. It’s tough now to be in the market.”