Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Previewing the Round of 16

On Wednesday, the Round of 16 will begin at the FIFA U-20 World Cup. Here's my breakdowns and predictions for each one of tomorrow night's games. Picks for Thursday night's games will follow tomorrow.


USA versus Uruguay
(7:45 PM ET, BMO Field, Toronto)

This will be an interesting one. The U.S. disappointed with a 1-1 draw in their opener against South Korea, which I saw in Montreal. However, they quickly recovered with a 6-1 demolishing of Poland and a massive 2-1 upset of Brazil. Freddy Adu has had a fantastic tournament thus far, and is perhaps showing the first real signs of living up to his tremendous potential. New York Red Bulls' striker Jozy Altidore has finished clinically thus far, while Sal Zizzo and Danny Szetela have produced well from midfield. Uruguay's team have not been as impressive to this point. They did well in the opener against a strong Spanish side, producing a draw, but barely squeaked out a 1-0 win over dismal Jordan and lost 2-0 to underdogs Zambia in the final group game. With that said, they had already qualified for the next round before the last match, and thus had little to play for. They are still one of the more impressive third-place finishers, along with Brazil, and will give the U.S. a run for their money, but I don't foresee them pulling off the win.

Pick: U.S.

Austria versus Gambia (7:45 ET, Commonwealth Stadium, Edmonton)

This will be an interesting matchup, with defensive-minded Austria taking on a Gambian side that goes for goal at every opportunity. Erwin Hoffer is the one Austrian who receives a lot of publicity, and he did produce a nice goal against Congo. However, that was one of only two goals the Austrians have so far, so scoring may be an issue for them. Against Canada, Austria showed that they can defend well as a team, which should serve them well in this match. Gambia did not look good in their first matches, getting blown out 3-0 by Mexico and barely defeating a weak New Zealand team by a score of 1-0. They rebounded with a nice 2-1 victory against Portugal, but it was a game which could have easily gone either way. There was also some poor discipline from the Gambians in that match, with captain Ken Jammeh sent off for a vicious tackle. He will miss this match, which could additionally play a factor.

Pick: Austria

Spain vs. Brazil (11:15 PM ET, Swangard Stadium, Burnaby)

This will be the marquee matchup of this round. Both teams were considered as strong possibilities to win it all going in. Spain have looked pretty good so far, but the quality of their opposition has been limited. They drew 2-2 with Uruguay, snuck past the Zambians in a 2-1 match, and defeated Jordan 4-2. Scoring has not been a problem for them. The Brazilians have also been able to score at times, particularly in their 3-2 win over South Korea, but have looked suspect on defence. They've allowed 5 goals in 3 matches, which isn't particularly bad, but isn't great either. On offence, they've displayed a lot of creativity, but less finishing. They were unable to break down the 10-man defence of Poland, and could only notch one goal in a surprising 2-1 loss to the Americans. However, I still like them to win. Brazil has a history of coming up big in crucial games at all levels, whereas Spain tends to choke whenever given half a chance.

Pick: Brazil

Japan versus the Czech Republic
(11:15 p.m. ET, Royal Athletic Park, Victoria)

The Japanese have surprised me thus far with exceptionally good performances. They've scored 4 goals, and were only shut out in a meaningless group finale against Nigeria. Their defence has also been very solid, as they've only allowed one goal through 3 matches. However, their group did include such easy marks as Costa Rica and Scotland. The Czechs also faced such opponents as North Korea and Panama, who should have provided similar soft targets. They defeated Panama 2-1, but drew 2-2 with the Koreans, giving them 3 goals against in three games. Their opener, where they were able to hold the talented Argentinians to a goalless draw was impressive, though. Their soccer pedigree would suggest that they'd be favoured here, but their lack of offense thus far tells me that the Japanese will triumph.

Pick: Japan

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