Saturday, July 14, 2007

Quarter-final previews

The FIFA U-20 World Cup continues to provide quality soccer. Only eight teams remain in the competition, and by Sunday night, they'll be reduced to four. Without further ado (Freddy or other), here's my previews and predictions for the quarter-final clashes.


Austria vs. USA (BMO Field, Toronto, 2:15 P.M. ET)

This should be an interesting tilt. The U.S. has had a strong tournament so far, defeating such South American powers as Brazil and Uruguay. Freddy Adu has shown why everyone rated him so highly several years ago, and has lived up to his tremendous potential. Danny Szetela has also been terrific, producing several goals in addition to his solid play as a defensive midfielder. Austria has also been strong, especially defensively, where they have only conceded two goals. Their attack has been reasonably one-dimensional though, with Erwin (Jimmy) Hoffer producing half of their goals. Surprisingly enough, the pre-match lineups have listed Hoffer as starting on the bench, as he did against Uruguay. The U.S. will need to beware of him coming off the bench late in the match, but if they can produce some goals against a strong Austrian defence, they should be able to take this game. The inclusion of standouts Sal Zizzo and Jozy Altidore in the starting lineup, both who were questionable due to injury, as well as the return of #1 keeper Chris Seitz, make things look very good for the Americans.

Prediction: U.S.

Spain vs. Czech Republic
(Commonwealth Stadium, Edmonton, 7:45 P.M. ET)

This clash of European sides should provide another interesting matchup of offense and defence. Spain lead all sides thus far with 12 goals for, while the Czechs have 6. However, the Czech team have also only conceded 5 in four games. Unfortunately for the Czechs, their side may be reduced by injury. In a bizzare twist, is reporting that midfielder Tomas Oklestek, who converted the decisive penalty against Japan in the last round, injured his shoulder in the post-goal celebrations. The Czechs have good depth though, as five different players have scored for them thus far. This could be a tough one to call, but I think Spain's performance against Brazil on Wednesday revealed them as one of the best sides in this tournament. Their variety of offensive threats, such as Adrian Lopez, tied for the tournament lead with five goals, and Diego Capel, who dominated on the wing against Brazil, should be enough to break down the Czech defense and carry them through.

Pick: Spain


Chile vs. Nigeria
(Olympic Stadium, Montreal, 2:15 P.M. ET)

Another interesting conflict here. Chile have proven surprisingly dominant in the competition thus far, as they entered as the last South American seed. They have not conceded a goal through four matches, and have seven to their account. However, they will be missing Arturo Vidal due to suspension. Vidal, the only man to notch a goal in their Round of 16 match against Portugal, was sent off late in that game for time-wasting. They will need star striker Alexis Sanchez to step up and provide goals, but his fitness is somewhat in question, as he has only played in two matches thus far. Nigeria have looked good as well thus far, but were in one of the easiest groups and only had to face Zambia in the Round of 16. They have five goals for to one against. They may make things difficult for Chile, but I don't feel that their attack will be able to overcome the strong defence of the South Americans.

Pick: Chile

Argentina vs. Mexico (Frank Clair Stadium, Ottawa, 7:45 P.M. ET)

This should be the match of the round. Argentina have been growing in strength throughout the tournament, after a disappointing 0-0 draw in the opener against the Czechs. They displayed magnificent technical skill and tremendous creativity to break down a solid Polish defence in the last round. Sergio Aguero, who notched two beautiful goals against the Poles (including one that made the TSN Honour Roll), is tied for the tournament lead with 5 goals in 5 matches, and has been one of the best players thus far. He's making the 23 million euro transfer fee Athletico Madrid agreed to for him last summer (making him the most expensive acquisition in their history) seem like a bargain. One of his main competitors thus far has been Mexican standout Giovanni Dos Santos, who belongs to Athletico's Spanish rival Barcelona. Dos Santos and his Mexican teammates have dominated thus far, with 10 goals for and only two against. They were the only team to collect a full 9 points from the group stage. However, they did not appear overly impressive against a weak Congo side last round, requiring two late goals to seal a 3-0 victory. Mexico should put up a good fight, but the depth of talent Argentina has, including such standouts as Aguero, Maximiliano Moralez, and Angel Di Maria, should be enough to see them through to the semis.

Pick: Argentina

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