Wednesday, July 11, 2007

U-20 Predictions Part Two

Here's my picks for Thursday's games:

Argentina vs. Poland (4:45 PM ET, BMO Field, Toronto)

Argentina were one of the favorites entering the tournament, and have done reasonably well so far. They started poorly, drawing 0-0 with the Czechs, but then hammered a weak Panama squad 6-0. They finished the group stage with a 1-0 victory over North Korea. Their defence has done tremendously well thus far not to allow a goal, but they haven't really faced a quality attacking side. Poland has been inconsistent thus far, pulling off an amazing 1-0 upset of Brazil in the opener but then getting shelled 6-1 by the Americans. They finished the group phase by drawing the South Koreans 1-1, good enough for second place in the "Group of Death, Group D. In order for them to win, they will have to follow the Greek model they utilized to perfection against Brazil: counterattack early and often, defend the middle of the pitch with all hands, and hope for an early goal.
The longer the game goes without the first goal, the better things look for Argentina: Poland will need to score early to have a good chance.Argentina will have to prove that they can score against a strong defence, and will have to spread the ball wide in order to win. I thought that was the chief problem Brazil had in the opener: they became too individualistic, and weren't able to create anything in the packed centre of the field. If Argentina can avoid the frustration that plagued Brazil, patiently wait for their chances, and prevent Poland from scoring, they should be able to take this one.

Pick: Argentina

Zambia vs. Nigeria (4:45 PM ET, Frank Clair Stadium, Ottawa)

This all-African matchup should provide an interesting game. Nigeria have had a good deal of success at this level: they reached the final in both 1989 and 2005, falling to Portugal and Argentina respectively. Their defence has been rock-solid thus far, and they have yet to concede a goal. However, they have only tallied three markers to date. They tied Japan for first place in Group F, but wound up second on goals for, as both sides had equal goal differentials.

Zambia began the tournament with a disappointing draw against Jordan. They looked better in a loss to powerhouse Spain, but saved a great performance for their final game against Uruguay, where they defeated the strong South Americans 2-0 to guarantee a spot in the Round of 16. They're peaking at the right time, and they could challenge Nigeria, but I think Nigeria's defence and experience will be enough to see them through.

Pick: Nigeria

Chile vs. Portugal (7:45 PM ET, Edmonton, Commonwealth Stadium)

This should be the marquee matchup of Thursday night. Chile dominated Group A, and proved the strength of the South American conference, as they only finished fourth in qualifying. They soundly defeated Canada and Congo by 3-0 scores, and tied Austria 0-0 in a meaningless final game. They have proved that they can both score and defend at this level. Portugal has been more inconsistent: they defeated soccer minnows New Zealand, but lost to both Mexico and Gambia. The Gambia game especially hurt, with star Bruno Gama and defender Andres Marques both picking up injuries. If they had their full side, I'd favour them more: as it is, they'll give Chile a run for their money, but I think they will fall short.

Pick: Chile

Mexico vs. Congo
(7:45 ET, Olympic Stadium, Montreal)

This appears to be quite a mismatch. Mexico dominated their group, and was the only team to achieve the maximum 9 points from the round-robin phase. Congo barely squeaked through, losing to Chile, drawing Austria, and beating Canada in a game that could have gone either way. Congo will go for it at every opportunity, but their defence needs work: they allowed Canada far too many quality chances in the final game, including several free headers. Mexico is an all-around team, and their class should show through here.

Pick: Mexico

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