Saturday 23 February 2019, 16:10

FIFA Legends Bebeto, Couto all set for draw in Poland

  • FIFA U-20 World Cup draw to take place on Sunday 24 February

  • FIFA Legends Bebeto and Fernando Couto to take part

  • Find out how to watch it from 17.30 CET here

FIFA Legends, Bebeto and Fernando Couto, have arrived in Poland’s Tri-City region - where you will find host city Gdynia - and are looking forward to Sunday’s group stage draw for the FIFA U-20 World Cup Poland 2019.

"This is my first time in Poland and I really like it here. You have beautiful beaches, everything is really well-organised here," said Bebeto, a key component in Brazil's 1994 FIFA World Cup-winning side.

"This is a special occasion, so I’m very happy to be visiting," added the Portuguese Couto, himself a veteran of the Korea/Japan 2002 edition. "I also hope that my younger counterparts show what they can do here in Poland in May and June."

With less than 100 days to go until Poland 2019 kicks off, it's a tournament has a special place in the heart of both, with Bebeto (in 1983) and Couto (in 1989) having World Cup U-20 medals on their mantelpieces. "I have wonderful memories," Bebeto recalled. "Putting on that Brazilian jersey has always been a huge honour for me. I’ll never forget winning the U-20 World Cup because it was a great start to my career.

"Of course, 1994, the year I won the World Cup in the USA, was exceptional. To play at the World Cup, to score goals, to also perform my cradle celebration, dedicated to my newborn son which was so well-received by the footballing world, will stay with me forever. When it comes to winning the World Cup, the U-20 World Cup was a really solid base – that was where everything started," recalled Bebeto, who formed a formidable partnership with fellow striker Romario in 1994.

Fernando Couto also has fond memories of the U-20 World Cup, being part of a squad littered with talent. "I remember how hard we worked back then, how difficult it was to be away from our families on the other side of the world, as the competition was held in Saudi Arabia.

"We put lots of effort into that tournament, but we got our reward. We won the title and our generation were then dubbed the 'Golden Generation'. That team was the lifeblood of the senior team for many years – said the former Portuguese defender in Gdynia, who also hopes that his contemporaries can emulate those successes.

"We have a very strong team again, we are European Champions at under-17 and 19 level; this is a gifted generation. We will be one of the favourites for the tournament in Poland, that’s for sure."

Bebeto, however won’t be able to support his native Brazil as the team, somewhat surprisingly, failed to qualify for the finals in Poland. Does that mean Brazil have stopped producing talent? "No, absolutely not!" the former lethal striker insists. "It’s hard to explain why we didn’t qualify. One of the reasons, for certain, was not having Real Madrid’s Vinicius Junior and Paulinho from Bayer Leverkusen.

"With them in the side, the team would’ve been much stronger and I’m sure we would have been able to qualify," he added, unable to hide his disappointment at the fact his country, a five-time winner at this age group, would be missing the tournament.

Both men, who will be the stars of Sunday’s draw (starting at 17:30 local time), asserted they felt right at home in Poland. "I’ve not been to Poland before, but I really like it," Bebeto said. "You’ve got stunning beaches, and everything is exceptionally well-organised.

"What about Polish football? The first name that comes to mind is Zbigniew Boniek. Every Brazilian knows who Boniek is. He’s head of the Polish Football Association at the moment, but I remember when he was a great player himself."

"I came up against a few Polish teams in my career," Couto explained, so I know a little bit more about Poland. It’s also a popular destination for Portuguese players nowadays, plus my fellow countryman, Ricardo Sa Pinto, is the coach of Legia Warsaw.

"In terms of Poland organising a tournament such as this one... I think it will boost the development of the game. I know what I’m talking about because Portugal have really taken advantage of hosting major tournaments. I hope the same happens in Poland."

During Saturday’s photo session and walkabout, Bebeto and Fernando had a kick around with the official FIFA U-20 World Cup ball, right here on the beach. At one point, the ball landed in the sea and drifted away. Is that a sign? The tournament starts on 23 May and could well help lots of players sail onto bigger and better things. Which players will take advantage?

Official Matchball in the water