Friday 14 June 2019, 12:20

Five surprise finalists in U-20 World Cup history

  • Ukraine and Korea Republic are first-time finalists at Poland 2019

  • The U-20 World Cup has a rich history of unexpected contenders

  • Qatar, Japan, Czech Republic, Serbia and Venezuela have all graced the final

Few expected Ukraine and Korea Republic to be battling it out in the final of the FIFA U-20 World Cup Poland 2019. After all, the Ukrainians had never advanced beyond the last 16 before, while Korea Republic's best finish was fourth way back in 1983. The duo are far from the competition’s first unexpected finalists, however. tells the stories of five of them.

1981: Qatar go the distance

After scraping into the tournament in Australia, debutants Qatar reached the quarter-finals with a record of one win, one draw and one loss. Coached by the Brazilian Evaristo de Macedo, the Qataris then pulled off a shock 3-2 defeat of Brazil and followed it up with a 2-1 win over England in the semi-finals. The Asian side’s fairy tale came to an abrupt end in the final, when they went down 4-0 to West Germany in a match played in heavy rain. The Qataris nevertheless impressed with their technique and tactical organisation, while their goalkeeper Younes Ahmed had an outstanding tournament.

1999: Japan show their cutting edge

At their fourth U-20 world finals appearance the Japanese put together a stunning run, beating Portugal, Mexico and Uruguay on their way to the final, becoming the second Asian side after Qatar to go so far in the competition. Coached by French tactician Philippe Troussier and led by their captain Shinji Ono, the Samurai Blue played a fluid and inventive brand of football before running out of steam in the final against Spain, who ran out easy 4-0 winners.

2007: Czech revelations

Few people expected much of Czech Republic at Canada 2007 after they only just made it to the tournament. Keeping it tight at the back and countering at speed, they nevertheless battled their way to the final, the highlight of their run being a penalty shoot-out defeat of Spain in the last eight. Waiting for the Czechs in the showpiece match were Argentina. The two sides had played out a goalless draw in the group phase, but on this occasion the South Americans claimed the trophy with a 2-1 win.

2015: Super Serbia

“The team that wanted it most won the trophy,” said Serbia coach Veljko Paunovic after his side had edged Brazil 2-1 in the final. The eastern Europeans started slowly in New Zealand, losing to Uruguay in their Group D opener. The Serbians then showed their determination to reach the knockout phase and win all four of their ensuing ties in extra time. Nemanja Maksimovic’s 118th-minute strike gave them victory in the final over Brazil, the second most successful nation in the competition’s history with five trophy wins.

2017: Venezuela’s long run

Making their second appearance in the competition, Venezuela came within an inch of a historic triumph. The South Americans, who failed to get beyond the last 16 in 2009, sparkled in the group phase with three wins, ten goals scored and none conceded. La Vinotinto had to fight hard in the next two rounds, earning respective 1-0 and 2-1 victories over Japan and USA. They went the distance again against Uruguay in the semis, a match they won 4-3 on penalties after the two sides had drawn 1-1 in regulation time. Their title hopes then came to an end against England in the final.

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