Wednesday 31 October 2018, 09:13

Teams gear up for expanded CONCACAF U-20 Championship

  • 2018 CONCACAF U-20 Championship kicks off on Thursday

  • Expanded format sees 34 teams take part in three-week competition

  • Four spots at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Poland 2019 up for grabs

The quest to make next year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup begins for teams in the North, Central America and Caribbean regions this week, as the latest edition of the CONCACAF U-20 Championship takes place in USA.

In a new and expanded format, 34 teams will do battle for the regional title and one of four qualification spots at Poland 2019. Unlike previous editions of the competition, where regional qualifiers in the Caribbean and Central America were played before the final tournament, the redesigned competition ensures that all the participating teams will play a minimum of four matches.

The tournament in brief:

When: 1-21 November 2018. Where: IMG Academy - Bradenton, Florida, USA. Who: 34 teams drawn into four groups of six teams and two groups of five teams each. What’s at stake: Four places at next year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup in Poland. How: Each team will play their group opponents once in round-robin play, with the six group winners advancing to the qualification stage, where they will be divided into two groups of three teams each. After a second stage of round-robin play, the two group winners and runners-up will book their spots at next year’s U-20 World Cup. The two group winners will also advance to the tournament final.

The favourites While the new format may offer the potential for a few upsets, the region’s powerhouses will be expected to make the latter stages of the competition. Defending champions USA will have their sights on topping Group A, with the Stars and Stripes likely to face its stiffest test when it meets Trinidad and Tobago. Mexico also face a similar challenge in trying to claim top spot in Group B, with Jamaica likely to be their main rivals.

Korea Republic 2017 qualifiers Costa Rica and Honduras will have to be at their best to secure top spot in their groups, while an intriguing showdown between Canada and Panama may unfold for the summit in Group D.

Players to watch USA coach Tab Ramos will be able to draw on plenty of professional experience in his squad. This includes Toronto FC forward Ayo Akinola, who last year led the Americans to the quarter-finals of the FIFA U-17 World Cup in India. Canada, meanwhile, will hope Juventus goalkeeper Alessandro Busti can play an influential role, having made his senior international debut with the Canucks in CONCACAF Nations League qualifying earlier this month.

Mexico fans will have high hopes that winger Diego Lainez can lead El Tri back to the regional title after establishing himself in the Club America first team, while Costa Rica’s contingent of European-based players may prove valuable to the central American’s aspirations. They include defender Fernan Faerron and forward Andy Reyes, who both ply their trade in Austria with LASK Linz.

The stat 13 - the record number of tournament titles that Mexico have won since the competition was first held in 1962. Five other teams have also been crowned CONCACAF’s best at this age level. They include Canada, Costa Rica and Honduras (two titles each), as well as El Salvador and USA (one title each).

What they said “It’s a demanding format, above all in the physical aspect. There are five matches, we are in a group of six teams. You play a day and then rest a day in the first phase. The thing to overcome will be having players able to participate at 100 per cent and a lot of the idea of this list is to have players apt to be able to play those matches. They all become important. There are not starters or substitutes, they all have a specific role, they change position but not quality.” Mexico coach Diego Ramirez

“There is great momentum in our game, especially coming out of the Toulon tournament. There are a number of young players that have already progressed into the men’s national team, so this competition provides others with another opportunity to gain valuable experience, especially in playing multiple matches in a short window against different types of opponents.” Canada coach Andrew Olivieri