The Soccer Gods smiled upon the United States for the first time in a while at the Draw for the Group Stage of the 2015 FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Auckland, New Zealand. It was the least they could do after the Group Draws for the 2013 FIFA Under-20 World Cup and the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Gone are the likes of Spain, France, Ghana in the Under 20s and Germany, Portugal, Ghana in the Senior Tournament, the Americans will square off with the hosts New Zealand, Myanmar, and the Ukraine.
It was almost the best possible draw for the Americans, it is definitely a winnable group. The United States will start off their campaign in Whangarei at the Northland Events Center against debutant Myanmar on May 30th at 4:00 pm local time, which translates to Midnight Eastern Time on May 30th.
Myanmar qualified for this year’s tournament after making a run to the Semi-Finals on the 2014 AFC Under-19 Championships which they hosted. They opened up with a draw 0-0 with Yemen before a shocking 3-0 win over Thailand in their second game which put them in a good position to win the Group.
Unfortunately, Iran was able to pull off a big 2-0 win over Myanmar in front of 19,784 fans at the Thuwunna Stadium in Yangon. Myanmar held the first tiebreaker with Thailand and knew that the worst they could do would be second, which they earned as Thailand beat Yemen 3-2 with two goals from Patipan Pinsermoostsri in the final five minutes of regular time.
The hosts were lined up with Group B winners United Arab Emirates who survived a tough group with Uzbekistan and Australia to earn their spot in the Quarterfinals. Both teams were one win away from the Under-20 World Cup. It would be 17-year-old Than Paing in the 53rd minute with the most important goal of his young international career to lift Myanmar to the 1-0 win and a berth in this year’s Under-20 Tournament.
Hosts New Zealand will be the second opponent for the United States at the North Harbour Stadium in Auckland. That match will kick-off on June 2nd at 7:00 pm local time, which translates to 3:00 am Eastern Time on June 2nd.
This is the fourth appearance in the Under-20 World Cup for New Zealand, their first as hosts. They have made four of the last five tournaments since making their debut back in 2007. New Zealand has never actually won a game in their previous appearances.
They have played in a total of nine games in their three other appearances in this tournament with a combined record of zero wins, two draws, and seven losses. They also have a minus-11 goal difference having scored four times and allowed 15 goals. Their worst loss was a 3-0 defeat to Uzbekistan to start their 2013 campaign.
The United States will finish off their group stage with a clash against Ukraine on June 5th at the North Harbour Stadium in Auckland. That match will kick off at 7:00 pm local time which will be at 3:00 am Eastern Time on June 5th.
It will be the second time that the United States and the Ukraine have met in the Under-20 World Cup, the other time was also a group stage finale. That game took place on June 23rd, 2001 in Mendoza, Argentina. The USA took a 1-0 lead in the 39th minute from a strike by Kenny Arena and were looking to be on their way to the top spot in the Group A. Ukraine struck in the final minute of regular time to level the score at 1. Ukraine would win the Group with the United States finishing second. Neither team advanced past the Round of 16.
Ukraine has played in two previous Under-20 Tournaments and has advanced to the knockout round in both appearances. With the group draw, the odds of them making it three in three are pretty good.
Can the United States break their knockout round drought and make it past the Group Stage for the first time since 2007? Stay tuned with VAVEL USA as we get you prepared for this tournament.