Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Seoul — The Fifa Under-20 World Cup kicks off in South Korea on Saturday and looks wide open after 2015 champions Serbia and beaten finalists Brazil failed to qualify.

Some of the world’s top young footballing talent will be on display, with more than 500 players in 24 teams taking part, but the bookmakers are split on who to make favourites.

Bet365 make 2013 winners and 2016 under-19 European champions France 6-1 favourites, followed by Germany at 7-1 and Uruguay and Argentina at 9-1. But Bwin have Germany at 4-1, Argentina at 5-1, France at 7-1 and Italy at 9-1.

France’s Bleuets will be without Monaco prodigy Kylian Mbappe, who misses out at the insistence of his club and French senior coach Didier Deschamps, whose team have three matches to play early in June.

Saturday’s opening game sees Venezuela — whose squad includes four full internationals including the 12-cap Malaga forward Adalberto Penaranda — take on Germany in a Group B encounter in Daejeon.

It is followed in Jeonju by one of the most eagerly anticipated World Cup rivalries when England take on six-time winners Argentina.

The old rivals were drawn together in Group A by Argentina’s legendary former captain Diego Maradona — whose infamous "hand of God" goal set England on the way to elimination in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal — and countryman Pablo Aimar.

The countries’ long history of senior World Cup clashes have included England’s David Beckham being vilified for his red card in France 1998 and the completion of his redemption as captain when he scored the winner against Argentina in Sapporo, Japan four years later.

This England squad feature right-back Kyle Walker-Peters, who has just signed a new contract with Tottenham Hotspur, and striker Dominic Solanke, who will be out of contract with Chelsea in midyear.

Solanke, thought to be on the wish lists of clubs such as Liverpool, RB Leipzig and Celtic, had a successful loan spell last season at Vitesse Arnhem, where he bagged seven goals in 21 appearances in the Dutch top flight.

Hosts South Korea are also in Group A, with Guinea, and coach Shin Tae-Yong has hopes of making the quarterfinals.

His main weapon is the "Korean Messi", Lee Seung-Woo, who plays for Barcelona and is revered for his ball skills.

The under-20 tournament is held every two years and many of its top performers go on to global superstardom.

Among them have been Argentinian trio Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero (2007) and Maradona (1979), who is one of only 10 players to be part of under-20 and senior World Cup winning sides.

AFP

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