CAIRO: With defending champion Argentina failing to qualify for the Under-20 World Cup, Brazil is heavily favored to win a fifth title in the tournament held in Egypt
Victory would erase memories of 2007, when Brazil s much-vaunted attack, led by AC Milan forward Alexandre Pato, failed to reach the quarterfinals while Argentina compounded the misery with a record sixth trophy.
We have a very talented squad and we re capable of playing a great tournament, Brazil forward Alain Kardec said. There s always pressure when you re playing for the Selecao, regardless of the age group, but the players are ready.
Brazil won the title in 1983, 85, 93 and 2003, but Argentina took over by winning five of the last seven, with Lionel Messi lighting up the tournament in 2005 and Sergio Aguero stealing the show two years ago.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who is scheduled to attend Thursday s opening match between Egypt and Trinidad and Tobago at the military stadium in Alexandria, noted how the tournament has repeatedly unearthed future stars such as (Diego) Maradona, Ronaldinho and Messi.
Kaka, Luis Figo, Roberto Carlos, Thierry Henry, Xavi Hernandez, Michael Owen and Michael Essien are some of football s greats who have shone at a tournament which remains a magnet for scouts from the world s top teams.
Even though Italy is without 18-year-old Inter Milan defender Davide Santon and 19-year-old Inter striker Mario Balotelli, FIFA vice president Jack Warner thinks the quality remains high.
Football stars are created, and in this competition you will see stars created, Warner said Wednesday. Messi was not born in Barcelona. Messi was born from this kind of competition. Michael Owen, all these guys … they don t come here as stars, they are made stars.
Warner dismissed the idea that teams may be tempted to field older players.
Overage (cheating) is rampant in the under-17 (category), but in the under-20 we have no evidence of it, he said. And if, by chance, a guy is one or two years older, it would not make much difference for this age group.
Attacking midfielders Douglas Costa and Erick Flores are among those to watch this time, and should give Brazil coach Rodrigo Lourenco plenty of options for the opening match against Costa Rica in Port Said on Sunday.
Brazil also faces Australia and Czech Republic in Group E.
Ending South American dominance is the test facing former champions Germany and Spain, while Egypt, Cameroon, Nigeria and Ghana hope that keeping the trophy in Africa will further fuel excitement for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
With Egypt winning the last two African Cup of Nations titles, coach Miroslav Soukup knows expectations will be high Thursday at the 80,000 stadium in Alexandria.
The entire nation expects us to do well, said Soukup, who guided the Czechs to the 2007 final.
Hany Ramzi, a former defender who made 124 international appearances for Egypt, will assist Soukup on one of the rare squads without European-based players, with pressure firmly on Al Ahly striker Mohamed Talaat to deliver.
We called up several professionals from Italy, Austria, Denmark and other countries … But they were no better than the local players, Ramzi said. We mustn t forget that the national team have succeeded in winning the African Cup of Nations twice with local players.
With Paraguay and Italy – runners-up last year at the Under-19 European Championship – also in Group A, Egypt has formidable opposition.
The Germans won the under-19 Euros, while Spain s deep talent pool boasts the likes of Arsenal midfielder Fran Merida and Atletico Madrid pair Sergio Asenjo and Alvaro Dominguez. Spain is joined in Group B by Nigeria, Venezuela and Tahiti.
Unfortunately for Germany, midfielder Thomas Moeller has made such an impression at Bayern Munich this season – scoring five goals in the last four games – that there was little chance Bayern coach Louis van Gaal would release him.
Nigeria s squad, meanwhile, includes several players who won the Under-17 World Cup two years ago, and Cameroon coach Alain Wabo has meticulously prepared his Young Lions by arriving more than a week ago.
On the one hand, it s helped us acclimatize to conditions very different from those back home right now, and on the other I wanted to lead my players into the thick of things step by step, Wabo said.
Germany plays its first Group C game against the United States in Suez on Saturday. South Korea follows against Cameroon at the Mubarak Stadium.
England, meanwhile, must remember how to score a goal before thinking of winning the tournament. Having failed to qualify in 2001, 05 and 07 – England last scored in 1997 and is without a goal in 581 minutes of play.
England s best showing was third in 1993, underlining how the influx of foreign stars into the Premier League crushed the progression of England s youth players.
England coach Brian Eastick is without Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck, but he still has Chelsea midfielder Michael Woods and United striker Febian Brandy.
England faces Uruguay in Ismailia on Saturday, while Ghana and Uzbekistan are also in Group D.
Hungary, boasting Liverpool s Krisztian Nemeth in attack, looks to be the strongest team in Group F, which also includes South Africa, Honduras and the United Arab Emirates.