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Everything you need to know about the FIFA U-20 World Cup

AP Photo/Matt Slocum

Some of the best young talent in the world will be on display during the next month at the FIFA U-20 World Cup. 

The competition in Poland begins Thursday, with the United States taking the field for the first time Friday. 

The group stage will take place over the course of eight days, and the 16 best teams advance to the knockout round. 

Two years ago in South Korea, the United States made a run to the quarterfinals before being eliminated by Venezuela. 

There are even more expectations for the U.S. this time around.

Below is a full guide to the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup.

Basic Information

Dates: May 23-June 15

Location: Six different sites in Poland.

Where to Watch: FS1, FS2, Fox Soccer Plus

Final: June 15 at Stadion Widzewa in Lodz.

Qualification

Twenty-four teams from the six continental federations qualified for the U-20 World Cup.

The United States, Mexico, Panama and Honduras qualified out of the Concacaf U-20 championship in November. 

Asia, Africa and South America are also represented by four teams, while two come out of Oceania.

Host nation Poland automatically qualified for the tournament, while five other European sides qualified through the 2018 UEFA U-19 Championship.

Groups

Group A: Poland, Colombia, Tahiti, Senegal

Group B: Mexico, Italy, Japan, Ecuador

Group C: Honduras, New Zealand, Uruguay, Norway

Group D: Qatar, Nigeria, Ukraine, United States

Group E: Panama, Mali, France, Saudi Arabia

Group F: Portugal, South Korea, Argentina, South Africa

Knockout Round Qualification

The top two teams from each group automatically advance to the round of 16. 

After that, the third-place teams from each group will be aligned in a table together, and the top four point-getters advance.

Group winners can’t face the third-place team from their group and the same teams from a single group can’t face off in the quarterfinals either. 

Evaluating the USMNT’s Chances

Most people view this year’s USMNT U-20 side as the most talented in decades. 

In order for the World Cup to be a success for the United States, it has to at least reach the quarterfinals, which is where it was eliminated in 2015 on penalties and 2017 in extra time. 

There was a long debate regarding which young stars should play at the Concacaf Gold Cup with the senior team and which should head to the U-20 World Cup. Timothy Weah landed on Tab Ramos’ U-20 roster, while Josh Sargent is set to play for the USMNT at the Gold Cup.

Bayern Munich’s Chris Richards, Wolfsburg’s Ulysses Llanez and Freiburg’s Alex Mendez are three of the stars worth keeping an eye on throughout the tournament. 

From a Major League Soccer perspective, Philadelphia Union centerback Mark McKenzie and FC Dallas midfielder Paxton Pomykal are expected to stand out. McKenzie, who captained the side at the Concacaf U-20 championship, was named captain for the U-20 World Cup earlier this week. 

The Americans open Group D play Friday against Ukraine, and their toughest test of the group phase will come Monday against Nigeria.

Their first two games will be played at the Stadion Miejski in Bielsko-Biala, while their finale against Qatar takes place in Tychy. 

Mexico Headlined By Young Star

Diego Lainez rocketed into the United States soccer atmosphere in September, when he was mocked by Matt Miazga for his height during a friendly between the USMNT and Mexico. 

Lainez, who plays at Real Betis, is billed as the next great Mexican player, and he has a chance to reinforce that in Poland. 

The 18-year-old already has four caps for El Tri and he made 12 appearances in La Liga for Real Betis after signing for the Spanish side in January.

Lainez is the only foreign-based player on the Mexico roster, which does not include Jonathan Gonzalez, who made a controversial one-time switch to play for Mexico in 2018. Gonzalez’s participation in the tournament was blocked by Monterrey. 

Players to Watch

Ezequiel Barco, Argentina

Before leaving for the U-20 World Cup, Ezequiel Barco started to round into form for Atlanta United. 

Not only did his performances bring delight to fans of the Five Stripes, they produced some promise for Argentina’s U-20 World Cup hopes. 

Barco is one of many talented midfielders on the Argentine squad, and is one of only three players in the group who already moved out of Argentina for club soccer. 

Boubacar Kamara, France

If you go down France’s roster, you could select at least a dozen candidates for players to watch.

Defender Boubacar Kamara is one of the many bright young prospects on the Les Bleus roster and he is coming off a strong season in Ligue 1 with Marseille. 

If everything goes well for Kamara and his French teammates in Poland, they will be some of the hottest young names on the transfer market this summer. 

Gedson Fernandes, Portugal 

A collection of impressive performances in Poland should pull Gedson Fernandes away from Benfica and on to the roster of one of Europe’s top clubs. 

The 20-year-old midfielder is a key piece of Portugal’s roster and he enters Poland as one of the most-hyped prospects in the tournament.

If Fernandes plays up to his potential over the next month, he could join teammate Diogo Dalot, who plays for Manchester United in the Premier League, which should be one of his many options in the summer. 

Favorite

France

France is the team to beat. 

Les Bleus have a star-studded roster of players receiving first-team minutes at some of Europe’s top clubs. 

As if the French needed more motivation to win the tournament. They already had it from losing to Italy in the semifinals of the UEFA U-19 Championships last summer. 

France should breeze through Group E, which will set it up for a run through the bottom half of the knockout bracket. 

If the United States takes second in its group, it would have to face France in the round of 16. 

Other potential knockout-round opponents for France include the winners of Groups A and C and the runners-up in Groups B and F.

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