Five Things to Know: The 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Korea Republic

In the wake of winning its first CONCACAF crown earlier this month, the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team now puts its focus on the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup set for May 20-June 11 in Korea Republic. Drawn into Group F, the USA will play its first two matches of the tournament in Incheon on May 22 against Ecuador and May 25 against Senegal before closing out the Group Stage against Saudi Arabia on May 28 in Daejeon.

Here are five things to know about the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Korea Republic:

Teams and Tournament Format
Twenty-four teams from the six FIFA confederations will participate in the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup. Each team qualified through its confederation’s qualifying tournament and were drawn into six four-team groups on March 15 in Suwon: 

Group A                      Group B                      Group C
Korea Republic           Venezuela                   Zambia*
Guinea                        Germany                     Portugal
Argentina                    Vanuatu                      Iran
England                       Mexico                        Costa Rica 

Group D                      Group E                       Group F
South Africa                France*                       Ecuador
Japan*                        Honduras                    USA*
Italy                             Vietnam                      Saudi Arabia
Uruguay*                    New Zealand*            Senegal 

*Indicates confederation qualifying tournament champion

The FIFA U-20 Men’s World Cup – which is staged every two years – features 24 nations divided into six groups of four teams each. The top two teams in each group, as well as the top four third-place finishers advance to the Knockout Round where the 16 teams play single-elimination matches all the way to the Final on June 11 in Suwon. 

Tournament History
The 2017 tournament marks the 21st edition of the FIFA U-20 World Cup, which was previously known as the FIFA World Youth Championship until 2007. Since its inception in 1977, a total of 90 associations have participated in the tournament. From 1977 to 1995 the competition featured 16 teams, before moving to 24 participants in 1997. The first two tournaments in 1977 and 1979 were played with 40-minute halves and 10-minute extra time periods. The switch to 45-minute halves and 15-minute extra time periods began at the 1981 tournament. 

Nine nations have been crowned FIFA U-20 World Cup champions, with Argentina leading the way (6), followed by Brazil (5) and Portugal and Serbia with two each. One-time winners include the Soviet Union, Germany, Spain, Ghana and France.

U.S. History at the FIFA U-20 World Cup
The USA has taken part in 14 of 20 previous editions of the tournament and claimed its best finish in 1989 when they placed fourth. Featuring future MNT World Cup contributors, Kasey Keller, Mike Burns and Chris Henderson, the 1989 team defeated East Germany 2-0 in the Group Stage and Iraq 2-1 in the Quarterfinals before falling by the same score line in an extra time defeat to Nigeria in the Semifinals. While the U.S. fell 2-0 to Brazil in the Third-Place Match, Keller was awarded the Silver Ball as the competition’s second-best player, in a tournament performance that would catapult him to the USA’s 1990 World Cup squad and a move to English side Millwall. 

More recently the U.S. has made three runs to the Quarterfinals, coming in 2003, 2007 and 2015.

The 2003 squad featured future National Team players Eddie Johnson, Ricardo Clark, Bobby Convey and a little-known attacker named Clint Dempsey. Group Stage wins against Paraguay (3-1) and Korea Republic (2-0), came before the U.S. knocked off Ivory Coast 2-0 in the Round of 16. Facing Argentina in the Quarterfinals, the U-20 MNT led Albiceleste thanks to a 59th minute goal from Convey. Just as it looked like the USA would score an historic victory, Javier Mascherano scored an equalizer in the fourth minute of second-half stoppage time before Fernando Cavenaghi’s 104th minute penalty kick ended the USA’s hopes. With four goals, Eddie Johnson won the Golden Boot, the first U.S. male to win the award at a FIFA competition.

A star-studded group took to the field for the USA during the 2007 tournament in Canada. Thomas Rongen’s side included current MNT captain Michael Bradley, striker Jozy Altidore and midfielder Dax McCarty, as well as Freddy Adu, Robbie Rogers and Danny Szetela. Adu’s hat trick against Poland led the U.S. to a 6-1 win, while Altidore’s brace in the Group Stage finale saw the U-20 MNT earn an historic win against Brazil. In the Round of 16, Bradley scored an extra time winner to give the U.S. a 2-1 victory against Uruguay, but the side fell short in the Quarterfinals when they dropped a 2-0 decision to Austria. 

Featuring current MNT players Kellyn Acosta, Paul Arriola, Emerson Hyndman and Matt Miazga, the 2015 team scored Group Stage wins against Myanmar (2-1) and hosts New Zealand (4-0) to push the side to the Round of 16. There, the USA earned a 1-0 victory against Colombia before falling in agonizingly in a 6-5 shootout defeat to eventual champions Serbia.

Another absent defending champion
Led by current Chicago Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic, Serbia won their second FIFA U-20 World Cup at the 2015 tournament in New Zealand. Despite that success, Serbia will not be able to defend their crown in 2017, as they were unable to reach the final round of UEFA’s U-20 World Cup qualifying tournament. This marks the fifth straight U-20 World Cup where the incumbent title holder will be absent from the field.

Venues/Host Nation
All 52 matches will be played in six cities in Korea Republic: Cheonan (Cheonan Sports Complex – 25,814 capacity), Daejeon (Daejeon World Cup Stadium – 39,654 capacity), Incheon (Incheon Stadium – 19,649 capacity), Jeju (Jeju World Cup Stadium – 29,346 capacity), Jeonju (Jeonju World Cup Stadium – 41,785 capacity) and Suwon (Suwon World Cup Stadium – 42,655 capacity). Jeju is the only host site not located on the Korean Peninsula, instead, games will be played in Seogwipo, the biggest city on the southern island province.

Excluding Cheonan, the other five venues also played host to the 2002 FIFA World Cup.

As the host nation, Korea Republic joins Mexico and Japan as the only nations to have hosted all four of FIFA’s international tournaments on the Men’s side. In 2001 and 2002, Korea Republic co-hosted the Confederations Cup and World Cup with Japan. Then, in 2007 they hosted the FIFA U-17 World Cup. The country’s best finish across those three tournaments came when it finished fourth at the 2002 FIFA World Cup.