Colombia among the favorites in U-20 World Cup

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BOGOTA (Colombia): Colombia have every reason to feel it may be the favorite to win the Under-20 World Cup rather than the more familiar contenders like Spain, Brazil, Nigeriaand Argentina.

Colombia is one of only three teams to win its first three group matches – Spain and Nigeria are the others – and it will have several home-field advantages when play opens Tuesday and Wednesday in the knockout round-of-16.

Colombia also has a slightly easier draw. Brazil, Nigeria and Spain are in the same bracket, meaning only one can reach the Aug. 20 final. The top team in Colombia’s half of the draw is Argentina, which has been good but not great.

Play on Tuesday features: Colombia vs. Costa Rica, Argentina vs. Egypt, Cameroon vs. Mexico and Portugal vs. Guatemala. On Wednesday it’s: Nigeria vs. England, Spain vs. South Korea, Brazil vs. Saudi Arabia, and France vs. Ecuador.

“Undoubtedly, Colombia is excellent,” Costa Rica coach Ronald Gonzalez said. “Their attack is devastating, but we’ll look for a way to contain and surprise their defense.”

Colombia is being led by Luis Muriel of Udinese with three goals and James Rodriguez of Porto with two. Colombia will play its fourth straight match in Bogota before 42,000 vuvuzela-armed fans, and is used to playing in the thin air of the capital which is situated at 2,600 meters (8,600 feet).

Local authorities in Cali and Pereira banned vuvuzelas – the droning noisemakers made famous at the World Cup in South Africa – for their round-of-16 matches, but Bogota officials have taken no such action.

Spain, which has outscored opponents 11-2, is coming off a 5-1 demolition of Australia, when the Spaniards scored five goals in 31 minutes before letting up and coasting home. Coach Julen Lopetegui also rested many of his regulars – Rodrigo, Oriol Romeu, Isco and Cristian Tello – and was without injured starting goalkeeper Aitor.

Alvaro Vazquez leads all tournament scorers with four goals as Spain’s junior group tries to match its senior team, which won the World Cup last year in South Africa.

Brazil, which lost the 2009 final to Ghana, has played well without Neymar and Lucas, both of whom were with the senior team in last month’s Copa America in Argentina. Instead, Brazil will be led against Saudi Arabia by Phillipe Coutinho, who has three goals and Henrique with two.

A victory by both Spain and Brazil would put them into a quarterfinal showdown.

Nigeria would appear to have the easiest match among the favorites. Nigeria leads all teams in scoring with 12 goals and faces England which played three 0-0 draws in group play. Olarenwaju Kayode and Ahmed Musa have three goals each for Nigeria and Edafe Egbedi and Uche Nwofor have two.

England has come under criticism for fielding an under-strength team. At least 30 players who would have been eligible for the England team were prohibited from playing by their English clubs, which wanted them present for early training. The players in Colombia are mainly reserves for their English clubs.

Argentina has won this event a record six times, including five of the last eight. But Argentina coach Walter Perazzo knows his club is ripe for an upset against Egypt. Egypt drew Brazil 1-1 in group play.

Argentina will have Roma forward Erik Lamela back in the lineup after sitting out the last group match with an ankle sprain. No Argentine player has scored more than one goal in the first three matches, and Egypt is led by Mohamed Ibrahin, who has three goals.

“We are entering into the most risky stage where we can’t afford a mistake, where the team has to be 100 percent,” Perazzo said. “We have to be careful, but I think we are confident. We recognize, however, that Egypt played a good game against Brazil and it’s a top-notch opponent.”

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