The U-20 World Cup starts this Saturday for Mexico as they face Vanuatu, in what is not only their debut but what could be their most important match. Vanuatu is not only considered the weakest team in the group but maybe the weakest team in the tournament and Mexico will need to hit the ground running. Here, they not only need the three points but a good goal differential to counter what the other teams in the group are expected to do against Vanuatu. With the four best third-place teams in the tournament also going through into the knockout stages, a big win against the pacific country will almost guarantee a place for Mexico in the next round. Mexico and Vanuatu are in group B along with Germany and Venezuela.
Mexico's participation in the U-20 tournament is heavily dependent on the long process the team has had and the familiarity of the team. A large majority of this squad is made of the same players that participated in the CONCACAF U-20 Tournament in Costa Rica this February. While most of the team was part of the 2015 U-17 team that finished fourth in the U-17 World Cup, they haven't been able to translate that success to their club teams. The only player with significant playing time in Liga MX is Edson Alvarez, who played in the U-20 in Costa Rica but wasn't part of the U-17 World Cup. The fact that this team didn't reinforce itself with more experienced players doesn't bode well for a team that at times played well in Costa Rica but failed to reach their goal of winning the CONCACAF U-20 Championship. In that regard, Mexico is betting that the cohesion this team has from playing together for so long can make up for the lack of talent shown so far.
Mexico is heavily favored and should win against Vanuatu. In fact anything but a win by a large margin would be a total failure. Vanuatu’s squad is made up of only amateur players who all play in their local league. Still, Mexico needs to rise up to the challenge. They already went through something similar in the 2016 Olympic games. In that occasion, Mexico got the weakest team in the tournament in Fiji, another Oceania country with almost all their players playing in Fiji. While Mexico was able to win 5-1, they played poorly and even trailed 1-0 at halftime after a disastrous first half. More importantly was the fact that the other teams in the group, South Korea and Germany, were able to beat Fiji by scores of 8-0 and 10-0 respectively. Losing the goal advantage meant that Mexico had to win their final game, while South Korea only needed to draw. The pressure ultimately played a part in them losing and going out in the first round. While the advantage of the tournament is that Mexico should still make it through, as three teams qualify to the next round, it still shows that goal differential might be key in the final placements of the group. Mexico’s game against Vanuatu will be of uttermost importance for their path in the tournament. It's the rare must win BIG game and hopefully Coach Marco Antonio Ruiz has made it clear to the team of their obligation to win big.
Date: Saturday, May 20
Time: 1:00 AM Pacific, 3:00 AM Central, 4:00 AM Eastern
Venue: Daejeon World Cup Stadium, Daejeon
Television: Telemundo (US-Spanish), Fox Sports 2 (US), TDN (Mexico), Azteca 13 (Mexico), Canal 5 Televisa (Mexico)