The semi-finals are upon us.
The U20 World Cup in Korea has been fantastic thus far: entertaining games, brilliant goals and exceptional talent on show. Tournament favourites have perished, surprise packages have emerged but after all the excitement, 24 teams have become just four.
🇻🇪 Venezuela vs. Uruguay 🇺🇾
🇮🇹 Italy vs. England 🦁
Each team play two more games to decide their U20 World Cup fate and ultimately who will be crowned champion. Ahead of these final four crucial games, we've decided to look at each semi-finalist that bit closer.
In this preview we will be addressing how each team got to this stage, the star players behind their success as well as providing an 'educated' prediction of where they will finish.
Consider this your U20 World Cup final-four bible.
Uruguay vs. Venezuela | 9:00 GMT
It makes sense to start chronologically. The first semi-final is a mouth-watering South-American Clásico in which the two dominant forces in this year's competition are pitted against each other.
Venezuela have scored 13 times already this summer compared to Uruguay's six — the 7-0 mauling of Vanuatu obviously skewing the numbers slightly.
More interestingly, however, is the fact neither side had even conceded a goal before their quarter-final match. With a grand total of three between them at this stage, the prospect of two of the meanest defences facing each other is intriguing and the gulf in goalscoring statistics becomes less relevant.
Uruguay are still unbeaten in this year's tournament but have heavily relied on not conceding rather than outscoring their opponents. They let in their first two goals in the quarter-final clash with Portugal, relying on Santiago Mele's penalty-shootout heroics to see them into the last four.
Path to the Semi-Final
Uruguay 1-0 Italy
Uruguay 2-0 Japan
Uruguay 0-0 South Africa
Uruguay 1-0 Saudi Arabia
Portugal 2-2 (4-5 pens) Uruguay
Goals scored: 6
Goals conceded: 2
Clean sheets: 4 (=tournament best)
Top scorer: 1 - six players
Most assists: 1 - Marcelo Saracchi & José Luis Rodriguez
Club: Centro Atlético Fénix
Conceding just two goals the entire tournament, Mele has earned the title of best goalkeeper in Korea due to his heroics in the quarter-final penalty shootout. Saving three consecutive Portuguese penalties he single-handedly carved a path into the last four for Uruguay.
Confident and commanding in his area, he has proven difficult to beat and has got better with each game and each added bit of pressure. A vocal and motivational presence, when he isn't making saves he is organising the players in front of him and inspiring them to perform.
He lives for the mind games with the opposition forwards and his eccentricity has proved to be only a positive for the reigning champions of South America.
Club: Real Madrid (Castilla)
Valverde's presence in the starting XI has been essential to unlocking the attacking talents of Rodrigo Bentancur. A combative midfielder, Valverde has proven to be the perfect screen in front of the Uruguayan defence and has played a major role in forming one of the more formidable defences at the tournament.
Although his starting position is deep, Valverde is prone to breaking the opposition's midfield line. He is much more than the 'water carrier' in this Uruguay side: often driving his team forward either dribbling through the centre of the pitch or showing the full range of his passing with switches out wide. Instigating Uruguay's attacks and responsible for stopping the opposition's.
Despite the fact his eagerness to carry the ball through the middle saw him dispossessed for Portugal's first goal in the quarter-final, Valverde has been a dynamic force in the middle of midfield and a vital part of Uruguay's success so far.
José Luis Rodriguez
Club: Danubio FC
The rampaging Rodriguez has characterised Uruguay's approach in Korea. Providing as much support in attack as he does cover in defence, the right-back plays a key role in providing width which allows his attacking teammates to drift inside and cause problems in more central areas.
In attack Rodriguez has proven to be comfortable and effective on the ball whilst in defence he has more than played his part in protecting Santiago Mele's goal. The perfect outlet for Valverde's long passing and the essential decoy out wide for Nicolas de la Cruz to wreak havoc.
With Uruguay's forwards not quite setting the tournament alight it has fallen to the likes of Rodriguez to provide more support and quality in the final third, a challenge the right-back has relished without hindering his defensive performance.
Scouted Predicts: 3rd
Uruguay vs. Venezuela was perhaps the final most neutrals were hoping for. Alas, they meet one stage earlier and as for this semi-final the contrasting form of each nation's attacking players suggests La Vintotinto will have too much firepower.
Uruguay should quite easily win whoever they face in the third-place play-off, already beating Italy in the group stages whilst the jury still seems to be out on England.
La Vinotinto have been the team of the tournament so far. Scoring the most goals and conceding the fewest they have dominated all areas of the pitch.
Their toughest match came in the quarter-final against a talented USA side. However, despite needing extra-time and conceding their first goal in 507 minutes of football, they still dominated the game and created an abundance of chances — they had 20 shots without scoring in normal time — the defining feature of their U20 World Cup campaign.
Path to the Semi-Final
Venezuela 2-0 Germany
Venezuela 7-0 Vanuatu
Mexico 0-1 Venezuela
Venezuela 1-0 (AET) Japan
Venezuela 2-1 (AET) USA
Goals scored: 13 (tournament best)
Goals conceded: 1 (tournament best)
Clean sheets: 4 (=tournament best
Top scorer: 4 - Sergio Córdova (=tournament best)
Most assists: 3 - Adalberto Peñaranda (=tournament best)
The frontrunner for Player of the Tournament, Peñaranda has combined skill, flair and the outright spectacular to entertain all those who watch him. He roams the space behind his partner in crime, Córdova, popping up both centrally and in wide areas. The Venezuelan talisman has proved a constant threat in every game and is a major reason why Vinotinto have created so many chances.
Given complete freedom Peñaranda has manipulated the ball and bamboozled opposition defenders at his will throughout the tournament.
Most importantly though, his wide array of skills has resulted in tangible goals and assists. No player has been directly involved in more (5), with the Venezuelan joint-leader of the assist charts with three.
Club: Caracas Fútbol Club
Guilty of missing some chances against the USA, Córdova has been the standout forward in Korea. His movement is exceptional, as well as his understanding with the aforementioned Peñaranda. It speaks volumes of his talent that time and time again he finds himself bearing down on goal.
A real handful for defenders, Córdova is strong, quick and seems competent with every part of his body. Preferring to shoot with sheer power he has also shown a deft first touch more often than not and will always create a chance for himself, whether through intelligent movement or pure brute force. The Venezuelan has a seemingly insatiable appetite for goals.
His finishing against USA was an anomaly and there is no doubt he will be pushing for the Golden Boot. Expect him to score in both of the final two games.
Club: Manchester City (Loan: New York City)
As our very own @Sousa7474 said: 'Herrera is the conductor of the brilliant Venezuelan orchestra.'
The Man City loanee’s ability to control an entire game has been on full show in Korea. Not simply metronomic, Herrera plays passes of varying length, height and penetration. Whether simple sideways passes, raking cross-field switches or incisive through balls, Herrera has shown the full range of his passing capabilities.
The brains of the Venezuelan operation, el capitán, Yangel Herrera has played a key role in Vintotinto’s journey to the semi-final - epitomised by his commanding extra-time match-winning header in the last-16 against Japan.
Scouted Predicts: 1st
A Venezuelan player can be seen atop of almost every statistic whilst the squad itself dominates the team-focused metrics. They cruised through their group stage, winning all three games — France were the only other side to do so — and have looked comfortable in the knockout stages.
Taking chances has perhaps been their Achilles' heel and that is why they have needed extra-time in both of their previous matches. The fact of the matter is that they are still creating a shed-load. Their overall quality has never been in doubt and should be more than enough to fire them to a historic World Cup win.
Italy vs. England | 12:00 GMT
An all-European encounter awaits in the second semi-final as Italy take on England; a repeat of last year's U19 European Championship last-four clash.
Italy have found the net at least twice in four of their five fixtures at the tournament but England, who have conceded just twice — a freak own goal and a follow-up from a saved penalty — will pose an entirely different challenge.
The Young Lions boast one of the tournament's tightest defences, surviving the onslaught of opposition teams before counter-attacking with pace and purpose.
Italy have far from captured anyone's imagination in making it to their first ever semi-final but their somewhat medieval approach has proven more effective as the tournament has progressed.
Keeping possession in the middle of the pitch before switching out wide or into the hulking presence of Andrea Favilli upfront, when Italy decide to attack it is direct and responsibility is almost exclusively given to their front three.
The Azzurini do deserve credit, however, spoiling the party on two occasions already. They triumphed over tournament frontrunners France in the last-16 and overcame fan favourites Zambia with ten men in the quarter-final. A combination of grit and moments of quality in the final third and an inspired goalkeeper has been the formula for their success.
Path to the Semi-Final
Italy 0-1 Uruguay
South Africa 0-2 Italy
Japan 2-2 Italy
France 1-2 Italy
Italy 3-2 (AET) Zambia
Goals scored: 9
Goals conceded: 5
Clean sheets: 1
Top scorer: 4 - Riccardo Orsolini (=tournament best)
Most assists: 2 - Andrea Favilli
A quintessential target man, Favillli has displayed brutish strength in being able to break through the biggest obstacles and holding off multiple players.
He has been unleashed on his own upfront fighting off opponents creating space for the left and right wingers, casting a somewhat isolated figure given the task of holding up the ball, absorbing pressure and allowing his teammates more freedom.
Favilli could quite possibly bring down a comet on his chest and despite his sheer size, he is able to spin and turn away when it is required. His apparent mastery of playing as a lone striker has paved the way for his teammates to score time and time again. He has more assists than any other Italy player and his role in the side cannot be understated.
Shot-stopper extraordinaire Zaccagno is a major reason why Italy are in the final four. Flying around his box he has made the most saves (26) in the tournament.
Not the most commanding or confidence-inspiring perhaps when in goal, he has not received much help from the defenders in front of him. His brilliant reflexes have been tested with alarming frequency and he has proved decisive in almost every game in Korea so far.
Originally third-choice, he has become a valuable member of the squad and is even comfortable with being involved when Italy decide to build possession from deep.
Described in the media as the next Arjen Robben, Orsolini is not quite there yet but the similarities are clear. The right-side of the pitch is his natural habitat despite being prominently left-footed whilst cutting inside could be considered his favourite pastime.
Although predictable, Orsolini has proven to be effective when carrying the ball in-field from the wide areas but surprisingly he has been at his most dangerous when the ball is on the opposite flank.
Infiltrating the back-line, his ability to split away from defenders and find space in the box is uncanny. Proving impossible to mark and scoring vital goals his runs at the far post are frequent and always a danger. Working in tandem with Giuseppe Panico on the right-hand side, the two wingers mimic each other's movement both on and off the ball.
Their partnership is held together by the aforementioned Favilli and it is these three that are tasked with scoring the bulk of Italy's goals. The fact that Orsolini has four himself is testament to the synergy and potency of this set up. No player has scored more and he'll be looking to add to his tally.
Scouted Predicts: 4th
The only side so far to have actually lost a game — to fellow semi-finalists Uruguay — it's no surprise that we expect them to finish fourth. In line with our other predictions they will end up facing Uruguay in the third-place play-off and it seems sensible to expect a similar result to their first meeting.
They have no doubt grown into the tournament and shown glimpses why so many of their players are highly rated. However, they seem too volatile in defence and their one-dimensional siege tactic could come undone against better-organised opposition.
Following their clinical victory over Argentina in their tournament opener, England have gone from strength to strength, despite a slight blip against Guinea.
They dispatched of hosts South Korea to top the group and then comfortably defeated a plucky Costa Rican side without being troubled. A hard-fought win over Mexico has seen them reach the semi-final stage where they meet Italy for what should be their greatest test yet.
Path to the Semi-Final
Argentina 0-3 England
England 1-1 Guinea
England 1-0 South Korea
England 2-1 Costa Rica
Mexico 0-1 England
Goals scored: 8
Goals conceded: 2
Clean sheets: 3
Top scorer: 2 - Ademola Lookman & Dominic Solanke
Most assists: 2 - Kieran Dowell & Jonjoe Kenny
England’s most menacing attacker of this U-20 World Cup campaign due to his electric pace, the Everton speedster is the main injection of speed and the principle outlet for counter-attacking.
Deployed either on the left or up top by Paul Simpson, Lookman is the Young Lions' joint top scorer with two goals. The teenager has an abundance of energy and is a nightmare for defenders. His desire to affect a game in any way has been relentless whether it be scoring or carrying the ball long-distances on his own, proving just as valuable for defensive reasons as they have in attack.
Lookman has added a killer touch as the tournament has progressed highlighted by his composed brace against Costa Rica in their last-16 clash.
An individual with quite an engine and a penchant for exploring the right flank with vigour and determination. It is no coincidence that many of England’s best opportunities have blossomed due to good work from the young Evertonian.
The en vogue use of wingers who prefer to cut inside means the full-back is a must to sustain width. Kenny has been one of the best examples at the tournament, volatile at times, but nevertheless staying wide and providing a necessary outlet to his teammates on the right. Given licence to roam the flank, Kenny has troubled some of the tournament's best full-backs with his direct running and tenacity.
Despite making a goal-line clearance against South Korea with the game in the balance, he must shore up defensively to ensure his attacking exploits aren't made in vain. His partnership with Kieran Dowell will continue to dictate England's success.
Possibly England’s unsung hero of the tournament, Dowell's work cannot be understated. The Everton youngster has proved the most creative force in England’s attack, partly due to his partnership on that flank with fellow Evertonian Jonjoe Kenny.
He is the side’s joint chief creator with two assists and scorer of the goal that secured top spot in Group A, but it is his deft and precise passing which has arguably been more influential.
The right-wing duet with Kenny has allowed them to isolate opposing full-backs and provide the added bit of quality England have needed. His intricate dribbling and command over the ball have characterised his performances, often looking to be the most composed player on the pitch. The side are sometimes found lacking without him and will be looking for him to make his mark on the semi-final, just as he did in the group stages.
Scouted Predicts: 2nd
England have been one of the more impressive teams at this tournament from front to back. The traditionally watertight Italians have relied on outscoring their opponents to reach this stage and therefore might struggle to deal with England at both ends of the pitch.
However, should England reach the final and face Venezuela, the South Americans must be considered slight favourites given their overall dominance of the tournament thus far; trumping England both in terms of goalscoring and keeping clean sheets.
Both semi-finals are set to be incredible and with the prospect of a third-place play-off before the final, we are fortunate enough to see these talented sets of players step out onto the pitch twice more before the champions are crowned.
We can't wait.
By @JakeEntwistle & @JoeDonnohue.