The FIFA under-20 World Cup in New Zealand has been an action-packed tournament, as demonstrated by the dramatic quarter-finals when three of the four ties went to penalties. Just four teams remain in the competition, and while Brazil were among the favourites, Serbia, Mali and Senegal have all performed beyond expectations to reach this point. We’re taking a look at both semi-finals, and both Serbia and Brazil look decent bets to make it all the way to the final.
The Quarter Finals
All four quarter-finals were played over the weekend, but Senegal were the only side to make it through in 90 minutes. a 77th minute winner was enough for them to triumph over another surprise package, Uzbekistan, as they booked their spot in the last four. Each of the other three semi-finalists had to rely on penalties to win through, with Brazil and Portugal the first to do battle from 12 yards after an entertaining 0-0 draw. The Portuguese had the better of the play but paid for their missed chances, and Brazil prevailed after the shootout. Mali were also a little fortunate to knock out tournament favourites, Germany. The African side were a goal down when Germany missed a penalty to make it 2-0, and they fought back to equalize and force the game to extra time. Two German penalties missed the target and that was enough to see Mali through. The final game between USA and Serbia ended goalless but saved the best drama for last as the two young teams took nine penalties each, with Serbia eventually winning out.
The Semi Finals
With the competition taking place in New Zealand kick off times are all important, and these two matches will be taking place early on Wednesday morning if you’re on UK time.
Wednesday 17th June
Brazil U20 v Senegal U20 05:00 (BST)
The first game is between Brazil and Senegal, and predictably, Brazil start favourites. They topped their group with three wins out of three, but have made life much more difficult in the knockout stages. They were taken the distance by Uruguay in the second round, succeeding on penalties, before repeating the trick against Portugal. However, those two teams – particularly the Portuguese – were strongly fancied in this competition, so the Brazilian results are perhaps better than they look on paper.
Brazil – -155 with Bwin
Senegal – +525 with Betvictor
Draw – +280 with Bwin
Senegal finished third in Portugal’s group, qualifying as a best third-placed runner-up. Group results were average at best with an opening 3-0 loss against Portugal followed by a 1-1 draw with Colombia. They beat Qatar 2-1 in the final group game to secure their passage to the knockouts, but little was expected. They were 1-0 down to Ukraine in the second leg with seven minutes to go, and with Ukraine yet to concede a goal in the tournament and it looked to be curtains for Senegal, but they pulled an equalizer from somewhere and eventually prevailed on spot kicks. Their quarter-final came against Uzbekistan, another surprise qualifier, who finished 2nd in Germany’s group by virtue of a better goal difference than Honduras or Fiji. They had knocked out Austria in the second round, but a 77th-minute Thiam strike was enough for Senegal to see them off.
Senegal look to have made the most of a relatively kind draw to reach this stage, while Brazil have played strong sides in Uruguay and Portugal. Having been taken to extra-time twice, that’s always a possibility again here, but Brazil scored nine goals in three qualifying games, so they will find the net if given the chances.
Serbia U20 v Mali U20 08:30 (BST)
The second semi-final is between two sides who few would have fancied prior to the tournament outside of their own countries, but Serbia and Mali have earned the right to be there. They were paired together in the group stage, with Serbia running out group winners, Uruguay finishing second, and Mali qualifying as a best third placed runner-up. Serbia won the group match 2-0, and will be confident of repeating the result on their way to the final. However, Mali knocked out tournament favourites, Germany, last time out and can be more than dangerous.
Draw – +225 with 888Sport
Serbia performed admirably to win the group after losing their first game against Uruguay, winning the next two matches 2-0 against Mali and Mexico. They were staring down the barrel in the second round against Hungary, losing 1-0 with just moments to go, before a Saponjic equalizer took the game to extra-time and they ran out 2-1 winners courtesy of a Hungarian own goal in they dying seconds of the extra period. They were taken the distance again by USA in the quarter-final, and eventually came out on top after an epic penalty shootout.
Mali have certainly improved since that 2-0 loss to Serbia in the group stage, and after beating Mexico and recording a 1-1 draw with Uruguay, they finished in third position. Clearly they were saving their best football for the knockout stages, as they produced a glittering display against fellow African side Ghana in the second round. Ghana had been heavy favourites to progress, but three wonder goals from Mali put the game well out of reach to set up a quarter-final against Germany. Once again Mali went into the tie as underdogs, with the Germans heavily fancied to win comfortably. The European side did go ahead and perhaps should have buried the game with a second-half penalty, but Mali found a way back in before taking the contest on penalty kicks.
Much like Senegal, Mali have punched above their weight to reach this stage of the competition, and Serbia should have their measure. The Serbs have some extremely talented youngsters, and were mentioned on this website as dark horses for the tournament. Having already beaten Mali 2-0, they have the psychological advantage and are fancied to win in 90 minutes.
FIFA under-20 World Cup Semi Finals, Wednesday 17th June
Brazil – -155 with Bwin
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