[UNDER-20 WORLD CUP] The USA's hopes of reaching the knockout stage of the Under-20 World Cup for the first time since 2007 -- and the eighth time since the biennial tournament was launched in 1977 -- are tempered by an extremely difficult first-round draw. Managing to survive group play, Coach Tab Ramos figures, would prove his team capable of defeating any foe.
The Americans start their campaign on Friday against European champion Spain (TV: ESPN2, 1:45 pm ET), and then face European semifinalist France and 2009 U-20 world champion Ghana.
Asked what realistic expectations for his team are, Ramos said:
“I don’t know, to be honest. I like the players that we have. I like the talent that we have on our team. Obviously, we play Spain in the first game. Spain happens to be the favorite to win the World Cup. At the same time, I see that as a great challenge for us that maybe tells us whether we’re close or really far away. At this point, I don’t know the answers to that. I do know that if we can somehow survive in our group and get through to the next stage, I think that coming out of this group, we would probably be able to beat anybody.”
One thing Ramos doesn’t expect is to be surprised by Spain’s approach.
“They play the same way in all their age groups,” he said on Tuesday, a few hours after watching Spain beat Italy, 4-2, to win the U-21 European Championship. “We’ve gotten to know this particular U-20 team very well and they also play in a very similar way to their first team. That’s something that’s very difficult for us and something that we’re going to have to deal with.”
The team will draw inspiration from the Bob Bradley-coached U.S. national team’s 2-0 upset over Spain at the 2009 Confederations Cup, which ended the Spaniards' 35-game unbeaten streak between winning Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup.
“We’re probably going to show a little video of that to the players so that they know that our first team upset Spain a few years ago and there’s no reason we can’t do the same on Friday,” Ramos said.
Ramos, who succeeded Thomas Rongen after the USA failed to qualify for the 2011 World Cup, doesn’t bemoan landing in the proverbial Group of Death.
“We’re very excited that we’re in Group A with some of the best teams in the world and some legitimate contenders to win the World Cup,” he said. “I think that’s a good thing for our players. … We feel very good about our roster and the players we have selected, and we certainly feel like we have good talent here with us.”
Sixteen teams from the six four-team groups advance to the second round, which means four third-place teams advance.