Men’s Junior WCh: discouraging trend

When will we finally see some more non-European nations joining the elite?

When will we finally see some more non-European nations joining the elite?

The preliminary rounds finished yesterday, so we are now ready for the ‘knock-out’ stage, starting with the ’round of 16′ tomorrow. There was some excitement on the final day, with a ‘triangle drama’ in one group, where Qatar was eliminated on goal difference in relation to the Netherlands and Switzerland. And in another group, Tunisia got the win they needed against France to make it through. Korea lost narrowly against Hungary, which confirmed their elimination and caused celebration for Argentina.

But while it may be a bit premature to draw a lot of detailed conclusions, there is one disturbing overall observation that is quite clear: the European domination is as strong as ever before! This is the age group where the trends for the next 5-10 years should be possible to recognize, as we are talking about players who turn 21 this year and therefore should soon become important reinforcements for their senior national teams.

Europe has 13 teams in the tournament and the other continents have 11. The polarization can easily be seen. Twelve of the Europeans are in the ’round of 16′ with only Russia failing to qualify. By contrast, only four of the eleven non-Europeans made it through, and those were the ‘usual suspects’: Argentina, Brazil, Egypt and Tunisia. And it should then be noted that Tunisia was the only one of those teams that went through by leaving a European team (Russia) behind them in their group. The other three teams made it through by defeating other non-European teams in their respective groups.

As noted above, Qatar was the only other team to come close. Their elimination must be disappointing, right at the time when they are starting a surge to get ready for the senior World Championship which they are hosting 18 months from now. Just weeks ago, Qatar announced that, with the possible exception of a goalkeeper or two, they would abandon their efforts to strengthen their national team by quickly naturalizing some star players ‘imported’ from abroad. Instead they intend to rely on their own young talents. So they would undoubtedly have wanted to see their ‘U 21′ team do a bit better.

I do not want to go too far in speculating about the outcome of this World Championship yet. The four group winners, Denmark, Germany, Slovenia and Sweden all look quite strong. Moreover, they each seem to have a relatively comfortable match-up in the ’round of 16. But Spain and Croatia, who were the finalists in Europe last year for this age group, are probably also to be reckoned with. However, it would be nice to see a surprise caused by either the Egyptians or the Tunisians. I fear that Argentina and Brazil do not seem to have much hope of advancing further.