The curse of winning the FIFA U-20 World Cup
It was a never-ending merry-making when Dominic Calvert-Lewin's 35th-minute strike proved more than enough for England to lift the 21st edition of the FIFA U-20 World Cup at the expense of Venezuela. It has been two years since the historic feat and, naturally, one would expect the Young Lions to turn up once again to defend their status as the current U-20 champions. But somewhat, unfortunately, that scenario will not play out, come next month in Poland.
Over the years, countries have been made to deal with assembling formidable teams for the short term to feature at tournaments which more often than not pose to be platforms for the individual players rather than the teams. England failing with the project this time around simply presents the harsh truth about what the face of the youth competition has become in recent times.
For instance, France - the winners of the 2013 edition of the FIFA U-20 World Cup - failed to make it to the finals in the 2015 tournament held in New Zealand. Winners of the 2015 edition, Serbia, was also denied the opportunity to stage a title defense after failing to qualify for the 2017 edition in South Korea. Brazil's qualification in 2013 proved to be the only anomaly in the sequence, after emerging as winners in 2011. Prior to that, Ghana affirmed the narrative by failing to make it to the group stage of the 2011 edition despite winning Africa's first U-20 World Cup in South Africa two years earlier, having shocked tournament favorites Brazil in the 2009 edition's final. .
All the above withstanding, winning the global youth tournament has proved to be sinusoidal since the rebranding from FIFA World Youth Championship to FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2007. In more than a decade, no team has won the trophy back-to-back. Argentina winning the twice in two years in Netherlands and Canada, back in 2005 and 2007, respectively was the last of its kind.
Argentina's 10-year decline, Brazil's inconsistent growth
In candor, the achievements of the South Americans is nothing out of the ordinary considering they have demonstrated they're the greatest force to reckon with in terms of youth football in that division. With six title wins from seven finals, the Albiceleste ranks as the most-decorated team in the U-20 competition. However, things have changed and their bitter rivals, the Brazilians, can boast of achieving better results in the last decade.
The picture below depicts Argentina's last fiesta at the FIFA U-20 World Cup as Sergio Aguero led their 2007 triumph. It must be noted that Lionel Messi's nation has not made the podium -- let alone make the fourth place -- since that year. Their record exposes the following:
2009: Did not qualify
2011: Quarter-finals exit
2013: Did not qualify
2015: Group stage exit
2017: Group stage exit
What awaits Argentina at the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup?
Brazil counts five trophies in their cabinet and have featured in two more finals than Argentina. Since painfully witnessing the latter's victorious FIFA U-20 World Cup campaigns back to back, this is how inconsistent the Brazilians have been:
2013: Did not qualify
2017: Did not qualify
Europe is gradually humbling South American U-20 football
Whilst Argentina and Brazil have been choking of late, the trophy has remained in Europe for the past three editions. Paul Pogba's France snatched it away from Brazil by defeating Uruguay in the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup final, Serbia succeeded France as champions in 2015, and England sang "It's coming home" in 2017.
Collectively, Europe has nine titles in comparison to South America's 11. Meanwhile, there is a fascinating trend when it comes to tournaments hosted on European soil. Three times out of four, it has ended in a UEFA vs CONMEBOL ultimate final clash. The counter also shows two trophies apiece for both confederations out of all the four tournaments which have taken place in Europe.
Soviet Union 1985 final: Brazil beats Spain
Portugal 1991 final: Portugal beats Brazil
Netherlands 2005 final: Argentina beats Nigeria
Turkey 2013: France beats Uruguay
2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup winner Paul Pogba and company... the last time Europe hosted the competition, the cup stayed there.
For the fifth time since the tournament's inception in 1977, the FIFA U-20 World Cup will be hosted on the continent, in Poland to be precise. What provokes interest is the fact that it could yet again prove to be a battle between the European and South American contingents.
Where will the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup trophy end up?