Uruguay aims to take U20 title to South America
ISTANBUL (AP) — With Brazil and Argentina not present and Chile succumbing to Ghana in the quarterfinals, all South American hopes of another Under-20 World Cup title are now with Uruguay.
Coach Juan Verzeri’s team will take on Iraq on Wednesday, hoping to reach its second final after finishing runner-up in 1997.
In the other semifinal, France is up against Ghana, the only team left in the tournament to have won the title before, in 2009.
For the first time since the event’s inauguration in 1977, neither Brazil — which won the previous edition in Colombia two years ago — nor Argentina managed to qualify. Those two nations have shared 11 of the previous 18 youth world championships, and Uruguay is eager to become the third South American nation to lift the trophy.
In its quest for glory, Uruguay will “always have to combine the technical with emotional skills that have been hallmarks of our football,” coach Verzeri said after his team reached its first semifinal since 1999.
Never shy of battling to — and sometimes over — the limit, Uruguay has been known for its never-give-up mentality. It helped the team overcome tournament favorite Spain in Saturday’s quarterfinal.
The European Under-19 champions dominated ball possession but couldn’t match their opponents’ fighting spirit, which was ultimately rewarded by Felipe Avenatti’s winning goal in extra time.
“But just playing hard does not mean playing outside the rules,” Verzeri said.
FIFA statistics are proving the coach right. In its five matches so far, Uruguay has committed a total of 57 fouls, far less than any other team still in the competition. Iraq conceded 79 free kicks, Ghana 82, and France 85.
Also, Uruguay received fewer yellow cards — five, compared to France’s seven, Iraq’s 10 and Ghana’s 12.
On the other hand, Uruguay suffered 93 fouls, well ahead of Iraq (75), Ghana (70) and France (69).
“It was an emotional fight but we were also playing good football,” Verzeri said after the Spain game. “We played very concentrated ... I emphasize the unity of all the players and the effort they put into fighting for each ball.”
Uruguay drew praise from Spain coach Julen Lopetegui, calling the South Americans “a team that collectively moves well and is very strong in defense.”
Uruguay was defeated 1-0 by Croatia in its opening group match before wrapping up four straight wins and conceding just one more goal — against Nigeria in the round of 16.
“Despite their many young players, (Uruguay) moves as an experienced team,” Lopetegui said.
The Spanish coach might have been referring to duo Giorgian De Arrascaeta and Nicolas Lopez, which has been key to Uruguay’s successful run in Turkey.
Attacking midfielder De Arrascaeta scored twice in the group stage and set up Avenatti for the winner against Spain, while Lopez netted two times in the 2-1 defeat of Nigeria.
The 19-year-old striker, who scored his first Serie A goal for Roma last season, has found the net four times this event, equaling France’s Yaya Sanogo and Ghana’s Ebenezer Assifuah.
The trio is one short of the two leading goal scorers, Jese of Spain and Bruma of Portugal, who are both out of the tournament.
Vicente L. Panetta contributed from Bursa.