Argentina begin their quest to win a record-extending seventh Under-20 World Cup when it plays England on the opening day today, and Lions boss Paul Simpson hopes to end a terrible run of defeats.
The Argentinians haven’t won the championship, or even reached the semi-finals, since 2007 — a team led by Sergio Aguero and Angel di Maria — and they face an England side which is on a run of 17 consecutive winless matches at the World Cup. England’s last win was 20 years ago.
To Simpson, the poor record stems from clubs refusing to release their stars of the future.
“We have very good footballers in this country and we need to have the strongest squad to give them the opportunity to reach the later stages of this competition,” said Simpson.
“We don’t want to be here for three group games. We want to give them the experience of knockout games, of a penalty shootout if necessary: all of the things that have been the Achilles heel for England in tournaments in recent years. If they experience that now in their development phase it has got to stand them in good stead for the future.”
England have a host of talented players with Premier League and Champions League experience, including Lewis Cook of Bournemouth, Chelsea’s Dominic Solanke, Tottenham’s Josh Onomah and Arsenal’s Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
However, there are some noticeable absentees, Manchester United’s Axel Tuanzebe is tied up with first team commitments, as is Celtic’s Patrick Roberts and Izzy Brown, who will be part of the squad when Huddersfield play in the Championship Play-off finals.
But overall, Simpson believes the relationship between clubs and the national team at youth level has improved and praised Premier League teams for releasing their talented youngsters for the tournament and is pleased with the squad he has available to him.
“I’m delighted with the squad we’ve been able to assemble out here and really looking forward to seeing the players perform on a wonderful stage,” Simpson said. “Hopefully, we can entertain the South Korean public and get some positive results.
“Our history in the competition shows it has been very, very difficult to put the strongest squad together that the FA would like.
“But this year it is absolutely brilliant that all the clubs’ management teams believe it is good for their players’ development to be involved. That is superb for us as an organisation. We believe we have travelled to South Korea with a squad strong enough to compete at a World Cup.”