AUCKLAND (AFP) – Six-time FIFA Under-20 World Cup champions Argentina on Tuesday secured a dream draw in the tournament that is credited with launching the careers of superstars Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi.
The youth championship will be played in New Zealand from May 30 to June 20 and pools for the 24-team tournament were drawn at a ceremony at Auckland’s Sky City casino.
“No doubt we will see more World Cup stars discovered here in New Zealand,” FIFA vice-president Jeffrey Webb said.
Argentina avoided any big-name rivals when they were placed in Group B with Panama, Austria and the third-placed qualifier from Africa, which will be determined next month.
Hosts New Zealand face a potentially tricky group featuring Ukraine, USA and Myanmar, while Germany will be confident of progressing from a group including Fiji, Uzbekistan and Honduras.
Teams were drawn into six groups of four, with first-round matches to be played in Auckland, Wellington, Hamilton, Dunedin, New Plymouth and Christchurch.
The top two in each group will qualify for the last 16 along with the four best third-placed teams.
Asia’s top qualifier Qatar will battle it out with two-time champions Portugal, Colombia and the fourth-placed African nation, with ex-New Zealand defender Danny Hay tipping them as a dark horse.
“From what I’ve heard Qatar haven’t left a stone unturned,” he said.
“They’re obviously hosting the World Cup in 2022 and they’d hope that this squad would make up a large part of that side.”
Five-time champions Brazil line up against the top African qualifier in a group that also includes North Korea and Hungary.
Uruguay, a finalist at the last tournament in Turkey, face Mexico, Serbia and the second-placed African qualifier.
The New Zealand event is the 20th edition of the tournament, which is held every two years.
A glittering array of footballing talent has graced past editions, including players such as Ronaldinho, David Silva, Michael Owen, Shinji Ono and Javier Saviola.
In 1979, a fresh-faced teenager named Diego Maradona burst onto the international scene when his six goals helped Argentina lift the trophy for the first time in Japan.
Twenty-six years later, Maradona’s compatriot Lionel Messi took the golden boot as Argentina again claimed the trophy.