CAIRO // With defending champions Argentina failing to qualify for the Under 20 World Cup in Egypt, Brazil are favourites to win a fifth title when the tournament starts today. Victory would erase memories of 2007, when Brazil's much-vaunted attack, led by the AC Milan forward Alexandre Pato, failed to reach the quarter-finals while Argentina compounded their misery with a record sixth trophy.
"We have a very talented squad and we're capable of playing a great tournament," Brazil striker Alain Kardec said. "There's always pressure when you're playing for the Selecao [the national team], regardless of the age group, but the players are ready." Brazil won the title in 1983, 1985, 1993 and 2003, but Argentina took over by winning five of the last seven, with Lionel Messi lighting up the tournament in 2005 and Sergio Aguero stealing the show two years ago.
Fifa president Sepp Blatter, who will attend the opening match between Egypt and Trinidad and Tobago at the 80,000-seater military stadium in Alexandria, noted how the tournament "has repeatedly unearthed future stars such as [Diego] Maradona, Ronaldinho and Messi." Kaka, Luis Figo, Roberto Carlos, Thierry Henry, Xavi, Michael Owen and Michael Essien are some of football's stars who have shone at a tournament which remains a magnet for scouts from the world's top teams.
Attacking midfielders Douglas Costa and Erick Flores are ones to watch and should give Brazil coach Rodrigo Lourenco plenty of options for the opening match against Costa Rica on Sunday. Brazil also face Australia and Czech Republic in Group E. With home advantage, Egypt coach Miroslav Soukup knows expectations will be high today. "The entire nation expects us to do well," said Soukup, who guided the Czechs to the 2007 final. Soukup's squad is a rarity - it contains no European-based players. His assistant Hany Ramzi, a former international defender said. "We must not forget that the national team have succeeded in winning the African Cup of Nations twice with local players."
* AP Egypt v Trinidad & Tobago, KO 10pm, ART Sports 3