#FIFA U-20 World Cup

U-20 final could come down to a game-changer

Technical Study Group, 10 Jun 2023


With 50 games now played, the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2023™ final will be contested by Italy and Uruguay at Estadio Ciudad de La Plata on Sunday, 11th June.


Our Technical Study Group (TSG) have attended every match of the tournament so far, and here they look ahead to a fascinating encounter between the competition’s most versatile attacking team and the most resilient team defensively. 

With 13 goals registered in their first six games, Italy are ranked second overall for number of goals scored and have great diversity in how they have scored those goals.

Uruguay have the tournament’s meanest defence, keeping five clean sheets in their opening six matches.  

In the bronze medal match Israel will face Korea Republic, but here our TSG provide their thoughts on the battle for gold.


Attacking play 

Playing in a 4-4-2 (diamond), a key feature of Italy’s attacking play has been the speed and efficiency of their vertical forward passes. The team is laced with players of high technical ability, playing off minimal touches and possessing the ability to break lines via ball carries, penetrative passes and incisive forward runs.

Italy are versatile in how they score goals. The Azzurrini  demonstrated a clear ability to score from carefully constructed patterns of play, but also showed that they could play more direct and play off longer balls. In addition, they have demonstrated potency from dead-ball situations, scoring three goals from attacking corners, two from penalties and one from a direct free-kick.

The work ethic of this Italy team is impressive. Despite generally having more possession than their opponents, they are ranked third overall for total distance covered. Italy are the tournament’s second-ranked team for high-speed running and sprinting in data that shows they run both far and fast.

According to Pape Thiaw, “Italy are very varied in their style. They like to be in possession and keep the ball and it’s nice to watch how they progress the play. They’re very technical and move the ball quickly but they are not afraid to go long and can disrupt the opposition in different ways.  

“In tournament football, it’s a real advantage to have that variation. When they do attack, they take risks and really commit numbers forward and get players into the penalty area. They enjoy building their play and have creative players that can link play in minimal touches and ball carriers that are difficult to defend against.” 

Our data shows that Italy have the narrowest average team width in the final third, registering over three metres narrower than any other team, reinforcing their focus on central attacking, and vertical play. 

“They can score from first contact and second contact and hunt those second balls. Because they get so many numbers forward, they can also sustain attacks. They are a very well-trained team, have clear patterns and very influential players in midfield that can change the tempo of the game,” Pape explained. 

Italy captain (8) Cesare Casadei has been a key cog in his team’s attacking engine, having clocked seven goals in the tournament so far. The Chelsea midfielder has broken Italy’s 41-year record, set by Paolo Rossi and equalled by Toto Schillaci, of six goals scored in a FIFA 11-a-side tournament. It is no surprise that Casadei currently leads the race for the adidas Golden Boot. 

Carmine Nunziata’s side have registered an average of 15.7 attempts at goal per 90 minutes in their opening six matches are ranked third for attempts at goal on target from open play. 

Italy goalkeeper (1) Desplanches initiates an attack with a long pass. Immediately Italy commit players to the penalty area and sustain the attack before eventually scoring.
Italy commit players to the area of the attacking play before patiently rebuilding the attack by going backwards to go forwards. The player in possession always has supporting players close by to help sustain the attacks.


While Italy take risks in their attacking play, they are also tenacious in their defensive phases. Their desire to defend on the front foot sees them ranked number one for time spent in a mid-press while they are third lowest for time spent in a mid-block. Italy’s preference is to engage in active defending as opposed to passive defending; this is indicated by the Italy side topping the table for applying direct pressure. 

They are the sixth-highest ranked team for pressure regains after their aggressive press and third-ranked for ball recovery time. When they lose the ball, they want to win it back quickly. However, despite being ranked second for overall defensive actions, they are second lowest when it comes to successful defensive actions. 

According to Jermaine Jones, “They don’t sit back, and they take risks. They are not a traditional defensive Italian team, but they also have a good transition game. We saw this in their opening game against Brazil, but we also saw they could be vulnerable on the counter-attack against Nigeria. Uruguay can sit in and can play that way and I think this will be a very interesting aspect to this game. 

“We have also enjoyed the performances of Italy’s centre-backs in the tournament so far. Even when their defensive line has been breached, both (5) Ghilardi and (14) Guarino have made important interventions in the penalty area when their team was in difficult situations,” added Jones.

Italy centre-back (5) Daniele Ghilardi times his interception perfectly after his team’s defensive structure is breached.

Set plays

A strong feature of Italy’s versatile attacking prowess is their ability to score from set plays.  As mentioned above, six of their 13 goals in the tournament so far have come from set play situations: three from attacking corners, two from the spot and one from a direct free-kick. 

Midfielder (8) Cesare Casadei has scored five of those (all three corners and both penalties) while (20) Simone Pafundi scored the direct free-kick that proved to be the winner in Italy’s semi-final against Korea Republic.

Italy midfielder (8) Cesare Casadei times his run perfectly before scoring with his first contact.

Italys goalkeeper

According to Pascal Zuberbühler, Italy’s (1) Sebastiano Desplanches has the full package of attributes to be a world-class goalkeeper.  

“He has it all. His positioning and his reading of the game to defend the ball in the zone is impressive. I like the forward movements he makes to claim the ball from high crosses and to dive on the ball for low passes or crosses into the penalty area. 

“His starting positions and the way he opens up his body to deal with balls that come from the sides and vertical, through passes stands out for me in a young goalkeeper. Also, his distribution with both feet is good, and he is very comfortable at starting the play and being involved in the build-up.”    

Italy goalkeeper (1) Desplanches is comfortable receiving the ball and breaks the first line of Brazil’s defence with a forward pass, starting a play that leads to a goal.
Italy goalkeeper (1) Desplanches takes up a good starting position, 3m from his goal-line and 6m from his defensive line, before judging a well-timed intervention.


Attacking play 

Playing in a 4-3-3 with one defensive midfielder, Uruguay rank second in the tournament for completed crosses, with two of every three deliveries from open play resulting in an attempt at goal. Averaging 18.2 attempts at goal per 90 minutes in their opening six games, they are also ranked fourth for defensive line breaks and attempts at goal from inside the penalty area. 

Interestingly, they also show a willingness to play through or over their opponents instead of progressing the ball by going around them. La Celeste receiving the ball inside their opponent’s team shape 61.4% of the time demonstrates this tendency.

According to Shaun Goater, Uruguay’s attacking game stems from their defensive one. 

“Everything stems from how they defend. Most of their attacking play originates from counter-attacks and they advance their play through individual or combination play. Their forward players are also very effective. (11) Juan de Los Santos is a nippy, agile player – he's  very effective. (10) Franco González is very good at getting them up the field and wins fouls, he’s very quick, while (7) Anderson Duarte is a very important player for them. He can receive the ball in pockets. 

“Their left-back (13) Alan Matturro is also a hugely influential player for them. Defensively he is excellent, but he loves to get forward and really adds to their attacking play and has a high-quality delivery. He’s also dangerous on attacking set plays.” 

For Goater, the impact Uruguay’s head coach Marcelo Broli makes has been impressive. 

“They mix their game up. He has shown he can be very versatile, and his team is adaptable. In the semi-final, in a very tough game against Israel, he changed their system, and it changed the game,” he added. 

After winning the ball back from an aggressive press, Uruguay secure possession and play vertically before scoring.


With five clean sheets in the tournament so far, Uruguay have the tightest defence at FIFA U-20 World Cup 2023. The only team to breach their defence was England, when tomorrow’s finalists lost 3-2 in their second group-stage match.

According to Julio González, “Uruguay are the strongest team defensively in the competition. They play with strength and courage and are like lions trying to recover the ball and that starts with their three forward players. They defend as a team and once the front three initiate the press the rest of the team follows.

“Their three midfielders protect the central space and their defenders very well; they are very aggressive and well connected. Uruguay will also defend as far from their goal as possible when they can, and their opponents do not get many chances to score against them. Their ability to defend resolutely in different ways is their biggest strength. 

Uruguay can defend in a mid or low-block but can also press. They are content with having a long team length when they do not have the ball but can also demonstrate a willingness for aggressive counter-pressing, both as a team and individually. Once the opposition plays passes into central areas, their defensive midfielder looks to intercept or pick up loose balls. Their back-four stay connected and are strong in 1v1 situations. Uruguay are also happy to allow their forward players to remain high, even when they are defending deep so they can be outlets during counter-attacks.

Uruguay are content in defending deep with their midfielders connected to their defenders, keeping their forward players high to facilitate counter-attacks.

Set plays

Of Uruguay’s 11 goals scored, two have been from attacking corners.  

Julio González has analysed their approach and says, “They are a big team and have good routines. Their left-back (13) Alan Matturro is tall, attacks the space and has the ability to lose his marker. They are also effective at using decoy runners to clear the space for other players to attack.”

Uruguay left-back (13) Matturro loses his marker, times his run and attacks the space before scoring.
Uruguay use decoy runners to clear the space for (16) Facundo González to attack and score.

Uruguay’s goalkeeper

Uruguay have kept five clean sheets in their six outings so far, conceding only against England. For Zuberbühler (12) Randall Rodríguez has an outstanding defence around him and in their semi-final victory over Israel, he made some important interventions. 

“I have been very impressed with Uruguay’s complete defence but in the semi-final, when that defensive line was broken, Rodríguez showed up for his team in a crucial 1v1 situation to help keep a clean sheet. He was brave in a very important moment in the game.  

“In terms of his distribution, I like the technique he uses for side-volleys out of his hands. He has good accuracy with this kick when he plays it longer and higher, but also lower and shorter,” he added. 

Goalkeeper (12) Rodríguez drills a low side-volley pass.
In their semi-final against Israel, (12) Rodríguez recognises that his nearest defender is out of the game and makes an important intervention.


With both Italy and Uruguay demonstrating the ability to score goals in their opening six matches (13 and 11 respectively), and an aggressive defensive nature when they do not have the ball, Sunday’s final promises to be an intriguing encounter.

Both teams have competent and efficient defenders, industrious and dominant midfielders and creative attacking players that can unlock defences. It promises to be a game of fine margins and our TSG are looking forward to seeing who the game-changer can be in a fascinating FIFA U-20 World Cup final. 

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