BUENOS AIRES (AP) — Italy and Uruguay will face off in the Under-20 World Cup final on Sunday with both countries seeking a first title in the tournament.
Uruguay is trying to reclaim the trophy for South America after four consecutive European wins, and is hoping to emulate host Argentina's victory at the World Cup in Qatar in December.
The match will take place at the Diego Maradona Stadium in La Plata, outside Buenos Aires, with Uruguay playing in the final for the third time while Italy has reached the title game for the first time. Uruguay lost the final in 1997 and 2013.
“It will be the first time we will play the final of this competition. It means a lot for me to play here, in Argentina," said 17-year-old Simone Pafundi, who came on as a substitute to score Italy’s winner against South Korea in the semifinals. “Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona were born here, so for me it’s beautiful to play in this country.”
Neither team was among the favorites when the U20 World Cup kicked off on May 20, but unlike Brazil, Argentina and England they faced less resistance from clubs about releasing players for the tournament.
It is not mandatory for clubs to allow their players to take part in international youth competitions.
Italy is relying on midfielder Cesare Casadei to make the difference after he emerged as the top goalscorer of the tournament. The Reading player, on loan from Chelsea, has netted seven goals so far, including one in the 2-1 win against South Korea in the semifinals.
An Italian win would keep the trophy in Europe after wins by France (2013), Serbia (2015), England (2017) and (Ukraine (2019). The tournament was not played in 2021 due to the pandemic. Brazil was the last winner from South America in 2011.
Uruguay relies on its steady defender Sebastián Boselli and teamwork, and will also have the crowd support of more than 30,000 of its fans who are expected to fill the stadium. The Celeste has so far conceded only two goals in six matches — both against England in the group stage.
Uruguay coach Marcelo Broli is hoping the team's focus on the collective can help break the recent European domination in the tournament.
“None (of our players) comes from a place you can say ‘you are a star’ or ‘I am the first,’" Broli said. “As a team, we will give it all and leave nothing left.”
Earlier, debutant Israel will take on South Korea for third place in the same stadium.
AP journalist Mauricio Savarese contributed to this report from Sao Paulo.