Defending champion Serbia didn't qualify for the 2017 Men's U-20 World Cup, so we are guaranteed a new title-holder for this edition. The last five tournaments have yielded five different winners, and two of those were first-time champions (Ghana in 2009 and France in 2013; three, if you count Serbia as a first-timer since it was Yugoslavia that won the 1987 tournament, not an independent Serbian team). But Argentina has won six of the 20 editions of the U-20 World Cup - and it has qualified for a crack at a seventh title in 2017. Two-time winner Portugal is in the competition too, and Germany (1981 champ) and France (2013 winner). There will be a new U-20 World Cup winner this year, but don't hold your breath for a first-time champion.
The absolute best talent in this age-group is often too important to club or senior national team to be spared for a competition held outside the FIFA windows for international games. Kylian Mbappe, for example, was part of the France squad that qualified for this tournament by winning the 2016 UEFA European U-19 Championship, but he's since outgrown the U-20 pool with his performances for Monaco this season. As has the USA's Christian Pulisic.
But the U-20 World Cup is still a significant showcase for emerging players - reputations will be formed at this tournament that will help launch or accelerate currently modest careers to a higher level. Not every player who excels at the U-20 World Cup becomes a world-renowned star. The 2003 player of the tournament, Ismail Matar, settled for a well-regarded career for Emirati club Al-Wahdi. Henrique Almeida won the Golden Ball at the 2005, but has yet to really make much impact on the game outside Brazil. But there is also a substantial list of famous names on the U-20 World Cup's honor roll: Diego Maradona (1979). Lionel Messi (2005), Sergio Aguero (2007) and Paul Pogba (2013) are all former Golden Ball winners at the tournament.
So there is general appeal to the competition: it's a proven nursery for emerging world-class talent. And for New York Red Bulls fans there are some more specific points of interest: two current RBNY players are at the 2017 edition - Tyler Adams is on the USA's roster and Douglas Martinez (contracted to NYRB II this season) is in the Honduras squad - and both are expected to be play significant roles for their respective teams.
Further, Red Bull Global Soccer has a general interest in younger (and often cheaper) talent: be assured there will be a Red Bull presence scouting this tournament, and not just to watch Patson Daka (Zambian striker attached to RB Salzburg) and Gino Fechner (RB Leipzig youth-teamer in Germany's squad).
This year's tournament is held in South Korea and runs from May 20 to June 11.
A brief overview of the 2017 U-20 World Cup...
There are 24 qualified teams divided into six groups of four for the group stage. The top two from each group automatically qualify for the knockout rounds. The four highest-ranked third-placed teams join those 12 qualifiers to form a round of 16. From there, it's the usual quarterfinals, semifinals and final (and a third-place playoff).
Teams tied on points in the groups will be separated by overall goal difference, followed by goals scored, followed by head-to-head results, and disciplinary records. Lots will be drawn if none of the other tiebreakers can separate the teams.
In the knockout rounds, tied games go to extra time and, if necessary, a penalty shootout.
Only eight teams will be eliminated by the group stage. The forgiving format allows teams to recover from a slow start: in 2015, the two losing semifinalists - Mali and Senegal - were both third-placed teams in the group stage. So don't rule anyone out because of a bad start.
Group A: Argentina, England, Guinea, South Korea
Group A is something of a Group of Death for this tournament, in the sense that one would not be too surprised to see any of these teams make it through to the latter stages of the knockout rounds, if they can get out of this group.
Argentina has won this World Cup six times: more than any other nation. England carries with it the perennial hope that the wealth and clout of Premier League clubs will eventually translate into a world-beating national team set-up. South Korea is the home team for as long as it is in this competition. And Guinea will get respect because CAF qualifiers tend to do well at this tournament.
But none of these teams enter the tournament as a champion: Argentina was the fourth-placed team at the 2017 South American Youth Championship; England was a semifinalist at the 2016 UEFA European U-19 Championship (though it beat championship-winner France in that tournament); Guinea was third-best at the 2017 Africa U-20 Cup of Nations; South Korea qualified automatically as host nation, but participated in the AFC qualifying tournament and would not have made it to this competition if it hadn't got a guaranteed place.
The perception this is a strong group might have to wait until the knockout stages to really prove itself, but - whether the notion stands up to scrutiny or not - the winner of Group A will be likely be regarded as a title-contender.
Group B: Germany, Mexico, Vanuatu, Venezuela
Group B features some big names, but is more Group of Life than Group of Death. The flawed reputations of each team in this group means its qualifiers will head to the knockout rounds regarded as being perhaps a little fortunate to have been handed a chance to ease into the competition against inconsistent opponents.
Germany hosted the UEFA qualifying tournament for this competition, but only got here via a playoff (against the Netherlands) after losing two out of three group-stage games and failing to make the final four. And the playoff was decided by penalties. The squad includes RB Leipzig's Gino Fechner, who has yet to make a first team appearance for his club.
Mexico stumbled in CONCACAF qualifying, beaten to a place in the final by the USA. El Tri is the traditional heavyweight men's U-20 team in its region, and the only CONCACAF team ever to make the final of the U-20 World Cup - but that was back in 1977. Still, of the semifinalists at the 2015 Men's U-17 World Cup, only Mexico has made it to the 2017 U-20 competition. Keep an eye out for Ronaldo Cisneros, the top-scorer at this year's CONCACAF U-20 Championship.
Vanuatu was the runner-up in Oceania qualifying. Until it proves otherwise, it will be considered one of the weakest teams in this tournament. It should be noted that reputation attached to another Oceania qualifier in 2015 - Fiji - and the Fijians recovered from an 8-1 loss to Germany in their opening game to beat Honduras, 3-0.
Venezeuela finished third in South American qualifying, but beat both the teams that finished above it - Uruguay and Ecuador. The squad includes Manchester City prospect Yangel Herrera, currently on loan to New York City FC.
Group C: Costa Rica, Iran, Portugal, Zambia
The top team from this group will likely be regarded as a dark-horse contender for the title.
Costa Rica had a modest qualifying tournament - beating only Trinidad and Tobago and Bermuda. Despite hosting the CONCACAF U-20 Championship, Los Ticos are in Korea because their loss to Honduras in qualifying wasn't quite as bad as Panama's defeat by Los Catrachos. But the squad for the CONCACAF tournament was missing arguably Costa Rica's best player; Gerson Torres is present at the World Cup, and might prove the spark his team was missing in qualifying.
Iran qualified as a semifinalist at the 2016 AFC U-19 Championship. It was on the losing side of an extraordinary 6-5 scoreline in its semifinal against Saudi Arabia.
Portugal made the final four of UEFA qualifying. Like any European contender, it will be regarded as a favorite if it reaches the knockout stages. Keep an eye out for 18-year-old Jose Gomes, who was top-scorer and MVP at the 2016 UEFA European U-17 Championship, which Portugal won.
Zambia won the 2017 Africa U-20 Cup of Nations, which it hosted. The question about this team is how much its domination of CAF qualifying had to do with its being supported throughout the competition by large home crowds. The squad features RB Salzburg's Patson Daka, whose 2017 has so far been one of the best years any teenage soccer payer might hope to have. The 18-year-old was joint top-scorer and MVP of the AFCON U-20 tournament. He also won the 2016-17 UEFA Youth League with Salzburg, scoring crucial goals in the semifinal and final.
Group D: Italy, Japan, South Africa, Uruguay
Group A will likely get most of the Group-of-Death attention, but Group D looks like the deepest in the tournament, if one respects the actual qualifying achievements of the teams in it.
Italy was the runner-up in UEFA qualifying; Japan won the 2016 AFC U-19 Championship without conceding a goal; South Africa finished fourth in CAF qualifying, but got closer to beating champ Zambia than any other team, holding out until extra time in the U-20 AFCON semifinals; Uruguay won the South American qualifying tournament, losing just once along the way.
Uruguay's squad is overflowing with talent, but keep an eye out for two Japanese players: MVP of Asian qualifying Ritsu Doan, and 15-year-old Takefusa Kubo.
Group E: France, Honduras, New Zealand, Vietnam
France has brought quite a seasoned squad to the tournament, with a number of players already getting regular first-team minutes for their clubs. The top team out of UEFA qualifying should be regarded as one of the favorites for the title this year, and it will be a surprise if it that theory is seriously challenged in the group stage.
Honduras was the runner-up at the CONCACAF U-20 Championship, though one could argue that was more luck of the draw than the team's true level in the field. Los Catrachos lost to Mexico in the group stage and were beaten to the CONCACAF title by the USA. But Honduras only lost the final on penalties, and only lost 1-0 to Mexico. If the team gets out of its opening game against France with its confidence intact, perhaps it can outperform expectations at this tournament as it did in qualifying. The squad includes New York Red Bulls II's Douglas Martinez, who scored on his debut in the USA.
New Zealand made it out of the group stage at the 2015 World Cup, but it was the home team for that tournament. This time around, it is the Oceania qualifying champion, but hardly a favorite to make it to knockout rounds. That said, the squad includes a number of US-based players who might make their way into the American pro circuit in due course, so this might be a team MLS scouts watch a little more closely than most.
Vietnam is appearing in its first U-20 World Cup after a somewhat surprising run to the semifinals of the 2016 AFC U-19 Championship that included a knockout-round win over host Bahrain.
Group F: Ecuador, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, United States
This looks a tough group for the teams that are in it, without a clear on-paper favorite. But these are also opponents the stronger sides in this World Cup probably wouldn't mind facing in the knockout rounds.
Ecuador, Senegal, and Saudi Arabia finished second in their respective qualifying tournaments; the USA is the reigning CONCACAF U-20 champion.
The USA squad includes several highly-regarded players - few more so than RBNY's Tyler Adams - but a squad featuring many of those on the roster in Korea lost every game it played in October's Four Nations tournament in England. Eight months is a long time in the context of a U-20 player's career, but the string of losses suggested this team might struggle outside CONCACAF or the USA.
Ecuador hosted the South American qualifying tournament, and was perhaps a little inconsistent given that it had home advantage - the team finished second in the final standings on goal difference. Bryan Cabezas was joint top-scorer in CONMEBOL qualifying.
Saudi Arabia didn't make the most convincing run to the AFC U-19 Championship final: it finished second in the group stage, needed penalties to get by Iraq in the quarterfinals, and beat Iran in the semifinals by the odd goal in 11.
Senegal was struggling at the 2017 AFCON U-20s until the second half of its second game. A late equalizer was required to salvage a point against Sudan in its opening game of the group stage, and at half-time against South Africa in its second game, Senegal was losing 2-0. But four goals in 22 minutes in the second half secured three points from the South Africans, and the team went on to win its group with a 2-0 win over Cameroon, followed by a 1-0 win over Guinea in the semifinals.