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2017 U-20 World Cup round-up; Group A, round 1: South Korea and England start with three points

The home team is looking good. So too is England, surprisingly.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Group A of the 2017 Men's U-20 World Cup is billed as the Group of Death: Argentina, England, Guinea, and South Korea are each teams one could find reason to believe will go deep into the tournament, perhaps even find the momentum necessary to win it. But there is only room for a maximum of three of them in the knockout rounds, so the competition will lose at least one, perhaps two, solid sides after the group stage from Group A alone.

It's also reasonable to question the Group of Death moniker, since this is also a group of teams for which one can find cause to believe might be over-rated. But the better sides in this group will enter the knockout rounds as favorites to go far in the competition, because the one thing they were all perhaps lacking coming into this World Cup was obvious momentum, and by definition the better teams in the group will have that by the time these early-round games are concluded.

After the first round of matches, South Korea and England have positioned themselves as favorites to emerge from Group A.

England 3-0 Argentina

One reason not to believe in England as a potential tournament favorite is that it hasn't been very good at Men's U-20 World Cups for longer than several of the players in its current U-20 squad have been alive. This was England's first win in a U-20 World Cup since 1997. Indeed, it was its first win at a U-20 World Cup since it lost to Argentina in the round of 16 at the 1997 tournament in Malaysia.

It was  rearguard win, without question. England was getting clobbered, and then - suddenly - it was winning. In the 38th minute, Everton's Kieran Dowell connected with clubmate Dominic Calvert-Lewin, and England was 1-0 up.

Shortly after half-time, Newcastle United prospect Adam Armstrong added a second. And in stoppage time, Chelsea's Dominic Solanke scored one of the most casualty penalties you'll see this year to make it 3-0.

To add further injury to the insult of an opening-game drubbing, Argentina lost Lautaro Martinez to a red card in the second half, after the Video Assistant Referee spotted a serious foul on England's Fikayo Tomori.

Argentina out-shot England 22-7, and will be wondering how it failed even to score in this match. It has a couple of days to work things out. Next up for the Argentines is home team South Korea on May 23. England plays Guinea the same day.

South Korea 3-0 Guinea

One thing we learned from the opening day of the tournament: the home fans will show up for their team. Reported attendances for the Group B matches in Daejeon - i.e. where South Korea was not playing - were in the range of five or six thousand.

In Jeonju, 15,510 reportedly showed up to watch England play Argentina. By the time South Korea and Guinea kicked off the second match of the day, the crowd was up to 37,500.

On the field, the home team gave its fans much to cheer about. The Korean squad's two Barcelona-based prospects - Lee Seung-woo and Paik Seung-ho found their way on to the score sheet, scoring the first and third goals respectively. Lim Min-hyeok scored the second.

Guinea out-shot Korea, but as had been the case in the first game in Group A, the winning side was the one that proved more clinical in front of goal rather than more prolific in its shooting chances.

Lee Seung-woo scored in the 37th minute with a deflected shot. Cho Young-wook had what looked like Korea's second called back by the VAR just before half-time, after Seung-woo was seen to have allowed the ball to slide out of play before slipping the assisting pass into the six-yard box.

The score remained 1-0 until relatively late in the game. But in the 76th minute, Seung-woo set up substitute Lim Min-hyeok for Korea's second. And Paik Seung-ho chipped a knock-down over the 'keeper for the third in the 81st.

An inventive team that likes to move quickly in the final third, cheered on by a large and appreciative crowd: the Koreans could be looking at a fun tournament, if they can get out of this group.

Next games in Group A:

  • England vs Guinea - 4:00 am, Eastern; Tuesday, May 23
  • South Korea vs Argentina - 7:00 am, Eastern; Tuesday, May 23