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Published 20 May 2023 7 min read
Men's Elite League Squad

'Representing England at the U-20 World Cup is a dream come true'

Written by:

Frank Smith

Leeds United duo Mateo Joseph and Darko Gyabi speak of their pride at representing England at the FIFA U20 World Cup

Two of Leeds United’s most exciting young talents have spoken of their pride at representing England at the FIFA U-20 World Cup and how it really is a dream come true.

Mateo Joseph and Darko Gyabi are among the talented teenagers selected by Ian Foster for the U-20 World Cup in Argentina, which gets underway for the Young Lions on Monday against Tunisia.

Joseph was born and raised in Spain but has an English father and would visit Walthamstow and Chelsea regularly to visit his grandmother, auntie and cousins at every spare opportunity.

Growing up in Spain and with a Spanish mother, when major tournaments came around, Joseph’s family would have both England and Spain flags hanging from their balcony, with the young striker dreaming of emulating his dad’s cousin Emile Heskey in representing the Three Lions at a major tournament.

Now, the former Racing Santander and Espanyol youngster will live out his dream of wearing the Three Lions at a major tournament after a whirlwind 18 months which has seen him sign for Leeds United, represent their senior team on six occasions and be called up for the MU20s for the first time in March.

Joseph said: "Being at the U-20 World Cup is really exciting. It's like a dream come true. These are things you dream of since you were young, since you started to play football. 

"It is an honour to represent England, my country. I can't wait to give everything for the shirt in the games. 

“I'm really excited and looking forward to the first game. Let's see if we can start well with a win.”

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It is a sentiment shared by his Leeds team-mate Gyabi, who is one of three MU19s players called up for this tournament, alongside Brighton duo James Beadle and defender Imari Hines-Samuels.

Gyabi, who signed for Leeds in the summer from Manchester City, added: "Everybody knows something big is coming and even though we're all young, we understand the opportunity that we've got. There's definitely an element of excitement around the camp.”

Gyabi has been in the England pathway since his early-to-mid teens, having impressed enough at Millwall for Manchester City to sign him at the age of 14.

The midfielder captained the MU19s during their Under-19 EURO qualifying campaign earlier this season before being promoted to the MU20s for this tournament.

With the likes of former Manchester City academy players Liam Delap and Sam Edozie in the squad, plus MU19 team-mates Beadle and Hines-Samuels, Gyabi is not short of familiar faces in camp but spoke of the benefits of having fellow Leeds youngster Joseph in the squad.

Gyabi, who made three senior appearances for Leeds this season, said: "It's definitely important to have a club team-mate here to help make me feel comfortable. I've been playing with Mateo this whole season, so we spend a lot of time together and coming here is something big. 

“But I also know some of the boys from my previous clubs and even just from playing against them. So, it's not been too hard for me to be comfortable and speak to the other players."

Darko Gyabi has impressed for club and country this season
Darko Gyabi has impressed for club and country this season

Mateo echoed Gyabi’s comments whilst also speaking of the welcoming environment created by Foster, his staff and the players.

Joseph added: "It's always great to come to the national team with a team-mate from the club because you've been together the whole year, working together. It's like an extra help. 

“But the group is really good. They've been very welcoming to me since I came in March. It's an amazing group and I think we can do well this tournament. So, I'm really looking forward to it."

The majority of the England MU20 squad flew out from London Heathrow on Tuesday, landing in Buenos Aires on Wednesday morning and travelling out to La Plata, which is 90 minutes from the Argentinian capital.

After a spin class on the first day, to get the legs going after the long flight, the players had their first full day on Thursday.

An average day consists of a wellness session before breakfast, with gym and strengthening work taking place before the team meeting.

After lunch, the players will then head out to training before having some downtime after dinner, with head tennis and pool often the activities of choice.

Both Mateo Joseph and Darko Gyabi have spoken of the welcoming nature of the England MU20 squad
Both Mateo Joseph and Darko Gyabi have spoken of the welcoming nature of the England MU20 squad

England MU20s, which largely consists of the players and staff who won last year’s Under-19 EURO, will kick off their Group E campaign against Tunisia on Monday before facing Uruguay on Thursday 25 May and then Iraq on Sunday 28 May (all 7pm BST kick-off times).

The top two nations and four best third-place teams will then qualify from the six groups for the round of 16.

This will be a first major international tournament for both of the Leeds youngsters and Gyabi cannot wait for the action to get underway.

“Everything's been good so far,” Gyabi said. 

“We had our first training session on Thursday just to get all the travelling out of our legs and everything's been good so far.

"The setup here is pretty good. We've got a social room and everyone has their room and is settled now, so it's really nice.

"I'm definitely excited and it's such a great opportunity. I'm very proud to be here and we just need to be ready for whatever comes."

Alex Scott previews U-20 World Cup