There is not much historical evidence to suggest that a sizeable bunch of those who excel at the U-17 level eventually make it to the highest tiers of world football. Nonetheless, the teenagers impress to no lesser extent and during the course of the last month in India, the FIFA U-17 World Cup showcased a number of them. Here is a look at a few of the stars.
Before he arrived in India, one of Phil Foden’s biggest admirers was none other than Pep Guardiola. A graduate of the Manchester City academy, Foden was promoted to the senior City squad and even featured against arch-rival Manchester United during the club’s pre-season tour of the United States. On his return to England from India, with a World Cup winner’s medal and the Golden Ball (best player) award, he would have further embellished his credentials. He played in all seven of England’s matches, scoring three goals — including two in the final against Spain — and making one assist.
After a slow start to the tournament, the Liverpool youngster Rhian Brewster erupted towards the latter stages of the World Cup. England lost stalwart Jadon Sancho midway through the tournament as German giant Borussia Dortmund sought to recall him. But Brewster made sure England didn’t miss Sancho as he scored hat-tricks in both the quarterfinal and semifinal matches. His strike in the final was his eighth goal in the competition and he duly won the Golden Boot award given to the highest scorer.
It’s not often that a Brazilian goalie is recognised on a par with those nimble-footed players the Selecao is famous for. But at this World Cup Gabriel Brazao held his own and was awarded the Golden Glove award for the best goalkeeper. The custodian made 29 saves and kept out an average of 85.3 per cent of shots on his goal during the tournament. His lightning-quick reflexes and the command of his penalty area shone throughout. That he conceded just five goals in seven matches was no surprise. It was a pity that three of those came in the semifinal against England. But Brazil and Brazao can both hold their heads high.
In recent times, Spain, and in particular Barcelona, have routinely displayed the knack of producing an assembly line of gifted midfielders. Many a time they have been played as ‘False 9s’, becoming decoy centre-forwards in striker-less systems. But Abel Ruiz is a true-bred No. 9 who counts among his idols not Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, but Robert Lewandowski and Marco van Basten. The Spain captain scored six goals from seven games but was equally adept at playing with his back to the goal and being a vital outlet for his team-mates. Spain and the world will hear a lot about the La Masia graduate in the days to come.
The Real Madrid website pronounces Cesar Gelabert as a “creative player who gives his all for the team. Fast paced and great on the ball best describe this player.” In India, he has stayed true to this description. Though he didn’t feature in Spain’s opening match against Brazil, he played in each of the next six matches. He scored two goals but was more important as the creative spark who accounted for four assists. His best performance of the tournament was in the semifinal against Mali. Real Madrid under Zinedine Zidane appears — at least for now — to have traded the ‘Galactico’ policy of only signing stars for promoting in-house talent. May be Cesar can get a look in.
Lassana N’Diaye has none of the high-profile backgrounds his peers in this list have. But that hasn’t stopped him from reaching the top. The Malian forward came second in the scoring charts with six goals and helped his country to a semifinal finish. He was pretty much an unknown when he joined his country’s squad before this year’s CAF U-17 Africa Cup of Nations. Mali won the tournament and booked its spot in the U-17 World Cup and on the biggest of stages he proved to be his country’s most-potent attacker.
The Brazilian was one of the driving forces behind Brazil’s third-place finish. As a modern-day shuttler, who excels at both ripping apart defences as well as taking up extremely intelligent positions, Paulinho was a constant menace. He scored three goals including the magnificent winner against Germany in the quarterfinals and accounted for two assists. Paulinho plays for Vasco da Gama in Brazil, the same club Philippe Coutinho, a player in a similar mould, debuted at. Can he too follow the Liverpool lynchpin to stardom?
France might have crashed out in the round-of-16, but not before Yacine Adli caught the eye. The Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) product was a domineering presence in the midfield and it showed in the way he racked up five assists, the most by a single player in the tournament. Along with Dan-Axel Zagadou, Claudio Gomes, Antoine Bernede, Moussa Diaby and Timothy Weah, Adli is part of a strong generation of young PSG players and has been ear-marked for greater successes in the future. Also here: Jann-Fiete Arp (Germany), Sergio Gomez (Spain), Timothy Weah (USA), Lincoln (Brazil), Alan (Brazil), Amine Gouiri (France), Younes Delfi (Iran), Jadon Sancho (Eng) and Ferran Torres (Spain).
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