Gems five!

Predrag Rajkovic, the Golden Glove recipient.-GETTY IMAGES

Like always, the U20 World Cup threw up some exciting talent on the global stage. Some had been marked out to shine, others arrived out of obscurity. Here are five that caught our notice… By Priyansh.

Participating for the first time in the FIFA U20 World Cup, Serbia confounded expectations to defeat the much-fancied Brazil 2-1 in the final on June 20. Young Serbian footballers have been making waves across Europe, but the country had lacked a tangible proof of progress. Now, the proof is self-evident.

Before the tournament, Serbia had watched videos of the 1987 Yugoslavia side that had won the same competition. That illustrious squad of Zvonimir Boban, Davor Suker and others served as inspiration for the representatives of this young and independent nation. A closely-knit group was able to suffer and succeed together; Serbia’s win in the final arrived three minutes before the end of extra-time.

For Brazil, defeat marked a failure to redeem what players within the side saw as lost pride. The team was driven to provide happiness to its fans as it sought to erase the painful memories of last year’s World Cup that ended in a 1-7 semifinal defeat to Germany. However, as Brazil struggles to find its identity again, the commitment of this young squad will nurse the wounds.

Like always, the U20 World Cup threw up some exciting talent on the global stage. Some had been marked out to shine, others arrived out of obscurity. A tournament that has seen the best of stars like Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi and Paul Pogba in the past was graced by a bevy of hugely talented footballers this year. Here are five that caught our notice…

Adama Traore

Not be confused with his namesake who plays for Barcelona B, Mali’s Adama Traore has been on Lille’s books for a season. While two goals in 20 club appearances didn’t really mark him out as a potential star, Traore was a hugely influential presence in his country’s third place finish. The midfielder’s impressive displays earned him the Golden Ball, awarded to the best player of the tournament.

With four goals and three assists, Traore was involved in seven of his team’s 11 goals in the tournament.

The 19-year-old was the beneficiary of a tactical change too as he played the No. 10 role, and not the deep-lying playmaker duty he undertakes for his club.

Danilo

The tournament’s silver ball went to Brazilian skipper Danilo. The Braga midfielder was an inspirational presence throughout but he suffered the second World Cup final defeat of his still fledgling career. In 2013, Danilo was on the losing end in the under-17 World Cup final.

Last season, the midfielder scored twice for his Portuguese club in 23 apperances. While not much was expected of Brazil at the U20 World Cup, Danilo led his teammates with dignity and earned praise from all quarters. The defensive midfielder is a product of Vasco da Gama’s youth academy and was bought last July by Braga.

Predrag Rajkovic

Goalkeeper Predrag Rajkovic was the hero of Serbia’s triumph as he produced save after save to frustrate the Brazilians in the final. The Serbian skipper was the recipient of the Golden Glove prize too, awarded to the best goalkeeper of the tournament. The 19-year-old is based in his country’s capital where he plays for Crvena Zvezda.

Rajkovic has been likened to Manuel Neuer but his idol in his formative years was Iker Casillas. The Serb was beaten only four times during the tournament and finished with 29 saves in seven matches. Rajkovic has already represented the senior national team once and was also instrumental in his country’s EURO under-19 win in 2013.

Viktor Kovalenko

Despite Ukraine’s exit in the round of 16, Viktor Kovalenko was awarded the Golden Boot for scoring five goals and providing two assists in four matches. The 19-year-old Shakhtar Donetsk player made the football world take notice with a second half hat-trick versus USA. Kovalenko was a year younger than all his Ukrainian teammates at the World Cup but that didn’t stop him from appearing as one of the side’s leaders on the pitch.

He particularly attracted attention for his freekick ability. Little was known about Kovalenko before the start of the tournament, though, as he had made only two appearances for Shakhtar.

Marc Stendera

Marc Stendera, the German dynamo.-GETTY IMAGES

With four goals, Germany’s Marc Stendera caught the eye of many during the U20 World Cup. Although the Germans were knocked out by Mali in the quarterfinals, the Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder gained renown for his finishing and other contributions to the team’s offence. Stendera is an excellent tackler too, as witnessed during last season’s Bundesliga.

Moreover, the 19-year-old had five assists in the league. He carried his good form into the World Cup as he provided three assists. Stendera has represented his country across various age groups, including the under-19 side that won the European Championship last year in Hungary.