The 73rd edition of the historic Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup is almost upon us. From 1 to 2 June, ten teams from best-known clubs in the world will once again battle it out for the prestigious U-20 trophy at the Buchlern sports complex in Zurich.
Aside from defending champions Boca Juniors, the likes of Italian title challengers Napoli and Portuguese heavyweights Porto will be sending a selection of their most gifted youngsters to compete with Dinamo Zagreb of Croatia, Red Bull Salzburg from Austria and Israeli outfit Maccabi Haifa, as well as Swiss quartet FC Zurich, Grasshoppers, Thun and hosts Blue Stars, for the coveted title.
As the tournament's motto, 'Where stars are born', suggests, spectators can expect to see a number of talented young players with great futures ahead of them. David Beckham, Josep Guardiola, Ryan Giggs, Jay-Jay Okocha and Kaka all earned their stripes at the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup before going on to become household names. Only players born after 1 January 1991 are eligible to appear in this year's competition.
Zizou comparisons, Salzburg prospects
One young talent well worth keeping an eye on is Boca's Joel Acosta, the Argentina youth international whose athleticism and power could well prove decisive. Having already made his first-team debut in the land of the two-time FIFA World Cup™ winners, the 20-year-old can hardly wait to show off his skills on European soil.
Also striking fear into opposing defences will be Acosta's accomplice Mauricio Aubone, the two-footed schemer who pulls the strings from midfield. Aubone has already appeared for Argentina at youth level and is currently gaining experience in the Boca reserves in preparation for his step up to the first team.
Arguably the hottest prospect arriving from Buenos Aires is 16-year-old Leandro Paredes. The attacking midfielder, whose elegant technique is reminiscent of a certain Zinedine Zidane, has already made his first top-flight debut domestically and many are expecting the instinctive young footballer to be a part of the Argentina squad at this year's FIFA U-17 World Cup Mexico 2011 between 18 June and 10 July.
He's an attacking midfielder, a very good footballer with outstanding technical skills. He always does what you least expect and usually has a surprise up his sleeve.
Freshly-crowned UEFA Europa League winners Porto boast emerging talents at both ends of the pitch. Full-back David Bruno is deployable on either side and particularly impresses going forward, while the searing pace of Filipe Barros, the diminutive forward also known as Pipo, exudes a maturity far beyond his years in spite of his 5"4' frame.
At the heart of the Salzburg midfield control centre are Marco Meilinger and Georg Teigl, two precocious young talents who have already been selected in Austria's initial squad for the FIFA U-20 World Cup Colombia 2011, which takes place between 29 July and 20 August.
Super League record holders
Another expected to shine in his home city is Grasshoppers goalkeeper Raphael Spiegel, the current Switzerland U-19 international who is already an established member of the first-team squad at his nation's most successful club. Also hoping to cause a stir at Buchlern are two emerging talents with Turkish roots. Levent Gulen may only be 17 years old, but his mature presence brings calm and stability to the back four, while Swiss U-17 international Endogan Adili is keen to confirm his reputation as a star of the future having already become the youngest-ever goalscorer in the history of the Swiss top flight.
For their part, Thun will be heading to the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup 2011 full of ambition. Coach Rudiger Bohm has predicted a great future for 18-year-old midfielder Kevin Bigler, who spent the winter at a training camp with the first team: "He never panics, is good in the tackle, and always finds a solution."
Two years older than Bigler, French midfielder Mathieu Salamand has already been handed several first-team opportunities at Thun and has even netted his first Super League goal. "He's an attacking midfielder, a very good footballer with outstanding technical skills. He always does what you least expect and usually has a surprise up his sleeve," said Bohm.
Of course these are just some of the exciting talents set to take to the stage at the Buchlern sports complex, where they will be following in the footsteps of the some of the game's finest players. Needless to say, many more of Europe's top clubs will be travelling to Zurich on 1 June in the hope of finding a potential Beckham, Giggs or Kaka for themselves.