Medalists make waves
© AFP

Although the biggest cheers on the evening of Sunday 9 September at Seoul's FIFA World Cup™ Stadium were reserved for eventual winners Nigeria, the three players voted as the tournament's best, namely adidas Golden Ball winner Toni Kroos, adidas Silver Ball recipient Macauley Chrisantus and Bojan, who claimed the adidas Bronze Ball, were all afforded enthusiastic receptions. And why not? The trio illuminated the tournament with their prodigious talent and eye for goal.

But now Bojan, Chrisantus and Kroos have returned to their home countries, their names are on the lips of many - the fans of their respective clubs, their coaches and other clubs who look upon their talents with admiration and envy. Perhaps the most celebrated star since the finals finished has been Bojan. The Barcelona forward became the youngest ever player to appear in the UEFA Champions League when he came on as an 88th-minute substitute in Barcelona's 3-0 win over Lyon on 19 September.

Three days earlier, he had made his Spanish La Liga debut against Osasuna in Pamplona, also as a substitute, and on 22 September his dream came true when he made his first league appearance at Camp Nou in Barça's 2-1 victory over Sevilla. After that match, Bojan decided to donate his match-worn shirt to charity.

His on-pitch performances have attracted praise from illustrious team-mates, such as Thierry Henry. "I have seen very few players like Bojan. The way he sees the goal reminds me of the young Trezeguet. The way he moves on the field attracts my attention. I love to see how he is fighting to make his carear. Age doesn't matter in football, when a player is ready to play, he has to play".

Further substitute appearances against Real Zaragoza, Atletico Madrid and Stuttgart followed, but the striker hit the headlines again when he was called up to Spain's U-21 squad, several years ahead of schedule. But Bojan did not disappoint. In their qualification match for the UEFA U-21 Championship, he scored his country's second goal in their 2-0 victory.

Kroos and Chrisantus on the rise
Meanwhile in Germany, Toni Kroos has appeared twice for Bayern Munich this season. He came on as a second half substitute in Bayern's 5-0 win over Energie Cottbus, creating two goals during the 20 minutes he was on the pitch. He also played for ten minutes in the UEFA Cup tie against Belenenses Lisboa, winning praise from the likes of Oliver Kahn in the process: "The boy has some unbelievable qualities. He's the best footballer that I've seen come up through the youth ranks in years," said the legendary keeper.

The likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City, Marseille, Hamburg, Ajax, Vitesse Arnhem and Dinamo Zagreb have all enquired about the services of Chrisantus, scorer of seven goals in Korea. The Nigerian U-17s' No9, likened in his home country to Obafemi Martins, is currently playing for Abuja in Nigeria but is on the lookout for another club, which according to his father must be one that develops his potential rather than lines his pockets.

"We have received at least 12 serious offers from big clubs in Europe for Chrisantus," said his agent Adam Mohammed. "Some clubs, like Ajax Amsterdam and Hamburg, even presented comprehensive plans on how they will turn my player into a world-class striker.

"There are also some huge contracts offered by clubs in the countries of Eastern Europe, but we want to take our time and choose a club where he can develop and play regular competitive football."

Yet, while these players continue to flourish, there is concern in the footballing world for Nigerian coach Yemi Tella, who in a critical condition in a Lagos hospital. Tella was diagnosed with lung cancer in June and was receiving treatment in Korea Republic before leading the Golden Eaglets to victory.

A month ago, Tella was awarded the Member of the Order of the Federal Republic medal - an prestigious honour - for his achievement, by the Nigerian president Umar Yar'Adua.

"We sent people to the hospital and it appears he is in a critical state," said NFA spokesman Ademola Olajire. "We're optimistic that he's going to be all right and the NFA remains in constant communication with his wife."