Pato and Adu on top
© Foto-net

The first thing these two young hitmen have in common is their sheer precociousness. Adu started to make a name for himself at the age of 13, took part in his first FIFA U-20 World Cup at 14, started playing MLS at just 15 and then made his national team debut at 16.

Originally from Ghana, the boy has literally taken the United States by storm. Already, he is competing at his third U-20 finals and has the distinction of being the only player to have bagged a hat trick at both the FIFA U-17 (Finland 2003) and U-20 (against Poland this year) World Cups. At the tender age of 18, he is the captain of the U-20 side despite being one of the youngest members and has also been attracting strong interest from Manchester United.

Pato - the name of the village of his birth but also meaning "duck" in Portuguese - has not exactly been a late bloomer either. Also at the age of 13, he signed on the dotted line for Internacional of Porto Alegre, breaking into the first team when he was just 17. After scoring one goal and setting up three more on his debut in the Brazilian top flight, he went on to taste glory at the FIFA Club World Cup 2006, where he was on the score sheet in the semi-final. During the qualifiers for Canada 2007, he finished as top scorer in the South American championship with five goals. Despite still being just shy of 18, he already has both AC Milan and Chelsea vying for his signature.

Cool heads on their shoulders
In most young players, such an array of glittering achievements would be accompanied by an ego to match, but that brings us to another feature shared by this uncommon pair: they have both managed to keep their feet firmly on the ground. "Freddy is a catalyst, a natural leader; he spurs on his team-mates to excel themselves. He wants to win and that's infectious. Along with Michael Bradley, he's my mouthpiece in the dressing room. He has a good understanding of the game and gets my message across, along with his pride at wearing the shirt and his competitive spirit. He's a real team player," reveals Thomas Rongen, the USA coach.

"Pato is an excellent player but, crucially, he knows he is nothing without his team-mates. The first match offered a good illustration of this. He had a good game but was unable to score, as the team as a whole was outplayed," says Nelson Rodrigues of his key asset.

The chief contrast between these two striking sensations lies in their style of play. Pato is a pure goalscorer: lanky and energetic, yet graceful, with a knack for ghosting into the ideal position and blessed with impeccable technique. Adu, however, is your archetypal "No 9.5", adept at collecting the ball deep and dribbling with it, capable of spreading the play or retaining possession to suit. "Alexandre Pato and Freddy Adu have two highly contrasting styles of play and different qualities," adjudges Rodrigues. "But they do have one thing in common: their quality in front of goal. I'm relishing the prospect of seeing them compete against each other."

The pride of true champions
The pressure on the shoulders of these two teenagers is immense. Adu has become almost a household name in the United States over the past four years, with the result that, practically every time he dons a pair of boots, the boy from Tema is expected to perform miracles. Pato has been picked out by no less a figure than Ronaldinho as the Brazilian player to watch. Such huge expectation perhaps explains why the pair failed to deliver in their opening games in Canada, but like all great players, both have come back strongly.

"In the first game, I didn't have a single shot, so we forwards had a chat and I asked them to take more risks and make the most of our opportunities. That's what we did and it worked perfectly," explains Adu, who found the back of the net three times against the Poles, including one imperious effort that consisted of step-overs, twists and turns and a brilliant curling finish. But first and foremost, he showed he was the driving force behind this American side.

His Brazilian counterpart was also on target, striking twice against the Koreans but is intent on remaining focused on the big picture: "I'm delighted to have scored two goals but we mustn't get carried away. It's absolutely vital that we win the next match against the USA. It won't be easy, but I believe our togetherness, which is our great strength, will make the difference."

The Real Salt Lake striker was singing from the same hymn sheet: "It's a fantastic result which we're going to celebrate accordingly, but we'll be getting straight back down to work as we've got one more group game left, and against Brazil to boot." Rongen reiterates: "It was Freddy's day, but he was able to shine because all the lads performed well. It was a team effort. We were really on top of our game, playing the total football I love. Certain individuals stood out within this system, as it's special players that make special teams," analysed the USA coach.

Both players now have the perfect stage upon which to build on their highly encouraging displays. In opposition but at different ends of the pitch, the elegant and razor-sharp Auriverde technician and the lightning-fast American wonder will be able to evaluate each other's performances. And there's a strong chance that it is the number 11 who will take the plaudits on Saturday... Oh yes, we forgot to mention the other similarity between these two prodigies: they both have the same number on their shirts.