How much can change in the life of a footballer in just two months? Clearly, the answer depends on the case in question, but one thing is clear: after a good performance at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007, the odds of success are greatly improved.
A mere 38 days after the curtain came down in Toronto, FIFA.com catches up with the progress of a number of players involved in Canada. Whether the subject of a transfer move, pushing for a regular first-team spot at their club or called up for senior national team duty, the careers of many of these gifted youngsters have taken several twists and turns.
Splashing the cash
South American sides have often enjoyed considerable success at youth level, and Canada 2007 was no exception. Among the ranks of champions Argentina, diminutive midfielder Maximiliano Moralez, winner of the adidas Silver Ball and adidas Bronze shoe, has since earned a seven-million dollar move from Racing Club de Avellaneda to Russian outfit FC Moscow. Also heading to European shores was Albiceleste keeper Sergio Romero, a transfer to top Dutch side AZ Alkmaar and a first senior international call-up the reward for conceding just two goals in seven games.
Leading the numbers game is young Brazilian striker Alexandre Pato, scorer of three goals in a ultimately disappointing campaign for the Auriverdes. The precociously talented 17-year-old has swapped the colours of Porto Alegre side Internacional for Italian giants AC Milan for around 20 million dollars, though his tender years prevent him from making his competitive debut until January.
United States whizkid Freddy Adu, meanwhile, is another player to have made his FIFA U-20 World Cup performances count. Still young enough to take part in what would be his fourth world U-20 event come 2009, the Ghana-born striker has signed for Portuguese heavyweights Benfica.
The capital club were clearly following this summer's showpiece event very closely, having also signed Rio Ave prospect Fabio Coentrao. Bruno Gama of FC Porto, meanwhile, who starred for the Selecção das Quinas before being struck down through injury, will spend another season on loan at Vitoria Setubal. Other movers include Canada's Will Johnson, snapped up by De Graafschap in the Netherlands, and Nigerian defender Uwa Echiejile, now with French club Rennes.
Making the step up
"Winning the tournament in Canada might give us a better chance of reaching the senior side," Sergio Aguero told FIFA.com prior to his country's opening game against eventual final opponents Czech Republic. Two months on, the player who took the tournament's best player and top scorer awards has won a starting place at club side Atletico de Madrid and was called up to the senior national team squad for a friendly against Norway in Oslo. While the Colchoneros' La Liga campaign got off to an inauspicious start with a 2-1 derby defeat to Real Madrid, El Kun's well-taken strike will no doubt boost his confidence for the challenges ahead.
Staying in South America, incoming Chile coach Marcelo Bielsa moved swiftly to bring young hopefuls Gary Medel and Cristopher Toselli into the senior set-up ahead of La Roja's forthcoming friendlies and the start of qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Toselli earned plenty of admirers for his record-breaking displays in Canada, going 492 minutes without conceding, while Universidad Catolica defender Medel celebrated the news in fine style, scoring a vital brace that decided this weekend's clásico against Universidad de Chile.
Crossing the Atlantic to Europe, the recent friendly game between Czech Republic and Austria on 22 August saw Martin Fenin make his full international debut. However, the man who starred in the Czechs' run to the final of Canada 2007 was usurped by fellow debut boy Martin Harnik, who scored for Austria in the 1-1 draw.
Heading back to Latin America, Mexico coach Hugo Sanchez is one of those to have shown the greatest faith in the talented crop of youngsters at his disposal. Joining the senior squad for a friendly game against Colombia will be Alfonso Blanco, Omar Esparza, Julio Dominguez, Hector Moreno, Adrian Aldrete, Patricio Araujo, Jorge Hernandez and Cesar Villaluz.
Last but not least, flying winger Clifford Mulenga has since made the step up to Zambia's senior side, while nine members of the Japanese U-20 squad defeated by Czech Republic in the Round of 16 at Canada 2007 were promoted to the U-22 squad for the recent Four Nations tournament in China. Those involved were: Yohei Takeda, Yohei Fukumoto, Michihiro Yasuda, Tsukasa Umesaki , Jun Aoyama, Yasuhito Morishima, Akihiro Hayashi, Atsuto Uchida and Yosuke Kashiwagi.
After their adventures in North America, a number of players have found first-team opportunities easier to come by. A case in point in FC Barcelona's Mexican wonderkid Giovanni Dos Santos, who backed up his stellar performances in Canada with some storming performances for Frank Rijkaard's side on their Asian tour.
For Mexico's CONCACAF neighbours the USA, forward Jozy Altidore has continued to build on the promise he showed in the Stars and Stripes' historic group win over Brazil. Scorer of two goals on that balmy night in Ottawa, the powerful front-runner has just been voted Major League Soccer's Player of the Week for the first time. The 17-year-old's contribution of four goals and four assists in just 15 games for the New York Red Bulls earned him the prestigious award.
In Spain too, several players have reaped the benefits of their impressive run to the quarter-finals in Canada. Of coach Gines Melendez's charges, Diego Capel is now a fully-fledged member of the Sevilla first-team squad, while Antonio Barragan and Adrian Lopez are both in the running for a starting spot at Deportivo La Coruna. Alberto Bueno, Adrian Gonzalez and Esteban Granero were all involved in pre-season training with the Real Madrid first team and defender Gerard Pique has been recalled by English champions Manchester United after a year on loan at Real Zaragoza.
All in all, Canada 2007 has proved a remarkably positive step in the careers of these up-and-coming young stars. While the world of football offers few guarantees, the signs suggest these boys are here to stay.