There can be little doubt that the names of some of the 504 players already confirmed ahead of the latest edition of the FIFA U-20 World Cup catch the eye more than others, with many already valued at millions of pounds or having enjoyed star turns at club level.
For these ambitious youngsters, they face a two-pronged mission at Colombia 2011: winning the coveted global title and following in the footsteps of the likes of Sergio Aguero, Seydou Keita, Robert Prosinecki, Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona, who claimed the competition’s adidas Golden Ball before going on to enjoy glittering careers.
On the official lists unveiled this Thursday, the squads of Spain, Brazil, Argentina and France all revealed players who ply their trade at some of the biggest sides around. La Roja, for their part, can call upon Real Madrid’s Sergio Canales, Barcelona’s Oriol Romeu and Daniel Pacheco of Liverpool, all of whom have very bright futures ahead of them despite struggling for first-team opportunities at their clubs.
Big names for Brazil
Brazil and Argentina are also past masters at producing new crops of talented young players. In the case of A Seleção, though two of their hottest young talents in Neymar and Lucas will not be in Colombia, they will not be short of quality when able to use Inter Milan’s Philippe Coutinho, Internacional’s Oscar and Sao Paulo midfielder Casemiro. Indeed, the latter was a key figure in Brazil’s triumph at this year’s South American U-20 Championship in Peru, and is the subject of a transfer tussle between a number of Italian big guns.
For neighbours Argentina, meanwhile, diminutive forward Juan Manuel Iturbe, another who shone on Peruvian soil, has already drawn comparisons with compatriot Messi and joined all-conquering Portuguese outfit Porto. Squad-mate Erik Lamela has recently earned a big-money move from River Plate to Serie A side Roma, while coach Walter Perazzo can also count on the in-fom Facundo Ferreyra and the likes of Roberto Pereyra and Adrian Cirigliano, who both have top-flight experience.
In the French camp, Gael Kakuta will be determined to prove just why Chelsea were so keen to secure his signature back when he was just 17. Fellow Bleuets Antoine Griezmann and Gueida Fofana, meanwhile, look to have all the ingredients to emulate established European performers Philippe Mexes and Djibril Cisse – who both represented France at Argentina 2001.
Mexico looking for momentum
Fresh from claiming the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2011 on home soil, Mexico will be aiming to carry that momentum into the U-20 event, where much of their hopes will rest on the shoulders of Erick Torres and Ulises Davila. Host nation Colombia, for their part, will be relying heavily on the talents of attacking midfielder and captain James Rodriguez of Porto, who played a starring role in Los Cafeteros' triumph at June’s Toulon Tournament.
Among the African contingent, Mali can call on a trio from French giants Paris Saint-Germain in the shape of Kalifa Coulibaly, Adama Toure and Kalifa Traore, while Cameroon boast players from the youth ranks of UEFA Champions League winners Barcelona and other notable clubs. From CONCACAF, enjoying arguably the highest profile is Costa Rica’s in-demand striker Joel Campbell, who won admirers at the recent CONCACAF Gold Cup and Copa America.
All in all, a tantalising festival of football is clearly on the cards at the competition set to run from 29 July to 20 August. Will it be the players we have mentioned who take the coveted individual awards? And which side has what it takes to claim the crown won by Ghana back at Egypt 2009?
*To view the squads, please click on the 'Official player list' link on the right.