It is no secret that many players from South America, Asia and particularly Africa see the FIFA World Youth Championship not only as an opportunity to make their country happy but to impress those money-rich European clubs swarming to pick up a bargain.

While Morocco's Rachid Tiberkanine longs for the former, he can live without the latter. Born in Antwerp in Belgium, the young teenager was picked up by Ajax Amsterdam at the tender age of 15. His rise through the Dutch club's famous youth ranks has been swift and, after scoring 11 goals from midfield last season, the fleet footed star was promoted to the first team squad.

Impressive performances in the African Youth Championship, where only penalties against Nigeria prevented the North Africans from reaching the final, added to his growing reputation and had many observers at the world finals keeping tabs on the number 14.

But although featuring on familiar fields, the tournament has not gone well for Tiberkanine. Behind 1-0, the 20-year-old missed a glorious chance to equalise against Spain in the opening game and when the Europeans doubled their lead seconds later, the Ajax player was substituted.

The Junior Lions won their next two matches, 5-0 and 1-0 against Honduras and Chile, to move into the last 16 but the local boy continued to warm the bench. Despite the success, talk among the 320,000-strong Moroccan community in Holland fell largely between whether Tiberkanine was carrying an injury or had had a bust up with coach Jamal Fathi.

Against Japan in the Round of 16, the wind seemed to have changed though. Morocco were not only struggling to break through what many believed to be one of the weakest sides left in the finals, but were being outfought and outthought as their goal led a charmed life before half time.

Minute 52 and with a noisy army of support beginning to quiet, it was time to gamble and Tiberkanine was thrown into the fray, raising the volume in Enschede. Previously fast and furious, the play of the Junior Lions took shape. Pace was varied, passes became weighted and moves were read while Japanese legs backpeddled. With seconds left on the clock, Moussine Iajour stroked home the winner to send the thousands gathered delirious.

"We made a change and it worked," said Fathi afterwards. "Rachid made a big impact."

If Tiberkanine was beginning to think twice about his decision to play for the Moroccan youth team after appearing for the Belgium U-19s, the words came just at the right time.

 "I'm very happy with my choice (of nationality)," said the player. "My parents are Moroccan, I feel Moroccan and my heart is Moroccan."

While thousands of his countrymen are expected to meet up again in Utrecht for the quarter-final against Italy on Friday, millions more back in Africa will be tuning in to see if the U-20 team, never having reached the last eight before, can go on and make further history.

"It is a big achievement already but we don't want to stop here," added the player after finishing the last training session before the game. "Our support is like having an extra man and although Italy are a strong team, if we continue the way we are playing, we will make it."

Whether the gifted Tiberkanine makes it too looks likely to be revealed only at the very last moment.