From the technique of Andres Iniesta and the power of Javier Mascherano to the dynamism of Ismail Matar, the players who demonstrated their vast potential at the FIFA World Youth Championship UAE 2003 were too numerous to mention. FIFA.com has picked out 12 stars for 12 matchdays of young footballers who could soon be appearing on the stages of the world’s major senior competitions.
Andrés Iniesta (ESP):
Class, the silkiest of touches, vision, a nose for goal and leadership on the field of play, the FC Barcelona junior has shown all these qualities and more in an excellent tournament for the Iberians. The number 8 put in some polished performances for the Spaniards on the way out of the group stage, netting a spectacular solo effort in the clash with Uzbekistan to boot. And he has only improved on those performances as the tournament has worn on, steering his team through to the Final virtually single-handed. But it does not stop there: Iniesta is Spain's leading scorer in the competition, with three strikes. "I know I've come on as the tournament has progressed. Am I the leader of the group? Perhaps, but we all do our bit," said the unassuming midfielder.
Alexander Geynrikh (UZB):
In a team that was short on luck and lacking that little bit of experience to stamp its mark at UAE 2003, the CSKA Moscow striker still managed to turn heads in the tricky Group B. The number 9 was quick, incisive and showed bags of skill during the first phase. He got on the score sheet twice, once with a superb free-kick against Argentina and made life a misery for any defender that dared to stand in his way. "We're going home proud of what we did here. We showed the world that we play nice football in Uzbekistan," he said, before boarding an early plane home.
Arouna Koné (CIV):
In what is a very attack-minded side, he was not necessarily tipped to make the biggest impact, but Arouna Koné emerged as Côte d’Ivoire’s glinting spearhead. Using his physical prowess (1,83m, 81 kgs) to marvellous effect, the Roda Kerkrade forward struck three goals and constantly acted as a crucial pivot for the attacking thrust of players like Antonin Koutouan and Adolph Tohoua. A phenomenon in full flight, Koné also boasts ball control of the highest order. “In Belgium I developed physically, in Holland technically,” declared the Ivorian number 8. He proceeded to prove just that on the pitch in the Emirates.
Choi Sung Kuk (KOR):
Korea’s outstanding number ten was the focal point for a formidable Taeguk Warriors’ attack. His brilliantly flicked goal in the Round of Sixteen match with archrivals Japan looked to have sealed a spot in the Last Eight. But a late flurry of attack from the Nipponese ended the dream. Nevertheless, Choi Sung Kuk’s constantly clever creative play was a delight, and the Ulsan Hyundai player will be one to watch in the years to come.
A quintessentially Brazilian right wing back, Daniel oozed class all the way through the tournament. Sparking countless Seleçao attacks from his berth out wide courtesy of his pace and dribbling skills, the FC Sevilla player shouldered the responsibility of taking many of their free kicks and corners. Daniel also found time to perform his primary defensive duties with great effectiveness, evoking comparisons with the likes of Cafu and Roberto Carlos.
Ed Johnson (USA):
With pace, skill, unbounded athleticism and awareness to spare, the Dallas Burn striker proved himself a man to be wary of at UAE 2003. A veteran of the U.S. U-17 side that disappointed at Trinidad & Tobago 2001, Johnson arrived at the next level ready to earn some respect. And so he did - almost from the opening whistle - with a goal and an assist in the States’ opening-day win over Paraguay. Three more goals, all from the penalty spot, proved him to be a cool customer too as the States sent yet another message to the watching football world with a dramatic quarter-final run.
Edgar Barreto (PAR):
Paraguay’s bastion of a centre-back with a cool head and monstrous presence played no small role in the Albirrojos’ to a spot in the Round of Sixteen. The team’s captain and coach Rolando Chilavert’s willing lieutenant was a key figure in the South Americans’ run to a second-place finish in a demanding Group F – where they twice kept clean sheets (against Korea Republic and Germany). The Cerro Porteno star is definitely one for the future.
Hosni Abd Rabo (EGY):
The class of Egypt’s number 4 simply oozed through an already talented team. Each time he strutted out at the Al Maktoum stadium in Dubai, his very demeanour excited the fans and injected confidence into his team-mates. Hosni led by example and with his surging runs, fierce shots, inch-perfect distribution while always being there when needed in defence, the player was at the heart of everything and in the hearts of everyone as the legions of supporters kept imploring “come Hosni, come”.
Iain Hume (CAN):
Pacy, gutsy and with a fierce shot on either foot, Iain Hume fired the Canadians to unprecedented success. Confident enough to sport a Mohican in the red-and-white colours of his country, the striker terrorised defenders, grabbing three of his side’s four goals in the finals. A crisp drive against Australia, late winner versus the Czech Republic and quarter-final equaliser against Spain proved Hume should go on to bigger and better things.
Ismail Matar (UAE):
The passionate number ten was a constant source of delight and pride for UAE football fans. Down 0 - 3 to Slovakia in a cold shower of an opening match, it was Matar’s brilliant lobbed pass that freed up Ali Al Wehaibi for his side’s only goal. And after a first round full of tricky turns and unbelievable bursts of speed, Matar’s crowning moment came in the Round of Sixteen match with Australia. Looking the hosts’ only threat, he left it late and fired a deflected shot to the corner sending the entire nation into ecstasy. With rumours of a move to Europe in the mill, the Al Wahda creator and senior UAE standout looks to have a bright future ahead.
Javier Mascherano (ARG):
The River Plate midfield maestro was the undisputed leader of an Argentinian side that will be remembered more for its heart than its football. He ran the show in the middle of the park, took the weight of the team on his shoulders and shone through when the chips were down for the Albicelestes. His was the crucial move that led to the golden-goal victory over Egypt and the header that snatched the equaliser in the dying seconds of the quarter-final tie against the United States. His despairing tears when the Argentines were knocked out of the tournament by Brazil have to be one of the most moving sights of UAE 2003 so far. "He'll be Argentinian football's star playmaker before long," enthused his coach, Hugo Tocalli.
Jose de la Cuesta (COL)
As a team, Colombia were perhaps the strongest in the competition. All played for everyone, and everyone for all. Yet one player, captain Jose de la Cuesta, still shone out in the middle of the back line. Underneath his ability in the air and elegance on the ball, lay a demon tackler and fierce fighter – a perfect Cafetero blend that continually thwarted opponents’ attackers.
Milan Ivana (SVK):
Slovakia’s roving number 7 had the opposition running in circles over the course of the Eastern Europeans’ glory Round of Sixteen run at a first-ever FIFA finals. Equally confident out on the flank, in the centre of midfield, or flying forward in attack, the AS Trencin midfielder was a beacon of hope for a valiant Slovak side. Though he failed to find the back of the net, he was the team’s true spark and his two assists and loads of tricks had the fans on their feet and cheering.
Stephen Eliott (IRL):
If anyone was ever born with an eye for goal, it is this young lad. A tireless worker up front for the Irish, the Manchester City forward impressed by virtue of his clinical finishing. Popping up as if from nowhere, he chalked up 3 goals, include a splendid angled header against Saudi Arabia. No slouch, he is also physically fine-tuned and blessed with a cool head in front of goal. Gerry Smith, coach of the Greens is effusive in his praise of his young colt: “Eliott is a genuine goalscorer, a boy who can get you a goal at any time and in any way,” he enthused after the match against the Ivorians.