They are the same four nations that made it to the semi-finals of the FIFA World U-17 Championship Finland 2003 and now Brazil, Spain, Argentina and Colombia are back again as the longest survivors of another youth tournament. Coincidence? With three of the teams in the top five of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, there could be more things at play...

Pentacampeao (five-times FIFA World Cup™) winners Brazil have won the U-17 title a record three times and will be gunning for a fourth U-20 crown against Spain on Friday.

Marcos Paqueta, Brazil’s coach in Finland and the United Arab Emirates, believes the finalists’ names simply underlines the investment put in:

“The fact that the four semi-finalists of Finland have returned here simply proves that the South American and Spanish federations have done more work than most to build up and produce good young players.”

Argentina, twice FIFA World Cup champions, hold the record of four triumphs at youth level and three of the last four titles.

Hugo Tocalli, albiceleste U-17 and U-20 boss, sees his ultimate role as a football developer.“Our objective is always to get to the end of the competition. That experience to compete at international level counts for even more than playing in the first team for their club. My wish is obviously to win but developing footballers for the future is more important.”

While never having won football’s greatest prize, both Spain and Colombia consistently produce players of the highest calibre, fuelling interest in their national leagues.

Since we went to the Toulon tournament in 2000, we’ve been working on a continuous and systemised method of developing young players,” explains Colombian youth coach Reinaldo Rueda. “Our recent achievements are the fruits of this.”

Significantly, these young players are not only good but good-looking. The technique, skill and tactical knowledge of the Latin stars has set them apart, even at such a tender age, and their future success can only beautify the game.

And having competed against the world’s best of their age in a foreign land, the fortunate fellows will have gained that vital experience, something envied by many of the world’s top coaches.

“To succeed at international level, first you have to be a good player,” England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson recently told “But it’s also about behaviour, coping with stressful situations. It’s one thing to play in the domestic league, in play-offs, and against each other in the same stadiums and environment where you know, more or less, what’s going to happen. Another thing is playing in Japan against Argentina where you have to win or going back to England. Then you must be strong mentally.”

While some excellent young players have not been given the opportunity of appearing at these world youth finals, those that have, especially players from the four nations to have made it to the final day’s play, will know that their path to glory made a vital stop in the United Arab Emirates.