Future bright for crestfallen Quintero
© AFP

"It's difficult to judge a player at this age and know if he'll have a great career, but sometimes it's just blindingly obvious when you get to see a future star." So enthused Paul Okon after watching his Australia side face Colombia in a group stage game at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013.

For the former Young Socceroos captain, he had just been offered a glimpse of a very special talent. "Juan Quintero has got something extra and you can already see that, despite his young age."

If one of the marks of a great player is being able to make the difference when it matters most, the Colombian midfielder certainly delivered during his team's Round of 16 tie with Korea Republic. Los Cafeteros were trailing 1-0 deep into added time when they were awarded a free-kick.

With the referee poised to blow for full time, this was one final chance to keep their dream alive. Colombia's fate in the competition lay in the balance, but Quintero placed down the ball, looked up at goal and knew exactly what he was going to do.

Seconds later, the ball was whirling just inside the post before nestling in the back of the net – as an entire nation rose back home to applaud the young genius responsible. "When it happened, I felt a tremendous release of emotion and massive joy, the kind you don't often get to experience in a career," the Colombian prodigy explained to FIFA.com afterwards.

"When you equalise in the last minute and the whole team runs over to congratulate you, you feel you've just done something important and that right now you're making people happy."

'Being the best isn't enough'
The happiness did not last for long, however, as the South American side's stay of execution lasted just half an hour before Korea Republic prevailed on penalties. For a team that had travelled to Turkey intent on finishing world champions, the disappointment was acute – but not everything was bleak.

After all, they had just uncovered a new hero. The hope now is that Quintero continues with his stunning progress, and he looks to have all the qualities needed, combining a shot both powerful and precise with exquisite passing ability over any range, plus faultless technique and a cool head under pressure.

Nor was Turkey 2013 the gifted schemer's first statement of intent, Quintero having helped Colombia win the South American Youth Championship before enjoying a full season of Serie A action with Pescara. Colombia's FIFA U-20 World Cup exit will rankle, but the former Atletico Nacional player remains determined to "become a great player on the world stage" in the years to come.

[This has] happened to a lot of great teams in the past and today it happened to us, but that doesn't call into question the quality of our squad.
Juan Qunitero on Colombia's exit from Turkey 2013 on penalties

"We were up to the challenge – we dominated all our games and were able to play with all the pressure and responsibility of being favourites," he said. "But there are days when being the best isn't enough to win. Penalties are a lottery and luck didn't smile on us. That's happened to a lot of great teams in the past and today it happened to us, but that doesn't call into question the quality of our squad."

The future indeed looks promising for Los Cafeteros, with Quintero just one of a number of exciting new names. Among the other impressive performers on Turkish soil were defender Jherson Vergara, midfielder Sebastian Perez and forward Cristian Palomeque.

A hint of déjà vu
"I'm sure that some of these players will end up in the senior team, and as early as next year at the World Cup," added their captain, confident that the years ahead hold plenty of hope.

As for whether he sees himself making the trip to Brazil 2014, he could not help lowering his eyes with a timid smile: "This tournament is a superb apprenticeship for players our age and of course it makes us want to experience the same thing at the higher level."

Should his wish become reality, it would give football fans everywhere the chance to see a glorious sight on the greatest stage of all, and one carrying more than a hint of déjà vu – a left-footed South American No10.

"It's true that there aren't many, but that doesn't put any extra pressure on me," said Quintero, batting away any similarities he might share with Diego Maradona or Lionel Messi. "People shouldn't start trying to make comparisons. We'll see in a few years where things take me, but for the moment I'm just the No10 of the U-20 team."

True, but then again Maradona and Messi were 'just' No10s of their own respective U-20 sides in 1979 and 2005.