“The U-20 World Cup was a terrific experience for me, the ideal preparation for someone who aspires to a place in the national team.”
The words belong to Brazil defender Danilo, a mainstay of the team that won the FIFA U-20 World Cup Colombia 2011 back in August. Recognising the value of the tournament as a means of identifying the stars of tomorrow, Seleção coach Mano Menezes promptly made Danilo’s wish come true, calling him up to the national side for the first time for the September friendly with Ghana.
Danilo, who now plays his club football for Porto, having left Santos for a handsome fee, is not the only member of the Brazil squad that triumphed at Colombia 2011 to have advanced his international career. Midfield colleagues Oscar and Casemiro have both been given more prominent roles at their respective clubs, Internacional and Sao Paulo, since returning from the world finals, the former responding with eight goals in the Brazilian Championship this season.
The duo have also followed the trail blazed by Danilo, earning selection for the two-legged Superclásico de las Américas against Argentina, which Brazil clinched on Wednesday with a 2-0 victory in the second leg.
“The World Cup certainly played a part in my call-up,” Oscar told FIFA.com. “A lot of people thought I was one of the best players there. Mano [Menezes] was with us, he watched a couple of games and he liked what he saw. My aim now is to stay with A Seleção.” In the short term at least, the 20-year-old’s wish has been granted, Menezes naming him as the only Colombia 2011 champion in his squad for the upcoming friendlies against Mexico and Costa Rica.
One of the big European clubs harnessing the potential of the stars of Colombia 2011 is Porto. Aside from snaring Danilo, Os Dragões have also acquired the services of his international team-mate Alex Sandro and Argentina’s Juan Manuel Iturbe. Already in their ranks is rising Colombian star James Rodriguez, who has scored three goals in as many league outings and also set up Kleber for the winner in the 2-1 defeat of Shakhtar Donetsk in the UEFA Champions League a fortnight ago.
Rodriguez’s form has been timely, given the recent departure of compatriot Radamel Falcao to Atletico Madrid, where Koke, another U-20 star, has been impressively holding down a first-team place since helping Spain to the last eight at Colombia 2011.
Fellow Roja tyro Sergio Canales has become a cornerstone at Valencia since returning from South America, while international team-mate Alvaro Vazquez, the second-highest scorer at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, has nailed down a starting place at Espanyol.
Staying in Spain, Real Sociedad have every reason to be satisfied with the form of Antoine Griezmann. The exciting young attacking midfielder featured prominently in the France side that finished fourth in Colombia and has picked up where he left off in the league, scoring in the 2-2 draw against mighty Barcelona in early September.
Three of Griezmann’s Bleus colleagues have been making a name for themselves at Lyon. Clement Grenier provided an assist in the Champions League win over Dynamo Zagreb this week, striker Alexandre Lacazette was in the starting line-up for the league game with Bordeaux and Gueida Fofana signed a new contract with Les Gones at the start of the season. Meanwhile, Ligue 1 rivals Lorient have another Colombia 2011 veteran on their books, Costa Rica striker Joel Campbell, who chipped in with an assist in the 1-1 draw with Sochaux.
Colombia’s Luis Muriel shone on home soil with four goals, a contribution that earned him comparisons with Ronaldo and a move to Serie A outfit Lecce, while English big-spenders Chelsea have also invested in the future. Aside from snapping up Spain’s Oriol Romeu, who took to the field in the League Cup defeat of Fulham, the Londoners have Ulises Davila, aka “The New Chicharito”, on their books, loaning him out to Dutch club Vitesse, where he is currently leading the line.
Elsewhere, Nigeria have followed Brazil’s example by blooding some of their U-20 prodigies at full international level, among them Ahmed Musa. Currently fulfilling his potential in the Eredivisie with VVV Venlo, Musa came on in the second half of the recent 3-1 friendly loss to Argentina and provided the pass for his team’s only goal.
Egypt have also been pushing their U-20 talents into the spotlight, with Mohamed Salah, Mohamed Al Neney and Ahmed Hegazi all forming part of the U-23 team that took on Sierra Leone in an African Cup of Nations qualifying match. Not to be outdone, Saudi Arabia have fast-tracked Yahya Dagriri into the national set-up, the forward responding with a goal in the draw with Qatar in the first round of qualifiers for the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012.
Next year’s big event in the UK is on the mind of many of the youngsters to shine at Colombia 2011. Brazil’s adidas Golden Ball winner Henrique is just one of the players anxious for another big stage to perform on. “All of us who’ve played at the World Cup want to be at the Olympics. It’s something we all dream about,” he said. “We need to keep on working, but we’re all hoping to make it. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t.”