2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™

11 June - 11 July

2010 FIFA World Cup™

Class of '06 eye South Africa


For some young players, a starring role at a FIFA World Cup™ can provide the springboard to a genuinely spectacular career. Just ask the great Pele, a mere 17 when he exploded on to the scene in 1958, or Franz Beckenbauer, who had yet to turn 21 when he inspired West Germany to within a whisker of glory eight years later.

Others, by contrast, have announced their arrival on the biggest stage only to fade from view. Daniel Amokachi, for example, never realised the prodigious potential he displayed as a 21-year-old at USA 1994, while Ruben Moran played his first and last FIFA World Cup match in Uruguay's 1950 Final win at the tender age of 19.

That left a question for the youngsters who illuminated Germany 2006: which of these categories would they fall into? With the next FIFA World Cup now just 560 days away, FIFA.com looks at how the six Best Young Player finalists are faring in their attempts to secure a place in South Africa.

Ronaldo, Messi lead the waySome, in truth, are progressing more rapidly than the nations they represent. Take Cristiano Ronaldo, the player pipped to the 2006 prize.

The Manchester United winger is widely regarded as one of football's finest current talents, and yet the Portugal side he now captains find themselves languishing on the same points tally as Albania after a nightmarish start to their preliminary campaign. Only a fool, however, would bet against a revival being sparked by the 23-year-old recently lauded as "the best player in the world" by reigning FIFA World Player of the Year, Kaka.

Many pundits believe that, in his bid to claim Kaka's crown, Ronaldo's most formidable rival could be a fellow Best Young Player nominee. Lionel Messi has undoubtedly flourished since those sparkling FIFA World Cup cameos to confirm his status as one of world football's most electrifying talents, and will be central to the managerial strategy of the man to whom he is so often compared.

Diego Maradona will certainly need all of Messi's mesmerising skills to haul Argentina out of their current malaise, with the under-pressure Albiceleste trailing leaders Paraguay by seven points in the South American standings. The evidence since Germany 2006 would suggest, however, that Barcelona's brilliant No10 is more than capable of rising to the challenge, with his inspirational performances in Argentina's Olympic triumph having come hot on the heels of securing the Young Player of the Tournament award at the Copa America.

Triumph and toilIf Messi has work to do to ensure that Argentina qualify, spare a thought for Antonio Valencia. Ecuador's South Africa 2010 bid is still hamstrung, after all, by the three successive defeats that opened their preliminary campaign and ultimately cost Luis Fernando Suarez his job. Yet as La Tricolor toil, their star player's reputation continues to grow, with Manchester United and Arsenal among the major clubs monitoring closely the Wigan Athletic winger.

If there is one of the six Best Young Player finalists who has struggled to live up to his potential, it is Tranquilo Barnetta. Though a regular for Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen, the winger has lost his place in Switzerland's starting line-up and was a bit-part player in the co-hosts' ill-fated UEFA EURO 2008 campaign.

Another player unable to command a starting slot at this same continental showpiece was Cesc Fabregas, who had the misfortune of competing for a place with two of the tournament's outstanding players in Xavi and Marcos Senna. Patience and impressive performances as a substitute paid dividends for the newly-elected Arsenal captain, however, and he was thrust into the team that claimed Spain's first major trophy in 44 years. Although three of Fabregas's four subsequent appearances in *La Roja's *unblemished South Africa 2010 preliminary campaign have come from the bench, expect him to be pushing Xavi and Senna harder than ever come 2010.

So, with all the other finalists taken care of, what has become of the Best Young Player winner himself? Lukas Podolski looked set for stardom when he claimed the award and the hearts of a nation during Germany 2006, but his dream move to Bayern Munich had turned into something of a nightmare, with two-and-a-half seasons yeilding just 12 goals.

Nevertheless, the 23-year-old's outstanding international strike rate of 31 from 60 appearances has been bolstered by three goals in the Germans' fledgling preliminary campaign, and he will be expected - like the bulk of his fellow nominees - to play a starring role in Africa's first-ever FIFA World Cup.

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