On a matchday when a host of Hyundai Young Player Award candidates had been hoping to make an impact, in the end only three – Nigeria’s Kenneth Omeruo, John Anthony Brooks of USA and Iran’s Alireza Jahan Bakhsh – saw action as all their teams picked up points.
The first to take to the pitch was Omeruo, the only Young Player Award contender to start a game today. Solid and dominant in the centre of the Nigerian backline, he gave Iran’s attacking players little room to manoeuvre. One such attacker was Jahan Bakhsh, who joined the fray in the 73rd minute and, though he failed to find the net, he did provide a threat thanks to his physical presence.
A little later on, Stars and Stripes coach Jurgen Klinsmann subbed on young defender Brooks to defend the 1-0 lead they had taken very early on versus Ghana. The move could barely have worked out better for the ex-Germany international, his 20-year-old charge fulfilling his defensive duties and, after the Black Stars had levelled the game, popping up with the winner in the dying minutes.
Unfortunately, such talented young footballers as Germany’s Julian Draxler and Matthias Ginter or USA duo DeAndre Yedlin and Julian Green were unable to make it off the bench, thus needing to wait for a future opportunity to prove their worth. Meanwhile, there will be other candidates determined to launch themselves into the hunt for the coveted prize.
In 17 June’s encounters, three members of a promising Belgian squad may have the chance to make a mark. Of this trio, striker Romelu Lukaku is likely to be given the nod to lead the line for Les Diables Rouges, while colleagues Adnan Januzaj and Divock Origi will be keen to do their bit if called upon from the bench.
Opponents Algeria can also point to a contender of their own in the shape of the gifted Nabil Bentaleb, who caught the eye in the Premier League this season with Tottenham Hotspur. And though none of the other four teams on the bill have Young Player Award candidates in their ranks, the young talent in Belgium-Algeria alone should be enough to wow the watching world.