The 2008 Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup kicks off in a few days' time (30 April-1 May), giving fans a chance to see future top-class footballers representing some of the world's biggest clubs. Among the 10 teams taking part this year are Flamengo, Hamburg, Manchester United, Basle, Grasshoppers Zurich and Villarreal.
The motto of the the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup is 'Where the stars are born' - and for very good reason. The question of who will be this year's David Beckham, Kaka or Johann Vogel will certainly be on everyone's lips as the big kick-off approaches. The 10 teams in this year's event undoubtedly boast plenty of budding stars in their ranks, all of them born after 1 January 1988.
Brazilian side Flamengo are bringing the kind of squad that looks capable of emulating the 1990 crop which won the Copinha and featured the likes of Marcelinho Carioca, Paulo Nunes, Djalminha and Junior Baiano. Among those to keep an eye on this year are Lucas Galdino, a strong yet speedy playmaker, and Lenon, who is less in the spotlight in his role as defensive midfielder but just as talented and capable of chipping in with a few goals. The anchor man is also strong in the air despite not being the tallest player on the park. On the left flank, Bernardo is already gaining a reputation for his pin-point passes and ability to read play.
Hamburg are also bringing an impressive squad to Zurich in the form of their U-19 team. Many of the players have already made their bow at international level and for a number of different countries. Key figures are Czech youth international central defender Miroslav Stepanek, Turkish attacking midfielder Tunay Torun, another youth international who is the creative heart of the team, and free-scoring German international striker Dani Schahin. "The lads are very excited by this tournament and the older ones who have already taken part in it in the past reckoned that it was a great experience," joint coach Steven Marr explained to FIFA.com.
Manchester United are another team who have already played at the Blue Stars, with the likes of David Beckham and Paul Scholes making the trip to Zurich in their youth. This year, all eyes will be on Daniel Welbeck. The youngster, who plays either up front or on the right, was part of the England team at last year's FIFA U17 World Cup Korea 2007 and even made the first team bench during this season's UEFA Champions League tie with Roma.
The Premier League leaders are also bringing right-back Richard Eckersley, who after battling with various injuries has had an excellent season this year with the Red Devils. Sam Hewson is their midfield maestro, capable of setting up goals and scoring them too and is captain of the second XI. Tom Cleverley, who can play at the back or in midfield, is also a regular for the reserves and has earned high praise from youth coach Brian McClair.
Villarreal are making their first appearance at the tournament but know what they can expect once the games get under way. "We know we're going to be playing some top teams, and we're coming over with a young squad looking to learn a lot and gain some valuable experience," said coach Antonio Diaz. "This is the kind of tournament that always helps a team's development."
Diaz will be relying heavily on young Brazilian attacker Mauricio, as the 19-year-old, who is equally at home on the left wing, is already a regular in Villarreal's B-team. Elsewhere, there is Joselu, a technically gifted playmaker and a wizard of the dribble, and Carlos Pizarro, a similarly adept attacking midfielder who is also strong in the tackle. "Like our first team, we like to keep possession. We like to spread the ball around rather than being dull," explained Diaz.
Big local presence
There are a number of Swiss teams also taking part, and they are certainly not there just to make up the numbers. Basle have Pedro Ivo, an attacking midfielder of Polish/Italian origin who is technically gifted, strong in the air and a real dead-ball specialist, as well as left winger Pascal Schurpf, a Swiss U-19 international who also knows where the back of the net is. Grasshoppers Zurich have another Swiss international, U-18 defensive midfielder Bruce Lalombongo, who is a great reader of play, while outside left Frank Feltscher has already played 12 times for the club's first XI.
Grasshoppers' city rivals and last year's Swiss Super League winners Zurich boast Bosnian-born Adrian Nikci in the ranks - an old-fashioned playmaker who has been scoring for fun with the U-21 team this year and has made three appearances for the senior team.
Some potentially star-studded line-ups therefore, with much for the fans to look forward to on 30 April and 1 May.
The ten participants:
FC Blue Stars