From 5 August, 16 teams will go head-to-head at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup 2014 in a bid to win the seventh edition of this hotly-contested tournament, but before proceedings get underway many experts are asking: What football gems will this competition unearth? Who will make their big breakthrough, and who will we see again next year at the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015™ in Canada? 

These questions are not surprising when you look back at the tournament’s past. In 2002, a player stepped onto the U-19 Women’s World Cup stage who would go on to shape the future of women’s football and be crowned FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year five times. Of course, we are talking about one of the sport’s biggest global stars: Marta. Aged just 16, the Brazilian guided A Seleção to fourth place at what was then known as the FIFA U-19 Women’s World Championship in Canada. She helped her side repeat this achievement at the 2004 competition in Thailand and was deservedly rewarded with the adidas Golden Ball for her efforts.

A new star in football’s sky
2002 marked the breakthrough of another major personality in women’s football when Canadian Christine Sinclair first demonstrated her immense talent to the world on home soil in a display that earned her both the Golden Ball and Golden Boot. Since then, Sinclair has featured at three senior World Cups and two Olympic Games, helping Canada to win bronze at London 2012. All eyes will be back on her in 2015, when she will have another opportunity to shine in front of a home crowd.

This prestigious youth tournament has also been a breeding ground for exceptional talent from the USA. Sydney Leroux took part in the 2004 U-19 competition in Thailand before causing a sensation at Chile 2008 and Germany 2010. Her performances helped her side reach the quarter-finals in 2004 and 2010, but in 2008 she guided Team USA all the way to the title – a success Alex Morgan can also count among her many career highlights, as it was in this year that the now 25-year-old first made a name for herself. In 2011, Morgan was one of the Stars & Stripes’ standout players at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany before contributing to her team’s success at the 2012 Olympic Games, when they overcame Canada 4-3 in the semi-final en route to gold medal glory.

From little Nadeshiko to world champion
The USA’s victory over Japan in that 2012 Olympic final came just one year after a bitter defeat to the same opponents in the Women’s World Cup Final. Mana Iwabuchi featured for the Nadeshiko at both tournaments, having already broken through with a string of impressive performances at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup New Zealand 2008. Two years later, coach Norio Sasaki called upon the talents of the 1.53-metre striker at the U-20 Women’s World Cup in Germany.

At that competition in 2010, Germany secured the title and ushered in a new star in Alexandra Popp. The striker scored an incredible ten goals in six games during the campaign and was duly rewarded with a promotion to the senior national side. Dzsenifer Marozsan’s career began in a similar fashion after she made two successive final appearances at the 2010 and 2012 U-20 Women’s World Cups. She made her full senior debut in October 2010 and has been part of coach Silvia Neid’s plans ever since. Unfortunately, an injury to her right knee kept Marozsan out of her home World Cup in 2011.

Former U-20 players reaching new heights
The recent success of France is most closely associated with two players in particular: Wendie Renard and Louisa Necib, who finished fourth with Les Bleues at the 2011 Women’s World Cup and 2012 Olympics. “There aren’t many players like Louisa,” former France coach Bruni Bini once said in an interview with “She can do things you wouldn’t even find in an instruction manual for the perfect footballer. Quite simply, she’s an artist.” Necib first appeared on the world stage at the 2006 U-20 tournament in Russia.

Two years later, her team-mate Renard stepped into the spotlight in Chile and has since gone on to captivate fans with her magnificent performances for both club and country. In September 2013, Bini’s successor Philippe Bergeroo appointed the central defender as Les Bleues’ new captain.

This look back at the heroines of past U-20 Women’s World Cups offers startling proof that this tournament never fails to produce new stars. We can only wait and see what breakthroughs Canada 2014 will bring.