- Serbia won the FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand five years ago today
- Several of those talented youngsters have since become top-class professionals
- Gabriel Jesus and Julian Brandt are firmly established
A total of 504 gifted youngsters from 24 countries took part in the FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015™, and around 1,830 days ago, on 20 June 2015, Serbia were crowned champions and celebrated their first world title as an independent nation.
We take a look back at some of the tournament’s stars of tomorrow and examine who kick-started a successful professional career in New Zealand. While anyone can cause a stir with a good game, the tricky part is living up to the ever-increasing expectations and producing consistently good displays.
Mali’s Adama Traore, Brazil’s Danilo and Serbia’s Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, who respectively earned the adidas Golden, Silver and Bronze Balls as the best players at New Zealand 2015, have since proved that their performances were no accident.
Name: Adama Traore
Date of birth: 28 June 1995
Club: Monaco, on loan at Metz
Caps: 15 (4 goals)
The standout player of the competition moved to French side Monaco after the tournament, but his progress was slowed by a serious ankle injury. Now on loan at Metz, Traore recently revealed to us in an exclusive interview that he has finally “started to get back to form". His next objective is to qualify for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, saying “it’s what every player dreams of”.
Name: Danilo Barbosa
Date of birth: 28 February 1996
Position: Defensive midfielder
The captain of the Brazil U-20 side that finished as runners-up in New Zealand, Danilo laces his boots for French Ligue 1 outfit Nice. There, he enjoys an environment in which he can continue to develop and hone his undoubted talent. It appears to be a matter of when, rather than if, his career path will take him to one of the world’s top clubs. Teams like Liverpool, Manchester United and Juventus have long since had the athletic and technically adept midfielder in their sights, and perhaps one day we will see Danilo in another World Cup Final with A Seleção.
Name: Sergej Milinkovic-Savic
Date of birth: 27 February 1995
Position: Attacking midfield
Milinkovic-Savic carried his momentum from New Zealand 2015 into his club football, impressing to such an extent with Lazio in Serie A that he developed into one of the best young midfielders on the continent. Standing at 6ft 4ins (1.96m), his strength in the tackle and composure on the ball have helped Lazio win both the Coppa Italia and the Italian Super Cup. His outstanding displays also earned him a place in Serbia’s squad at Russia 2018. It is hardly surprising, then, that clubs such as Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United are reportedly tracking him, with a transfer fee of up to 100 million Euros reported.
Eight more stars from New Zealand
“Obviously I’m aware that there’s a World Cup in 2018,” said Julian Brandt after Germany’s exit at the quarter-final stage in New Zealand. “I also know that I’ll be 22 by then and that’ll be a good age to be getting involved. But we’ve got so many good players in Germany at the moment and Marco Reus and Mario Gotze aren’t even among the oldest of them, so it’ll be difficult to break into that squad.”
Two years later Brandt won the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017™ and was Joachim Low’s secret weapon for Germany at the World Cup a year later. Reus and Gotze are now his team-mates at Borussia Dortmund, and the attacking midfielder is more than capable of making even bigger waves at Qatar 2022 than he did in Russia.
A diminutive Argentinian attacker with exceptional technique who was born in Rosario but plays in Spain’s top flight? No, it’s not Lionel Messi, but Angel Correa. He was already a winner before a ball was even kicked at New Zealand 2015, having previously undergone a serious heart operation.
He recently set a new record for Atletico Madrid in La Liga as the player to have gone longest without missing a game due to physical problems. Correa scored two goals at the U-20 World Cup, but even that was not enough to help Argentina continue past the group phase. Perhaps his time is still to come on the biggest stage of them all?
Gabriel Jesus helped Brazil reach the U-20 final with one goal in six games, plus two converted penalties in the shoot-outs in the Round of 16 and quarter-finals. Just a year later the forward won the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016 with Brazil and became a fixture in the senior international team, with whom he participated at Russia 2018. Jesus, who is now very much in the world-class bracket, has played for Manchester City since 2017, winning two league titles.
Just three years after the tournament in New Zealand, Hirving Lozano starred in his first game at the 2018 World Cup, scoring the winner for Mexico against defending champions Germany. In mid-2019 he became Napoli’s record signing when he joined the Italian club on a five-year contract.
Predrag Rajkovic made history as Serbia’s captain in the triumph in New Zealand and he was also awarded the adidas Golden Glove as the tournament’s best goalkeeper. “It’s my dream to play at a ‘big World Cup’,” he said – and that dream came true when he was included in his country’s squad at Russia 2018, even if he did not make an appearance. That could well change at the Qatar showpiece, as Rajkovic is reportedly to join one of the several major European clubs queuing for his signature ahead of the new season following an outstanding campaign with Reims.
Colombian defender Davinson Sanchez joined Ajax after the tournament in New Zealand. His exceptional displays in the Netherlands did not go unnoticed in the Premier League and in 2017 he moved to Tottenham Hotspur. Sanchez is now also a mainstay in the senior Colombia team and helped them reach the last 16 at Russia 2018.
“Portugal will be in good hands when I retire because the team has already found a great striker in Andre Silva.” Those were the words of none other than Cristiano Ronaldo. Silva made his breakthrough at Porto after the U-20 World Cup and later joined AC Milan for 38 million Euros. He is currently on loan at Eintracht Frankfurt.
“This boy will be a big star one day,” was how the legendary Sinisa Mihajlovic described the quick and technically brilliant Andrija Zivkovic, who became Serbia’s youngest-ever senior international at the age of 17. At New Zealand 2015 his free-kick was voted as Goal of the Tournament. Zivkovic eventually moved to Portuguese side Benfica, where his consistently good performances have attracted the attention of several of Europe’s elite clubs.