Although no Hyundai Young Player Award candidates started their sides’ encounters on 18 June, four of them did see action and none disappointed. Australia’s Adam Taggart, Croatian pair Mateo Kovacic and Ante Rebic and the Netherlands’ Memphis Depay all did their very best to influence their teams’ fortunes upon taking the field.
The man who most stood out, however, was undoubtedly the Dutch left-winger who, after coming into the fray just before the second half, fired the goal that ensured Louis van Gaal’s team qualified for the Round of 16 with a match to spare. Spearheading an Oranje counter-attack, the 20-year-old sent in a firm shot from distance that eluded the grasp of Aussie keeper Mathew Ryan and clinched a 3-2 win for the 2010 beaten finalists.
What is more, the goal made Depay the Netherlands’ youngest ever scorer at the finals of a FIFA World Cup™.
In the same game, Socceroos’ striker Taggart came off the bench on 77 minutes in a bid to drag his side back level but, despite showing plenty of movement and determination, an equaliser was beyond his reach.
A few hours later came the turn of Croatia duo Kovacic and Rebic to make cameo roles in the Vatreni’s 4-0 demolition of Cameroon. Both were able to inject a touch of freshness to Niko Kovac’s side, while Rebic even found time to create a golden late chance for Mario Mandzukic, but the striker’s shot went just wide.
This past matchday’s fine performances have set the bar high for those youngsters aiming to take part in 19 June’s games, though they will surely be determined to rise to the challenge.
Most eyes will undoubtedly be drawn to the incredibly talented English attacker Raheem Sterling, so impressive on his World Cup debut versus Italy. The next challenge for England’s 19-year-old No19 will be to unlock Uruguay’s experienced backline, while other Young Player Award contenders also hoping to feature in that game are his compatriots Ross Barkley and Luke Shaw, as well as Uruguayan defender Jose Gimenez.
Earlier on in the day, Colombia will tackle Côte D’Ivoire, with Los Cafeteros able to call on the unpredictable skills of Juan Fernando Quintero or the solidity of Eder Alvarez Balanta should coach Jose Pekerman see fit. Over in the African camp, third-choice keeper Sayouba Mande will continue his learning experience from the substitutes’ bench.