2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™

2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™

9 June - 9 July

2006 FIFA World Cup™

Young Players' field narrows

As the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ gears up for the quarter-finals, a mere 13 candidates still have a chance to sway voters in the race for the Gillette Best Young Player Award.

Among them, four Ukrainians, four Englishmen, two Argentines, two Germans and one Portuguese will all be hoping to push their teams towards glory. For now, though, we take a moment to look back at some of the young prodigies who have already returned home.

High up on the list are the fresh-faced talents Switzerland brought to the party. In defence especially, the Swiss look to be in safe hands for the foreseeable future, with both Philippe Senderos and Johan Djourou displaying a maturity beyond their years.

Indeed, not only were the Swiss knocked out of the tournament without losing a game, they stubbornly refused to concede even a single goal. Further up the field, Tranquillo Barnetta also proved his worth and netted a fine effort against Togo to go with his powerful performances.

The situation looks very similar for Spain too. Thrilling in the group stage, La Selección owed much of that success to their pair of rapidly-progressing young stars. From Sergio Ramos , they came to expect a rock-solid presence in defence throughout their campaign, with the Real Madrid man equally impressive going forward down the right. Likewise, Cesc Fabregas was excelled at times in midfield, even if his form may not have quite matched the level Arsenal fans are used to.

For Ghana, meanwhile, Asamoah Gyan and Haminu Draman stood out thanks to their sheer dynamism and polished technique. What is more, Gyan can also pride himself on having scored the Black Stars' first ever goal at a FIFA World Cup.

Unsung Valencia earns plaudits

Far less vaunted than some other players in the Gillette Best Young Player bracket, Ecuador's Luis Valencia turned out to be one of the revelations of the group stage. The marauding midfielder was a prime architect of the South Americans' progress, helping them reach the knockout phase for the first time in their history.

In the Iranian camp, Mehrzad Madanchi and Hossein Kaabi performed admirably at the heart of their team. Kaabi, in particular, won many admirers for his work down the right flank during Iran's opening match against Mexico. El Tri's Andres Guardado may have missed that game, but the 19-year-old shone in his only appearance on German soil, tormenting Argentina along with the rest of his compatriots in their narrow Round of 16 defeat.

As it stands, only 13 players can still hope to catch the eye before the inaugural Gillette Best Young Player Award is decided. For the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lukas Podolski, Wayne Rooney and Artem Milevskiy, that will mean taking their teams as far as possible down the road to the Final.