81st Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup
Pep Guardiola, David Beckham, Kaka and Xherdan Shaqiri – to name but four – were all unknown when they visited Zurich as youngsters to take part in the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup. Now, it’s time once again for Switzerland’s most prestigious U-20 tournament for men and women. This year’s edition – the 81st – will see 16 teams from ten different countries compete for the honours at the Buchlern sports complex in Altstetten, Zurich, over the Ascension holiday on 30 and 31 May 2019.
The line-up is exquisite: Sevilla FC, for example, will have the highly promising Spanish 18-year-old Luismi Cruz, in their ranks. Also on the starting blocks this year are the youngsters of Seattle Sounders, a club that has produced some of the best youth talent in North America in recent years. Dinamo Zagreb, the club from the Croatian capital who were unbeaten en route to this title last year, will of course be back to try to defend their crown in Zurich.
There are also six high-quality teams in the women’s competition, such as VfL Wolfsburg, who are currently in the 2nd division of the Women’s Bundesliga following two promotions in recent years. Vancouver Whitecaps will arrive in Zurich with some of their academy youngsters who are now trained by 181-cap Canada legend Rhian Wilkinson. FC Internazionale Women from Milan will participate for the second time. Switzerland will be represented by BSC Young Boys, who won the women’s tournament last year, as well as by FC Zurich and the hosts, FC Blue Stars.
The 16 teams:
Seattle Sounders (USA)
Seattle Sounders’ youth development work has certainly borne fruit recently, with more than 20 players having been called up to a USA youth national team in the past three years. The club from the port city on the West Coast are making their debut at the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup, and they will certainly be ones to watch.
SL Benfica (Portugal)
It’s a warm “welcome back” to Benfica, the club that won the 1996 edition and that has impressed since then too, finishing second twice and third no fewer than three times. The Benfica youngsters are a force to be reckoned with back home in Portugal, having won the youth league title 24 times, a national record.
Boca Juniors (Argentina)
Boca Juniors, the Buenos Aires club synonymous with names such as Tévez, Batistuta and Maradona, are making their fifth appearance at the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup. Boca won the tournament in 2002 and 2010 and finished third in 2004.
Sevilla FC (Spain)
All eyes – including those of scouts, no doubt – will be on a certain Luismi Cruz. The 18-year-old may be one of the youngest members of the Sevilla squad, but he is already making a name for himself with his bag of tricks and spectacular goals from the right wing.
Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia)
The youngsters of Dinamo Zagreb will be going all out to retain the title they won last year. The Croatians didn’t lose a match at Buchlern in 2018, and their success came as no surprise given the success of their academy, which was founded back in 1967, in producing players of the calibre of Modrić, Prosinečki and Boban.
PAOK Saloniki (Greece)
PAOK Saloniki have been the dominant force in Greece’s U-19 Super League in recent years, and now the Greek youngsters have their sights set on major international titles – starting in Zurich. PAOK also played in the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup in 2005.
FC Zurich (Switzerland)
Local side FC Zurich have certainly impressed in recent years, reaching the final seven times and lifting the trophy three times. Any side with designs on this year’s title will therefore probably have to deal with the youngsters of FCZ who, like FC Basel, play in the Promotion League, the third tier of Swiss football.
Grasshopper Club Zurich (Switzerland)
Grasshoppers won the 2016 edition by seeing off the challenge of an excellent West Ham United. Their youngsters have been in fine form in the league in recent years too, and it is probably only a matter of time until they seal promotion to the Promotion League. GC’s youngsters are coached by Patrick Schnarwiler, who himself once played under the tutelage of Dutch legend Johan Neeskens.
FC Basel (Switzerland)
FC Basel’s academy has produced more than its fair share of outstanding talent, with recent graduates including Ivan Rakitić, Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri. There are also players among the current crop of youngsters who are knocking on the door of the club’s first team. FCB have won this tournament twice, in 1997 and most recently in 2009.
FC Blue Stars Zurich (Switzerland)
FC Blue Stars, a local Zurich club founded as far back as 1898, has made a name for itself with its youth development work, investing significant amounts of money in young footballers as long ago as 1921. The tournament hosts have certainly held their own against clubs that come with a bigger reputation, as evidenced by their runners-up and third-place finishes down the years.
Vancouver Whitecaps (Canada)
Four years ago, the Whitecaps launched an ambitious development programme for young women, and it is now headed up by 181-cap Canadian legend Rhian Wilkinson. They are all set to make their debut at the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup, and fans can look forward to their brand of exciting football.
VfL Wolfsburg (Germany)
The youngsters of VfL Wolfsburg have certainly enjoyed the past few years. In 2011, the club was still playing in the fourth tier of German women’s football, but having won promotion twice since then, they are now sitting proudly near the top of the second division. The young Germans will certainly have their eyes on the prize in Zurich.
FC Internazionale Women (Italy)
The Milanese giants are making their second appearance at the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup, and will surely be one of the favourites for the title. Inter legend Javier Zanetti says: “Our young team has developed well in recent months. I can’t wait to see how they do at this fantastic youth tournament in Switzerland.”
BSC Young Boys (Switzerland)
The young women of ambitious Swiss club BSC Young Boys will be aiming to defend the title they won last year. If the recent form of this U-19 side from the Swiss capital is anything to go by, they will have every chance of doing so as they have dominated the past three seasons.
FC Zurich (Switzerland)
FC Zurich are regarded as the leading light in Swiss women’s football, and their recent success in the women’s top flight backs that reputation up – six league titles in the past seven years. Many impressive youngsters have also made the leap to the FCZ first team, and this year’s U-19 crop will also be gunning for glory at the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup.
FC Blue Stars Zurich (Switzerland)
FC Blue Stars’ top youth team finished the first half of their campaign with three resounding victories, which ultimately saw them finish just one point behind FC Stäfa, who went into the winter break in top spot. The hosts will be raring to go for their second appearance on home soil.