As ever, this year’s Under-20 World Cup provided a fantastic opportunity for us to assess the best up and coming youngsters in the game. Here is our list of the competition’s 10 finest performers, ten players whose future in football appears very bright indeed.
Given the overall quality on display in Egypt it was not easy to whittle the list down to a round ten. Notable performers I would like to have included but who just miss out include Jonathan Urretaviscaya, Andrea Mazzarani, Ransford Osei, Esteban Alvarado, Jonathan Del Valle, Diogo, Tabare Viudez, Douglas Costa and Samuel Inkoom. All had fine tournaments, but were not quite on a par with these magnificent 10:
Alex Teixeira (Brazil)
Arguably the tournament’s best player, Alex Teixeira shone like a beacon in Egypt, lighting up any game in which he participated. Teixeira can play attacking midfield, in the hole behind the striker or as the left or right prong in a three man attack, and adapts without losing any of his abundant quality. 3 goals and 2 assists demonstrate the constant threat Teixeira posed opposing teams and his link-up play with Giuliano was a joy to behold. At just 19 the Vasco da Gama man already looks a definite star of the future.
Dominic Adiyiah (Ghana)
Top scorer, Golden Shoe winner and Golden Ball winner for best player of the tournament. What more can be said about Ghana’s prolific marksman Dominic Adiyiah? With 8 goals in 7 matches his performances in this tournament are certainly deserving of all the praise and superlatives thrown the 19-year-old’s way. Adiyiah showed in Egypt that he is cool in front of goal, can score with both feet and head and is decent at holding the ball up and bringing others into play.
He also possesses nerves of steel as shown in his calm, brutally well-struck penalty in the final’s shootout, where a miss would have handed Brazil the trophy. A cautionary note for Adiyiah however; though with a Golden Shoe under his belt he now sits in esteemed company alongside Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and co, other top scorers at U-20 World Cups haven’t gone on to hit such heights – like USA’s Eddie Johnson for example. Though Adiyiah was undoubtedly superb here, he must now use this experience as a springboard to greater things.
Brazil’s number 10 Giuliano looks as though he has been taking lessons from the great Kaka. Operating in that playmaker role, the way the Seleção skipper dictated the play so masterfully, setting the rhythm of his team like an orchestra conductor, draws inevitable comparisons with Real Madrid’s new man. Giuliano won the bronze ball for 3rd best player of the tournament behind Teixeira and Dominic Adiyiah, and the award was fully deserved. Bustling exuberantly in midfield one minute, launching a counter attack with his devastating, intricate range of passing the next, Giuliano oozed quality throughout.
Vladimir Koman (Hungary)
With five goals the Hungary skipper won the silver shoe for second top scorer in this competition, an impressive statistic for a midfielder. Koman marshalled his troops superbly as pivot in that central role, showing real leadership qualities and a sense of determination and purpose that helped lead his nation to 3rd place overall. The Bari man also bagged three assists and takes a mean penalty. Who knows what might have been were Koman not suspended for the semi final defeat to Ghana?
Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu (Ghana)
Scorer of the winning penalty in the final, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu carved his long name into any watching scout’s memory with a string of enthusiastic performances at the heart of Ghana’s midfield. Operating in what is now widely referred to as the Makelele role, Agyemang-Badu inspired both as creator and destroyer alike, winning tackles, breaking up the play and setting off moves by providing the ball diligently to his more adventurous teammates. Juventus are now hot on the 18-year old’s heels having scouted him thoroughly in Egypt and it is not hard to see why.
Jonathan Mensah (Ghana)
Truth be told Ghana’s defence was never the most stable of fortresses, but with towering young centre back Jonathan Mensah there to hold it all together the Black Satellites managed to make do ok. Mensah was a pillar of strength at the heart of defence providing a near unbeatable aeriel presence and decisive, strong tackling on the ground. It would have been unfortunate had his penalty shootout miss in the final against Brazil cost his side the trophy – he wouldn’t have deserved the inevitable pain and regret. But just as the 19-year-old’s assured defending rescued his team on so many occasions, so they came through for him when it came to penalties. Currently playing for Free State Stars in South Africa (where he has gone AWOL following Ghana’s triumph), it won’t be long before Mensah is signed by a European club.
Nicolas Lodeiro (Uruguay)
Nicolas Lodeiro already came to my attention by way of a magnificent time for his club Nacional in the Copa Libertadores last season, and the promising Uruguay U-20s skipper merely continued his rise to prominence with some fine displays in Egypt. Another midfielder-cum-playmaker, Lodeiro brought cohesion and balance to Uruguay during this competition, as well as a threat in and around the penalty area. His classy 25-yard strike against Uzbekistan in the group stages lays testament to that. Although quite slight in build, Lodeiro is tenacious and strong and possesses wonderful technique. With Villarreal and Atletico Madrid rumoured to be sniffing it shouldn’t be too long before he ends up in Europe.
Aaron Niguez (Spain)
The 20-year old attacking midfielder looked dangerous in each of his four matches for La Roja, scoring four goals including a delightful Panenka-style chipped penalty in the round of 16 3-1 defeat to Italy. Both fleet of foot and tricky on the ball, Niguez likes to try and beat a man and had the better of many a defender out in Egypt. Some elements of his game do need improving (like staying on his feet), but Niguez looks a very promising player.
Peter Gulacsi (Hungary)
I profiled Gulacsi recently in an article about Liverpool’s academy links to MTK Hungaria and having studied his game closely in Egypt I don’t hesitate to call him the tournament’s best goalkeeper. Costa Rica’s Esteban Alvarado ran him close, but Gulacsi appears a top class keeper in the making and thus it is no surprise Liverpool were so keen to have him on their books. The hero of two penalty shootouts, against Czech Republic in the last 16 and Costa Rica in the 3rd place playoff, Gulacsi’s commanding frame, good handling skills and high concentration levels all hint that the Hungarian has what it takes to play at a top club in the future.
David Addy (Ghana)
A tough call this last one, and I was close to picking either Ghana’s other full back Samuel Inkoom or Brazil’s left back Diogo. But in the end it is the lanky Ghana U-20 left back David Addy that gets the nod, largely thanks to a superb performance in the final against Brazil. While Inkoom looked jittery and Diogo drifted in and out of the game, Addy was a constant threat to Brazil on the counter attack down that left hand side, jinking down the touchline with those long legs and unpredictable changes of direction and pace. The Randers left back also performed his defensive duties both responsibly and capably, holding his position well and knowing when to make darting runs and when to stay back and defend. With 3 assists also to his name, Addy was one of the stars of the tournament.
What do you think? Anyone I’ve left out unfairly? Comments welcome.