2011 Under-20 World Cup Team of the Tournament

(Article first featured on In Our Humble Opinion 05/09/11)

Having watched a fair amount of this summer’s U20 World Cup in Colombia, I thought I’d offer up my team of the tournament.   Without coming across too much like Arsene Wenger, I personally think it’s a very interesting tournament and provides an insight into who may well develop into the stars of tomorrow.  Previous tournaments have announced the arrivals of Diego Maradona, Leo Messi, Robert Prosinecki, Seydou Keita & Sergio Aguero to name but a few.  This year Colombia hosted a very successful competition, attracting more than a million spectators over the course of the tournament, that eventually saw Brazil run out as winners, beating Portugal 2-0 in the final.

Obviously there are no guarantees that a good performance at the tournament will lead to a long and successful career but it usually suggests they at least have undoubted potential.  Having said that there were so many talented youngsters on show that it was very difficult to narrow it down, so with that in mind I will also mention some players who missed the cut and are worth keeping an eye on in the future.  Also, I must stress that is not a definitive best XI but those players who have most impressed me.

I have gone for a fairly attacking 4-1-2-2-1 formation consisting of a back four, a holding defensive midfielder, two central midfielders, two wide wing forwards, and one man up top.

GK – Mika (Portugal)
Between the posts I’ve gone for Golden Glove winner Mika.  The Portuguese custodian broke Cristofer Toselli’s previous record for minutes without conceding a goal until he was eventually beaten in the final after an incredible 574 minutes.  He was also the penalty shoot-out hero as Portugal edged Argentina in a gripping quarter-final.  Portugal were far from free-scoring en route to the final and therefore the contribution of the athletic Benfica keeper was absolutely vital.

LB – Diego Polenta (Uruguay)
Although a talented Uruguay side disappointingly fell at the first hurdle, I was extremely impressed with captain Polenta.  A rampaging full back equally adept at centre back or on the wing, Polenta has captained Uruguay at every age group.  The Genoa youngster seems the complete package; strong, good in the air, fierce in the tackle, a powerful runner who is comfortable bringing the ball out of defence and also possesses a thunderbolt of a left foot, twice close to scoring spectacular 30 yard goals only to see one crash against the upright and the other ruled out for a foul in the build up.  Reportedly close to a loan move to Barcelona B, expect to see this lad in the national team before long.

RB – Santiago Arias (Colombia)
An attacking minded full back who loved to bomb forward.  Arias had bags of energy and always provided another option down the right flank for the impressive Colombian side.  A top performer at the South American qualifiers too, he once again demonstrated that he is a more than capable defender with excellent technique, even grabbing himself a goal.  Recently signed by Sporting Lisbon.

CB – Ahmed Hegazi (Egypt)
Despite their early exit, Egypt looked a decent side and managed to hold eventual winners Brazil to a draw in the opening game.  This was down in no small part to their classy, towering centre back Hegazi who put in a fine string of performances.  Reminiscent of David Luiz (not just due to his mop of curly hair), the young pharoah was aerially dominant, had good anticipation and was comfortable launching attacks from the heart of defence.  He also popped up with a vital goal against Panama to show that he was a threat in the opponents’ penalty box too.

CB – Nuno Reis (Portugal)
A difficult choice as there were plenty of impressive centre backs on show, but I’ve plumped for Portuguese captain Reis.  Currently plying his trade with Cercle Brugge, Reis was part of a Portuguese backline that didn’t concede until the final and displayed excellent leadership qualities as he marshalled those around him.  A strong, intelligent defender who looks to have a bright future ahead of him.

DMC – Oriel Romeu (Spain)
Chelsea’s new summer signing was the midfield lynchpin of Spain’s side and looks to be an astute buy for the London club.  Very comfortable with a good range of accurate passing just as you’d expect from any Barcelona youth product.  The metronome of the side, he sat back disrupting play and mopped up loose balls with the vision to then launch attacks, allowing the likes of Isco, Koke and Canales to get forward.  One potential negative is that he picked up one too many cards but other than that a very assured performance.

MC – Gueida Fofana (France)
The French midfield captain led his side to the semi finals with his strong, powerful box-to-box runs.  He was the engine of the side and proved to be an inspirational figure, almost singled handedly winning the quarter-final with two goals against the much fancied Nigerians.  The Le Havre man was described as “Énorme, énorme, énorme.” by his coach.

MC – Oscar (Brazil)
The Internacional midfielder for me was the player of the tournament and capped it off with an inspired hat-trick in the final that brought Brazil their fifth title and saw off the resolute Portuguese.  Before the tournament I was expecting his midfielder partner Philippe Coutinho to steal the show but it was Oscar who was the real revelation.  Although goal shy until the final, Oscar had an outstanding tournament and displayed his great passing skills as he dictated midfield from the centre of the park, highlighted in his three assists.

AMR – James Rodriguez (Colombia)
Colombia’s star man and one of the players coming into the tournament with a burgeoning reputation, Rodriguez didn’t fail to impress.  The Porto starlet showed guile, trickery and plenty of flair and pace as he terrorized defences in front of the colourful home crowd.   He showed himself to be cool under pressure too as he slotted home a last minute penalty against Costa Rica to propel Colombia into the quarter-finals.  As well as his three goals he provided three assists for his team thanks to his fabulous crossing ability.

AML – Ahmed Musa (Nigeria)
Electric pace, great feet and not afraid to take anyone on.  In short, Nigeria’s flying wing forward was a defender’s worst nightmare.  Musa was the jewel in the very impressive Nigeria side that somehow contrived to not get beyond the quarter-final stage.  He netted three times for his country and also got three assists to his name, which will undoubtedly make the VVV-Venlo wonderkid on the wish list of the top clubs around Europe.

ST – Henrique (Brazil)
Only one choice really, it has to be the Golden Ball and Golden Boot winner Henrique.  The Brazil hitman notched up five goals in total with some very impressive performances.  Not initially a starter for Ney Franco’s side but he forced his way into the first team and never looked back.  The Sao Paulo striker scored some important goals such as a semi final brace against Mexico.  He also showed he was a team player with three assists too.  A good dribbler with excellent positioning and an eye for goal.

There were plenty of other players who narrowly missed out on my selection and are worth keeping tabs on

  • Esteban Andrada (Argentina) – Lanus goalkeeper on the verge of a move to Barcelona who conceded just 1 goal, a penalty against Egypt, in 5 games.  Now in senior Argentina side.
  • Jack Butland (England) – The one positive of an awful campaign for England, Butland conceded just 1 goal in 4 games
  • Terna Suswan (Nigeria) – Very impressive attacking fullback with a powerful long range shot
  • Danilo (Brazil) – Attacking fullback in the traditional Brazilian mould that has already received a call up to the senior side.
  • Pedro Franco (Colombia) – Colombian captain with great anticipation and positioning.  Led by example and scored a crucial equaliser late on against Costa Rica.
  • Jorge Enriquez (Mexico) – Bronze Ball winner, the all action Mexican captain dominated the midfield as his side claimed third place.
  • Philippe Coutinho (Brazil) – The Inter Milan starlet started the tournament brightly.   Very skillful with great dribbling and plenty of flair.
  • Koke & Isco (both Spain) – Spanish midfield dynamos with great passing and movement.
  • Michael Ortega (Colombia) – A tricky diminutive midfielder.
  • Sergio Canales (Spain) – Real Madrid man provided moments of inspiration when his side needed him most
  • Eric Lamela (Argentina) – Classy midfield playmaker who showed why Roma have splashed out 12million euros on the ex-River player
  • Dudu (Brazil) – Super-sub Dudu scored three and was used to bring an injection of pace late on
  • Ramon Azeez (Nigeria) – A survivor of the u17 squad, captain Azeez was a combative midfielder with good passing
  • Nelson Oliveira (Portugal) – Silver ball winner Oliveira got the lion share of his team’s goals and was the creative spark in the defensive Portuguese side
  • Luis Muriel (Colombia) –  Displaying tremendous speed, strength, technique and flair as he scored 4 goals
  • Alexandre Lacazette (France) – Another super-sub who claimed the Bronze Ball with 5 goals and 1 assist despite rarely starting
  • Ulises Davila (Mexico) – Chelsea new boy only scored once but always looked lively.

And finally there were a number of players that didn’t perform quite as well as I’d hoped before the tournament but nonetheless should not be discarded.  Principal among those was Juan Manuel Iturbe.  He showed glimpses of why he has been dubbed the “Paraguayan Messi” with his blistering pace and mazy dribbling skills but the Argentine, recently signed by Porto, mainly started on the bench and was used as an impact sub.  I personally think he’s a huge talent and would have like to see him play more.  Another player who shone in the South American qualifiers was Edson Montano.  The Ecuadorian forward didn’t have a bad tournament but wasn’t as influential as I’d expected, only scoring once.

The Uruguay team arrived at the tournament with a strong squad but finished bottom of their group with just 2 points.  However, players such as Adrian Luna, the highly gifted Espanyol playmaker who is also deadly from set pieces, Leandro Cabrera, the Atletico Madrid youngster who can play in defence and as a holding midfielder, and Cagliari midfielder Pablo Cepellini all look to be bright prospects.  Expect these young players to follow in the footsteps of Sebastian Coates, Nicolas Lodeiro, Edinson Cavani and Abel Hernandez and make the step up to the senior side.

Finally, Mali crashed out at the group stages but in lanky striker Kalifa Coulibaly, midfielder Adama Toure and defender Kalifa Traore they have some exciting players.  All three are based with nouveau riche Paris St. Germain and are said to be thought very highly of by the clubs coaches.   I never got to see enough of them at the tournament to make a sound judgement but they could be ones to watch for the future.

If previous tournaments are anything to by then you could well see some of these players representing top clubs in years to come and are well worth keeping an eye on.