The 2011 FIFA U-17 World Cup - culminating in the spectacle of the jammed, ever-iconic Azteca Stadium revelling in a Mexican triumph over Uruguay at the end of the 10th July 2011 final – was everything that the 2010 FIFA World Cup was not: a festival of open, attractive and thrilling football played in glorious sunshine (punctuated by the odd sultry thundercloud). As such, it captured the imagination in a way that is difficult to convey to the uninitiated; as the inimitable Eurosport commentator Tim Caple noted, this was a tournament that featured players unsullied by the trappings of money and fame, yet which was suffused with soccer of exceptional quality.
This was a competition composed of one magical moment after another: local fans in Torreón celebrating and taking photos with an Uzbekistan team that they had made their own; turbaned Mexican Julio Gómez’s exhilarating overhead kick which eliminated the magnificent, tournament-defining Germans from the competition at the semi-final stage; and the third place play-off between Germany and Brazil, a seven-goal thriller which has a serious claim to being one of the very greatest games of all-time.
But who are the names to watch from this competition in the future? Mediolana has compiled a list of ten players whom we would love to see make waves in the world of football in the years to come – and showed more than enough promise to suggest this is probable rather than merely possible:
1. Samed Yesil (Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Germany). A striker who has drawn comparisons with West German legend Gerhard ‘Gerd’ Müller for his phenomenal scoring record – at the end of the 2011 FIFA U-17 World Cup, Yesil had notched up 19 goals in 21 matches for Germany U-17 – Yesil also possesses outstanding close control and vision, as his contributions to Germany’s first, third and fourth goals against Brazil amply illustrate. One of several players in the German squad that could theoretically play for another country at senior level.
2. Levent Aycicek (Werder Bremen and Germany). Aycicek is at once a throwback to a bygone era and the future of football: a diminutive, stocky playmaker vaunting quite exceptional technique, he works hard and is not above dropping deep into midfield when Germany are without the ball. A free-kick expert – his assist for Koray Günter‘s goal against the Brazilians was a masterpiece of perfect elevation and back-spin – Aycicek is also capable of scoring memorable individual goals, as both Brazil and Ecuador found out to their cost. His playing style has touches of both fabled Turkish midfielder Sergen Yalcin and Bosnia and Herzegovina utility player Hasan ‘Braco’ Salihamidzic.
3. Emre Can (Bayern Munich and Germany). An ethnic Turk like both Yesil and Aycicek, Can is already one of the most finely-balanced players in the global game. He has the ability to pass the ball to almost any point on the pitch with mesmerising accuracy, yet is also the possessor of rare stamina and graft. Can’s goal in the semi-final against Mexico is a deserved candidate for FIFA’s Goal of the Tournament; the Germany captain has every chance of developing into a peerless box-to-box midfielder.
4. Carlos Fierro (Guadalajara and Mexico). A native of relatively prosperous Northwest Mexico, Fierro brings a richness to the Mexican forward line. Already a striker of excellent all-round play – he holds up the ball to excellent effect and is unusually selfless – Fierro chipped in with four goals – including the decisive strike against France in the last eight - en route to picking up FIFA’s Bronze Ball. Linked brilliantly with colleagues such as Gomez and Jonathan Espericueta as Mexico’s patient possession game proved to be a winning formula. Slightly reminiscent of Argentina legend Hernán Crespo.
5. Souleymane Coulibaly (AC Siena and Côte d’Ivoire). Already registered with a club that will compete in Italy’s Serie A in the 2011-2012 season, Coulibaly’s friendly demeanour masks the pedigree of a serial killer: despite Les petit Éléphants departing the tournament in the second round, he ended the competition as its top marksman with an eye-popping nine goals from four matches. A dizzyingly luminous hat-trick against Brazil and no less than four strikes against the defensively inept Danes helped propel Coulibaly well beyond the reach of all his competitors – and earn him the somewhat predictable ‘New Drogba‘ tag.
6. Adryan (Flamengo and Brazil). A Brazil number 10 always carries a heavy weight of expectation on their shoulders, but Adryan’s five goals showed that he was more than capable of shouldering the burden. Two excellent finishes against Germany – the first the conversion of a dubious penalty award, the second a rasping, close-range drive into the roof of the net – were evidence of a considerable talent that outshone the Chelsea-bound Lucas Piazón.
7. Lucas Ocampos (River Plate and Argentina). This edition of the Argentina U-17 team was in almost all respects a dreadful disappointment: defeated by eternal rivals England in a penalty shoot-out in the round of sixteen, the Albicelestes never came close to playing the brand of football that has seen them excel in tournaments of this nature. But in both the loss to England and their group stage annihilation by a compellingly superior Japanese team, Ocampos – an attacking midfielder of robust physique, admirable toil and surprising versatility – shone, and could conceivably be another in the long list of River Plate’s glittering alumni.
8. Yassine Benzia (Lyon and France). The scorer of five goals in the U-17 World Cup – including doubles against Argentina in the group stage and Côte d’Ivoire in the second round – Benzia’s ability to take chances, in combination with his fine positional sense and speed of thought, should see him flourish at any level of the sport.
9. Elbio Álvarez (Peñarol and Uruguay). A key figure as Uruguay’s counter-attacking genius saw them reach the Mexico City final, Álvarez’s gift for finding space means he often appears to have all the time in the world to prepare the delicious through-balls or wicked long-range shots that are his specialities. A scorer in the 3-0 vanquishing of Brazil at the semi-final stage, Álvarez will likely not remain long in Montevideo.
10. Timur Kakimov (Pakhtakor Tashkent and Uzbekistan). Uzbekistan’s run to the quarter-finals of the U-17 World Cup owed much to their small, rapid number 11. Kakimov, a seemingly inexhaustible leader of the line, was the author of three goals at these finals, but this ice-cool taker of chances is also highly accomplished at bringing his colleagues into play, able to both hold up the ball and spray passes of geometric perfection around the final third. May come to symbolise Uzbek football in much the same way as former Alania Vladikavkaz star Mirjalol Qosimov.