From Holland's Quincy Owusu Abeyie to Colombia's Juan Zuniga, get the full lowdown on these precocious talents before they set the stage alight at senior international level.
Quincy Owusu Abeyie (Netherlands)
Brought by diamond-in-the-rough polisher Arsene Wenger to London giants Arsenal at the tender age of 16, it was no surprise that the flank rover of Ghanaian extraction was one of the sensations of the first round. What was surprising, however, was just how many party tricks and moments of brilliance the 19-year-old had in his orange bag. With lightning pace, flashy moves to spare and a dedication to barrelling down the flank and serving in the odd inch-perfect cross, Owusu Abeyie is on his way to great things. An individualist at heart, his deft touch and invention on the ball are worth the price of admission, and his foraging run against Japan will not soon be forgotten by the 20,000 on hand in Kerkrade, nor by the five Japanese defenders he left in his dust.
Oleksandr Aliiev (Ukraine)
With five goals from the three group matches, 20-year-old Aliiev has impressed with his finishing at Netherlands 2005. The diminutive number 8, with his sharp eye for goal, combines both scoring and midfield duties. He showed his versatility in all three matches, creating chances and scoring goals to see him joint tournament top scorer with Fernando Llorente at the end of the group stage. Coach Alexei Mikhailichenko may have bemoaned his side's finishing, but he can have no complaints about Aliiev.
Benny Feilhaber (United States)
The midfielder wearing the number 8 shirt and flashing a smile worthy of a toothpaste commercial only joined up with the USA U-20 squad six months ago, but was his side's outstanding individual in the group campaign, providing the initial spark as his side pulled off a shock 1-0 victory over Argentina. The 20-year-old repeated the feat against Germany with a dynamic, probing midfield display. Blessed with natural talent and a superbly lithe physique, Feilhaber has a promising eye for better-positioned team-mates. Despite resting a clutch of his stars against Egypt, coach Sigi Schmid felt he could not do without his Brazilian-born midfield general, who names the legendary Garrincha as his idol.
Matías Fernández (Chile)
The Colo Colo midfielder has emerged as Chilean football's star-in-the-making over the last year, and here the 19-year-old has been the conduit for his team's play. He is able to win the ball and then distribute it with great vision - to the extent where most of Chile's most penetrating and incisive passes have come from the feet of their captain. His party piece is his ability from deadball situations, which showcase his powerful shot, and he scored from one such free-kick in the qualifying victory against Uruguay which secured Chile's ticket to the Netherlands. His strength on the ball and capacity to dribble also mark him down as a player to watch.
Fernando Llorente (Spain)
Hedwiges Maduro (Netherlands)
At first glance, you might think this centre-forward's key asset was his height of 1,94m. But the Athletic Bilbao youngster is not just strong in the air; he also causes problems with the ball at his feet, notably in and around the penalty area. Well used to dealing with tough man-markers, Llorente holds the ball up to effect and stretches defences to make space for colleagues. Moreover, his five goals in the competition so far show an ability to be in the right place at the right time, making him the reference point of the Spanish attack. "I am happy with my performances, but that's not important - what matters is to play for the team and contribute to us getting results," the 20-year-old says.
With a cool calm well beyond his years, Maduro was forgiven by coach Foppe de Haan for a late arrival at Netherlands 2005. His twenty-minute performance for Marco Van Basten's senior Oranje in a FIFA World Cup qualifier with Finland on 8 June had all of Holland talking about the star-in-the making just days before the world youth festival got underway in earnest. With most of the hosts' high-flying football born at his cultured feet, the Ajax central midfielder has all the makings of a future Dutch master. Though not known as a goal scorer, he laid claim to two crucial strikes in the first round while carrying the hosts into the second round with a perfect nine-point haul from three matches.
Lionel Messi (Argentina)
No other player exerted as decisive an influence on his team as the Barcelona starlet. The lightning-quick 17-year-old, left to kick his heels on the bench for the first 45 minutes of the tournament, offered evidence of his prodigious talent the minute he was allowed into the action. He repaid coach Francisco Ferrara's faith with a goal in Argentina's 2-0 victory over Egypt, before orchestrating his side's 1-0 triumph against Germany in inimitable fashion with a highly unselfish assist. Unsurprisingly, Barcelona President Joan Laporta believes he has unearthed a real rough diamond.
John Obi Mikel (Nigeria)
With so much pressure on his young shoulders, Nigeria's midfield maestro found the centre of the pitch the best place to relieve the tension. Described as having the composure of a 30-year-old, Mikel found the time and space to orchestrate his side's best attacks. Tall, elegant and powerful, the playmaker held his nerve to eventually convert the important penalty and hand his team the cushion of a 2-0 lead against Switzerland in the all-important third match. Great things are expected of this 18-year-old.
Razak Omotoyossi (Benin)
One of the finals' revelations, muscular striker Razak Omotoyossi brought more than just a touch of class to the debutant Baby Squirrels of Benin. His goal against Australia in their first match saw him make history for the West African nation. With a keen ability to pick out holes and terrorise defenders with his blustery running on and off the ball, young Razak - who began playing football in Nigeria - is still plying his club trade back home in Benin. But considering the class he showed in a respectable debut, one wonders how long it will take for the youngster to be lured out of Africa.
Wason Renteria (Colombia)
|Colombia's Wason Renterias is as cool as they come |
Coming into the FIFA World Youth Championship Netherlands 2005, there was only one Colombian striker on everybody's mind and that was Hugo Rodallega after he scored 11 goals in six qualifiers. That's a good enough reason to be the focus of a lot of attention, but it drew the attention away from the hidden talents of the Colombian team, chief among them Rodallega's striking partner Wason Renteria. In a team full of gems, Renteria is one of the most precious of all and his striking menace poses a constant threat to defences, as Italy found in the opening game. His goal for Colombia in that match seems destined not to be his last at Netherlands 2005 if his team can live up to their promise and go all the way. Renteria is fast, dangerous and has a ferocious shot when he can let loose.
Screening the back four, breaking up opposing attacks and commencing ones of his own, Roberto is a defensive midfielder in the Dunga, Mauro Silva mould. The meaty 20-year-old's winning battles in the centre of the park have been the cornerstone of Brazil's march to the last 16. Intelligent, mobile and tigerish in the tackle, the curly haired Guarani player has all the makings of being a star of tomorrow.
Feng Xiaoting (China)
|Feng Xiaoting has been the mainstay of China's defence|
Like his idol, AC Milan's Paolo Maldini, China's captain Feng Xiaoting has displayed leadership, responsibility and energy from his centre-back role in his own team. The 1.87 m tall 19-year-old, has proved a dependable mainstay in China's defence so far in this FIFA World Youth Championship with his vision and coolness. His pace, dribbling and balance also makes him a potent weapon on the break when he pushes forward.
Nabil El Zhar (Morocco)
The Morocco No.10 is one of the players, along with Mouhssine Iajour, who is capable of making the difference for the north African side. Still only 18, El Zhar has operated both as an attacking midfielder and as an out-and-out striker, and from each position he has been the team's key performer. Driving Morocco forward and providing the chief attacking threat, his timely and well-crafted assists were central to the thrashing of Honduras. The Saint-Etienne player also likes get a shot on goal when he comes within range, although he is yet to register at this championship.
Juan Zuniga (Colombia)
If he played down the left-hand flank, he would draw many comparisons with Roberto Carlos, but Juan Zuniga shows his bag of tricks off down the right side of the pitch, though he can still put you in mind of the great Brazilian and Real Madrid star when he is in full flight. Against Italy, Zuniga's pace and skills left more than one of the The Azzurrini looking foolish at times and with each game that passes, the Colombian gains more and more confidence. His trademark move is to flash his eyes to an imaginary team-mate to his left, perform a lightning-fast hip and leg-wriggling shimmy, before sliding the ball off to his right, leaving opponents dazed and confused.