With the Under-20 World Cup kicking off in New Zealand on Saturday, we look at 10 players who could be set to take the tournament by storm.
Julian Brandt (Germany/Bayer Leverkusen)
Despite just turning 19 earlier this month, the left-sided winger is already a regular in Leverkusen’s first-team, scoring four goals in 25 Bundesliga appearances this season, and has seen his name linked with the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool [Daily Mirror].
With his top-flight and Champions League experience, he should have few problems making his mark in New Zealand, but whether that will lead to a high-profile move is another matter.
Eligible for the States through his American father, the Southend-born centre-back popped up on US Soccer’s radar in December 2013 and has since made a rapid rise up the ranks, proving an ever-present in Tab Ramos’ side at the 2015 CONCACAF Under-20 Championship.
Having just turned 17 on New Year’s Eve, the Tottenham prospect is the youngest member of the US roster for New Zealand but, after establishing himself as a regular for his club’s Under-21 side this season, some have already pencilled his name into the senior line-up for Russia 2018.
Angel Correa (Argentina/Atletico Madrid)
The diminutive striker, 20, was forced to undergo surgery last summer after a benign tumour was discovered on his heart during his medical with Atletico, before being given the all-clear to join the Spanish giants in December.
Since returning to action, he was the star man at the South American Under-20 Championship in the winter, bagging four goals and three assists, and is now set to show off his Sergio Aguero-likened qualities in New Zealand.
Godfred Donsah (Ghana/Cagliari)
Aged just 18, the box-to-box midfielder has been one of the most talked-about talents in Serie A this season, having broken into the Cagliari first-team to make 23 total appearances.
A number of major clubs across Europe are said to be after his signature, including Arsenal, Liverpool and West Ham United [h/t Calcio Mercato] and more could enter the race should his star rise even further over the coming weeks.
The 19-year-old midfielder made his professional debut in Fulham’s Championship opener against Ipswich Town back in August, before going on to earn a shock call-up and first US national team cap just a few weeks later in a 1-0 win over the Czech Republic.
Named his side’s captain for New Zealand earlier this month, former Fulham boss Felix Magath even compared his passing skills to those of Italian legend Andrea Pirlo, while the Texas-native has said himself that he is attempting to model his game after Real Madrid and former Tottenham Hotspur star Luka Modric.
The USA’s midfield engine, how he performs will be crucial to their hopes of making a deep knockout run.
The 18-year-old striker proved a revelation during City’s preseason tour of North America, scoring twice to go from a relative unknown to one of the club’s hottest prospects.
Earning the praise of Manuel Pellegrini at the time, a couple of injuries have since prevented him from kicking on but, after netting three goals in the Elite Development Squad’s final two games of the campaign, he looks set to shine at the World Cup.
Marcos Lopes (Portugal/Manchester City)
While still to make the breakthrough at the Etihad, Lopes earned rave reviews on loan at Ligue 1 outfit Lille this past season, with some even hailing him as a more promising talent than PFA Players’ Player of the Year Eden Hazard.
Set to be Portugal’s main man in New Zealand, an impressive tournament could just help push the 19-year-old attacker into Pellegrini’s plans for next term.
The Belgium-born midfielder, 19, was not involved in Brazil’s lacklustre qualification campaign but earned a call-up to the tournament after an impressive season with Manchester United’s Under-21 Premier League title-winning side.
Having made his top-flight debut in March’s 3-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur, big things are expected of the former PSV Eindhoven trainee and the coming weeks should give him a prime chance to showcase his attacking flair and vision.
Moses Simon (Nigeria/KAA Gent)
The 19-year-old winger might be small in stature – standing at just 5ft 6in – but he has been putting in some big performances since joining Gent from Slovak side AS Trencin in the winter transfer window, recording seven goals in 19 appearances.
Linked with Hull City, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur earlier this season [h/t ESPN FC], the World Cup stage will be another opportunity to prove his Premier League credentials to potential summer suitors.
Gedion Zelalem (USA/Arsenal)
The Berlin-born midfielder, 18, has been hailed as the potential saviour of US soccer ever since he first emerged as an option for the States, before pledging his future to his adopted nation upon receiving his citizenship in December.
Compared to ex-Gunners captain Cesc Fabregas, the former German Under-17 international has made just two first-team appearances for Arsene Wenger’s side but will now get his first real chance to prove whether the fanfare surrounding his one-time switch is justified.