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7 Best Performances by Teenagers at the World Cup

 
 
TOPSHOT - Argentina's forward Lionel Messi gestures during the Russia 2018 World Cup Group D football match between Nigeria and Argentina at the Saint Petersburg Stadium in Saint...

Today we turn our attention to the finest performances at the World Cup Finals by teenagers.

19-year-old Kylian Mbappe recently got off the mark for France in Russia, making him only the 18th teenager to score in a World Cup finals, but he doesn’t make this seven just yet.

Here are our 7 best performances by teenagers at the World Cup

7. Dmitri Sychev - 2002

Dmitri Sychev of FC Lokomotiv Moscow in action during the Russian Football League Championship match between FC Lokomotiv Moscow and FC Rostov Rostov-on-Don at the Luzhniki Stadium on...Dmitri Sychev of FC Lokomotiv Moscow in action during the Russian Football League Championship match between FC Lokomotiv Moscow and FC Rostov Rostov-on-Don at the Luzhniki Stadium on...

From Ronaldinho to Landon Donovan and El Hadji Diouf, there were a number of impressive youngsters at the 2002 World Cup finals in South Korea & Japan, but none of those three were actually teenagers. The most impressive teenager at the final was Dmitri Sychev, who was once Russia’s great footballing hope. He was nicknamed ‘the Russian Michael Owen’ after bursting onto the scene as a fleet footed striker who averaged a goal every other game in his teens at Spartak Moscow. Sychev scored one and assisted another in a poor Russian side, earning himself a move to Marseille. Sychev never quite reached the heights expected of him though, and now aged 34, he’s currently struggling in the third tier of Russian football.

6. Lionel Messi - 2006

Lionel Messi was only 18 heading into the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany, and he had just had his first season of semi-regular football at Barcelona. He made his World Cup debut as a 74th minute substitute in Argentina’s second game against Serbia & Montenegro, where he scored one and assisted another. He scored again in the Round of 16 against Mexico, but his late strike was controversially disallowed. Messi was dropped for Argentina’s Quarter-Final defeat to Germany, a decision which outraged many pundits and supporters back home.

Since 2006, Messi has gone on to break countless records and cement his place in history as one of the finest footballers to have ever taken to the pitch.

5. Jose Altafini - 1958

22nd May 1963:  Jose Juan Altafini, the AC Milan forward scoring his second goal as Milan beat Benfica in the European Cup Final at Wembley, London.22nd May 1963: Jose Juan Altafini, the AC Milan forward scoring his second goal as Milan beat Benfica in the European Cup Final at Wembley, London.

An enormously talented striker who won the World Cup with Brazil in 1958 before representing Italy at the 1962 finals four years later, Jose Altafini is better known simply as Mazzola in his native Brazil. An absolutely rapid and clinical centre-forward, he scored a brace in Brazil’s opening game in 1958, as well as assisting their only goal against Wales in the Quarter-Finals. Immediately after the finals, Altafini joined AC Milan, going on to enjoy extraordinary success in Italy. He currently stands as the joint fourth highest scorer in Serie A history.

4. Edmund Conen - 1934

Taking us all the way back to only the second World Cup, Edmund Conen was a well-rounded and instinctive centre-forward. In his World Cup debut at the age of 19, Conen scored a hat-trick against Belgium. He scored again in Germany’s third place play-off against Austria, making him the joint second highest scorer at the tournament overall. He ended his international career eight years later with a record of 27 goals from 28 caps for Germany, but continued to score prolifically for the Stuttgart Kickers after World War Two.

3. Michael Owen - 1998

As is a common theme among teenage stars at the World Cup, Michael Owen began the 1998 World Cup on the bench. He became England’s youngest ever World Cup player, and after coming on as a sub and scoring in England’s second game against Romania, their youngest ever World Cup goal scorer as well. His crowning moment came in the Quarter-Finals, though, when he scored one of the all time great World Cup goals.

His goal in that match against Argentina, in which he committed and beat three defenders before lifting the ball over the goalkeeper and into the top corner of the net, summed up the electric genius of Michael Owen in his early years. Owen went on to become one of England’s great centre-forwards, although injuries just took a slight edge off that tremendous pace and agility, and prevented him from becoming a genuine all time great. Owen won the Ballon d’Or in 2001.

2. Giuseppe Bergomi - 1982

Giuseppe Bergomi former player Internazionale FC and former Italian footballer and World FIFA Champion in Spain 1982, now TV commentator for Sky (L) and Gianni Rivera during the Italian...Giuseppe Bergomi former player Internazionale FC and former Italian footballer and World FIFA Champion in Spain 1982, now TV commentator for Sky (L) and Gianni Rivera during the Italian...

Spain 1982 was a great World Cup, not least due to the magnificence of a Brazil side who captured the hearts of  people across the globe. Their joyous football looked to be unstoppable until Italy put them out of the tournament beating them 3-2 in Barcelona. A then 18-year-old Giuseppe Bergomi stepped into a formidable Italy side, playing with a maturity well beyond his years as Italy won the World Cup - conceding just once in the semi-final and final itself. Bergomi went on to become one of the games fiercest and most assured defenders.

1. Pele - 1958

The question of the best performance by a teenager at a World Cup is a bit like the question of the best player in the Portugal squad right now - there really is only one answer and it isn’t at all close. Incredibly, Pele is the only player in this seven who was 17 at the time of a World Cup they starred in as a teenager, yet he was awarded the Golden Ball as the tournament's best player. As with the others, Pele didn’t start in the finals for Brazil, but following his introduction the world of football would never quite be the same again.

Pele started Brazil’s third game against the USSR, where he assisted Vava for Brazil’s second. In the Quarter-Finals, he scored the only goal of the game as Brazil beat Wales 1-0. In the semi-final, Pele scored a 23-minute hat-trick against France, and he finished his tournament with a brace against Sweden in the World Cup final. Brazilians were already well aware of Pele, but now the world was alerted to his talents, and he spent the next dozen years as the best player on the planet.

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