FIFA’s World Youth Championship, being staged in Holland this month, gives fans the world over the fix they need in a summer devoid of a major senior competition.
It also gives smaller countries the chance to blood young talent and generally be more successful than at senior level.
The opening games of the group stages have thrown up a few surprises already. Holders Brazil, obviously amongst the favourites, were held to a 0-0 draw with the ever-exciting Nigerians. United and Chelsea fans should probably not watch the highlights of the match as they will undoubtedly show the much maligned John Obi Mikel blazing wildly over from a free kick.
For two such attacking and vibrant sides a goalless draw didn’t seem to do them justice but nevertheless it showed how far Nigerian football has come, or maybe how low Brazilian football has fallen if some commentators are to be believed.
There’s no doubting that Brazil will always produce quality youngsters but this years side doesn’t have the stars that previous sides have contained; there’s no Robinho, no Adriano, no one who seems on the verge of greatness.
The real star of youth football over the past two years however has undoubtedly been the USA’s Freddy Adu of D.C United. The United States has never produced a footballer with anywhere near as much potential as Adu. American players turn up here and there all over Europe but rarely gain the attention of this 16-year-old Ghana-born prodigy. Adu however is somewhat of a veteran of youth tournaments and so entered these championships with a reputation to live up to even thought he’s the youngest player involved.
The US won their first match, beating pre-tournament favourites Argentina 1-0, who were boasting Barcelona rising star Lionel Messi. Whilst Adu had no part in the goal and in fact missed what could have been a crucial 70th minute penalty, he said afterwards: “I knew we could win if we kept it together, and we did.”
A youthful and pragmatic view of a great victory over a far more established footballing nation. If Adu and the US can beat a team boasting the likes of Messi then this could be a very interestiing tournament indeed.
If it is to be the US’s year however, they may have to overcome the real surprise package of the tournament, Colombia.
Making their debut (along with Switzerland and Syria), the South Americans gained a fantastic and much deserved victory over Italy. The little Dutch village of Tilburg was swarming with football-crazed Colombians, draped in yellow following their country, feeling that this could be their year.
Before the match had begun all the talk was about Hugo Rodallega, scorer of 11 goals in qualification. However after he was substituted the Colombians went ahead through Wason Renteria before starlet Fredy Guarin thumped home the goal that finished off the woeful Italians.
Chile, another smaller footballing nation promising great things at youth level, trounced Honduras 7-0 in their opening game. The current crop of players seems to be finally rising out of the shadows of past greats Marcelo Salas and Ivan Zamarano, who did so well at club level, only to be limited at international level.
Players of particular note for Chile were midfielders Fernandez and Fuenzalida, however a convincing victory over a country even smaller than their own is hardly a resounding endorsement for future success, it will be interesting to see how Chile fare when they come up against bigger sides as the tournament continues.
This year seems to be showing what youth championships are all about, the smaller countries having their day in the limelight. All that’s needed now is for these sides to keep their youngsters together as a group and replicate their successes at senior level, obviously a lot more easier said than done.