Football

Cast your eye on future stars

TNP lists 10 players to watch at the Under-20 World Cup, which kicked off in Poland on Friday morning

The likes of Lionel Messi, Paul Pogba and Sergio Aguero all stamped their mark at various editions of the Under-20 World Cup before achieving greater success.

The biennial tournament has been a showcase for some of the best young players in the world, with Messi (2005), Aguero (2007) and Pogba (2013) winning the Golden Ball Award for being their respective tournaments' top performers.

This year's edition, with 24 teams from six confederations taking part, kicked off in Poland on Friday morning (Singapore time). Could there be more future stars in this mix?

The New Paper picks 10 players to watch.

1. Diego Lainez (Mexico, Real Betis )

The only player in the squad who plies his trade outside of Mexico, the 18-year-old left-footed winger is a joy to watch on the flanks.

Blessed with sizzling pace and an abundance of trickery, Lainez has already earned four caps for the senior side. He enjoyed a breakthrough season in the 2018 Mexican Apertura season with Club America, earning him a move to La Liga side Real Betis in January.

2. Sarpreet Singh (New Zealand, Wellington Phoenix)

Another player who has already donned national colours for the senior side, Singh broke onto the scene with New Zealand’s only professional club, Wellington Phoenix, in the 2017-18 season.

But it is in this season's Australian top flight that Singh has come to the fore, notching five goals and seven assists for his side. The central attacker is handy with free-kicks as well and will need to be at the top of his game if the young Kiwis are to progress in the tournament.

3. Timothy Weah (United States, Paris Saint-Germain) 

When your father is African football legend George Weah, who dominated world football for years before becoming the President of Liberia last year, there are huge boots to fill.

But the 19-year-old Weah, who can play on the wings or up front, is a man full of confidence.

While Weah has found senior team appearances hard to come by with the French giants, he impressed this season while on loan at Scottish champions Celtic, where he netted three goals in 13 games.

4. Dan-Axel Zagadou (France, Borussia Dortmund)

The French squad has an embarrassment of riches and topping their long list of talent is Zagadou, who has fended off stiff competition to retain a first-team spot at German club Dortmund.

The imposing 1.98m central defender came through the PSG academy before earning a move to the Bundesliga and has not looked back since. Zagadou, 19, as shown from his two goals in the league this season, is handy in the box during set-pieces as well .

5. Diogo Dalot (Portugal, Manchester United)

Arguably the most popular player on this list because of his current stint at Old Trafford, Dalot was Jose Mourinho’s last signing at Manchester United .

At that time, Mourinho hailed 20-year-old Dalot as the “best fullback in Europe” in his age group.

Able to play on either side of defence, Dalot showed further versatility this year when he was deployed in central midfield and on the right wing under current United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

With Portugal being one of the favourites at the Under-20 World Cup, much will be expected of Dalot.

6. Lee Kang in (South Korea, Valencia)

It has already been an eventful year for the South Korean attacking midfielder, as he made his professional debut for Valencia in the La Liga in January 2019, becoming the youngest ever non-Spanish debutant for the team.

He then received a call-up to the senior national team two months later.

Just 18, Lee is already being touted as the next big star of Asian football, following in the footsteps of compatriot, Son Heung Min.

7. Ezequiel Barco (Argentina, Atlanta United)

Just last year, Barco made history when he became the Major League Soccer’s record transfer signing , moving from Argentinian side Independiente for US $15 million (S$20.7m).

While that record has since gone, Barco has just started to repay that fee with scintillating performances for Atlanta this season. The 20-year-old has six goals from eight appearances this season from the wings and will be looking to add to his tally while in Poland.

8. Turki Al Ammar (Saudi Arabia, Al Shabab)

Player of the Tournament at the U-19 Asia Cup which Saudi Arabia won, Al Ammar stood out for his silky dribbling and play-making abilities in the No. 10 role. He also had four goals to his name.

The 19-year-old is a rising star in Saudi football and was named as the AFC Youth Player of the Year in 2018.

If Al Ammar can shine in Poland this time around, clubs in Europe may well take notice.

9. Erling Braut Haaland (Norway, Red Bull Salzburg)

The family name Haaland might be familiar to Leeds United and Manchester City fans – as well as former Manchester United captain Roy Keane.

Haaland is the son of former Leeds and City defender Alf-Inge, who is remembered for his long-running feud with Keane.

The 1.91m forward has been compared to Belgian forward Romelu Lukaku due to his burly presence up front. Haaland only recently moved to Red Bull Salzburg after netting 14 goals in 39 appearances for Norwegian side Molde.

10. Andriy Lunin (Ukraine, Real Madrid)

Another player on this list who has already garnered a senior cap, Lunin signed for Los Blancos in June 2018 after starring for Zorya Luhansk in the Ukrainian Premier League.

Chances have been at a premium for the goalkeeper, who is on loan at Leganes this season, but he has impressed Leganes boss Mauricio Pellegrino, who is said to be a big fan of the Ukrainian.

While Leganes are reportedly keen to extend the player's loan, Lunin will want to show his abilities at the U-20 World Cup to get more playing time between the sticks next season.

Under-20 World CupDiego Lainez