Two of Europe’s finest youth sides went head-to-head in the group stage of the FIFA Under-20 World Cup as Spain and France clashed at the Turk Telekom Arena in Istanbul.
A crowd of 7,511 were on hand to watch the two sides battle for a spot at the summit of Group A.
Spain sealed the victory despite a late goal from Thibaut Vion, but both sides have done enough to advance into the knockout stages.
Read on to discover five things Bleacher Report learned from this youth championship clash.
Both Spanish giants, Real Madrid and Barcelona, are proud of their prodigal young forwards, Gerard Deulofeu and Jesé.
The excitement was summed up during La Rojita’s 4-1 victory over the United States earlier in the tournament, when Luis Gil’s late goal could do nothing to overrule the dominant performances of Deulofeu and Jesé. The pair bagged a brace each and carried the side to victory.
Against Ghana, the Real Madrid man Jesé made the difference—his early goal was enough to secure victory.
For the final group game against the French, he was required to lead the line without his partner in crime, Deulofeu. This he achieved without concern and demonstrated his expert finishing by hammering the ball past Alphonse Areola following a mistake from Kurt Zouma.
It will be fascinating to watch the development, and ultimate rivalry, of these two Spanish starlets, but for now, the Real Madrid man looks to be stealing the spotlight.
While Fernando Torres struggled to find the net against Italy and Roberto Soldado and David Villa were overlooked altogether, the Spanish espoirs enjoyed the presence of a No. 9 with genuine quality and class.
Paco Alcacer has represented Spain at every age level from U-16 right through to the U-21 side. Judging by tonight’s performance, it may not be long before he adds to his collection with a senior cap or two.
For now, his focus is with the youth side, and accompanied by the likes of Jesé and Deulofeu, he can be the headline act for a new generation.
While the national side have struggled for an out-and-out goal scorer in recent years and have even toyed with employing Cesc Fabregas as a false nine, their U-20 team have a forward—wearing the national No. 9 shirt—who looks to have all of the tools.
Alcacer’s record while on loan at Getafe may make for meagre reading, but his spell with the Valencia B team and the Spanish youth sides more than demonstrated his ability to put the ball in the back of the net.
Two of the most exciting French players to emerge into Ligue 1 in recent seasons have been Kurt Zouma and Florian Thauvin.
Centre-back Zouma has been a crucial component of Saint-Etienne’s impressive season in the top flight and possesses all of the tools required to become a top central defender, while Thauvin broke through at Corsican side Bastia before signing for Lille.
The pair may have impressed in the French top flight, but their performances in the U-20 World Cup have demonstrated room for improvement thus far.
Zouma was at fault for Jesé’s goal, while Thauvin was substituted with 10 minutes to play—his replacement, Vion, managing to pull a goal back for the Bluets.
The pair are doubtless delicious talents who have great futures in the game, but their failings against Spain have indicated that there is still great room for improvement.
Despite the praise, rightly received, that has come La Masia’s way following the development and successful implementation of its policies and philosophies in the Spain and Barcelona first teams, recent signs show that the Barcelona Academy may not be the sole inspiration for the nation’s footballing future.
While Cameroonian frontman Jean Marie Dongou is a prodigal frontman who deserves his burgeoning reputation, the number of Spanish prodigies emerging from the renowned footballing centre has dipped.
While the Spanish U-21 side that competed in the European Championships this summer had five Barcelona players, the U-20 team starring over in Turkey only features one—the aforementioned Gerard Deulofeu.
Instead, some of La Liga’s lesser lights are well represented. Atlético Madrid have three players on show and their archrivals Real have contributed four players, while the likes of Valencia, Santander, Sevilla and Levante are all represented.
Even the Premier League has its Spanish participants, with Liverpool’s Suso and Manchester City’s Denis Suarez among those players called up.
It may be that the La Masia production line has been faltering in recent times, as not one single player based in Barcelona was involved against France—a game as effective as any for providing a portent into Spain’s distant future.
During Laurent Blanc’s tenure as national team boss, a great furor arose concerning the number of players with foreign origins who were benefiting from France’s youth facilities, featuring for her national sides before taking their talents back to their nations of origin when the international scene came calling.
While France has profited greatly from players born in overseas departments or in former colonies, the suggestion was that national sides such as Algeria, Mali and Senegal were the genuine benefactors from France’s diverse youth team personnel.
If this is the case, things show little sign of changing.
The France squad that has been assembled this summer possesses players with origins right across the world, all of whom could one day use their talents to the advantage of another football federation.
Goalkeeper Alphonse Aréola has expressed interest in joining the Philippines national side one day, while right back Dimitri Foulquier is eligible for Guadeloupe.
There is also a strong African feel to the side; the aforementioned Zouma, as well as Geoffrey Kondogbia, could one day turn out for the Central African Republic; Samuel Umtiti, Jean-Christophe Bahebeck and Axel Ngando are of Cameroonian origin, while Yaya Sanogo could go on to represent either Mali or the Cote d’Ivoire.
It remains to be seen how many of these youngsters will benefit France in the long run.