The FIFA U-17 World Cup kicks off in the United Arab Emirates on Thursday, giving us a chance to get a glimpse of the future stars of the game.
Many great footballers have graced the underage event down the years with players like Toni Kroos, Cesc Fabregas, Landon Donovan and, erm, Manchester United’s Anderson all picking up the adidas Golden Ball award.
Since the first tournament in China in 1985, seven different world champions have emerged from the 13 tournaments hosted with Nigeria and Brazil leading the way with three apiece.
The action runs from October 17 through to November 8 with 24 teams competing for the coveted prize.
Solid and defensive aren’t words you would normally associate with Brazilian teams but after conceding on average 0.6 goals a game in qualifying, the under-17 Samba stars are looking good for a fourth world title.
According to FIFA.com, their stand-out player is attacking midfielder Gabriel, who was called up to the squad as a result of his performances for Santos. Brazil were without Gabriel in the side when they lost out to Argentina in the South American Championship, which ended their run of four consecutive titles.
Nigeria, the only other team to have won it three times, also lost in the final of their regional tournament. The Eaglets suffered a penalty shoot-out defeat to the Ivory Coast in the CAF U-17 Championships but they managed to score 18 goals in just five matches, demonstrating the firepower they possess upfront.
Success Isaac—and no that is not a misprint—finished top scorer at that tournament and he will be one to watch in the UAE. Nigeria last won in 2007 and after being beaten in the 2009 final and failing to qualify in 2011 they will be eager for Success to fire.
The South American duo of Argentina and Uruguay will also be expected to make deep runs. Argentina came out on top in the regional tournament, while Uruguay finished top scorers in the competition with 20 goals in nine games. Life after Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani appears safe.
Defending champions Mexico return to the World Cup fold with the same manager, Raul Gutierrez, that led them to victory in 2011. The CONCACAF nation impressed in qualifying, winning all their matches.
The European threat will come in the form of Italy, Sweden, Croatia, Slovakia and Austria.
Italy may have won the FIFA World Cup proper four times but they have never won at the underage event and coach Daniele Zoratto will be eager to put that right.
Finally, keep an eye out for Croatian youngster Alen Halilovic. According to FIFA.com, he is one of Europe’s brightest up-and-coming talents and he has already appeared in the Champions League for his team Dinamo Zagreb.