The FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013 gets underway just a few days from now. Friday 14 June saw the next milestone prior to the eagerly-awaited gathering of the world's 24 best youth national teams with the publication of the official squad lists.
To review all the lists in more detail, simply click on the respective team names in the right navigation for access to a detailed rundown of all 24 squads.
A total of 504 hopefuls now have the opportunity to show off their skills on a global stage. Naturally, a handful of the players are already well-known beyond their national borders, but many will use their time in the spotlight to showcase their skills to major clubs and win a place in fans’ hearts. One thing all of them share is the dream of winning the prestigious trophy, succeeding reigning champions Brazil - both A Seleção and Argentina surprisingly failed to qualify for the finals in Turkey.
Even at this early stage of their careers, the players who take to the field in the seven host cities of Antalya, Bursa, Gaziantep, Istanbul, Kayseri, Rize and Trabzon have a unique opportunity to follow in the footsteps of idols including Sergio Aguero, Seydou Keita, Robert Prosinecki, Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona. All these greats are previous winners of the adidas Golden Ball for the best player at this series of tournaments, and all of them went on from there to build truly illustrious careers, a process which in certain cases is far from over.
The pre-tournament excitement has spread to the greats of the game, including for example Turkey's most-capped player and former world-class keeper Rustu Recber. “How I really, really wish I was 20 again," he exclusively told FIFA.com, “that would mean I'd personally play at the U-20 World Cup 2013 here in Turkey and feel the support of the home fans. That would be unbelievable!"
And in a video message, FIFA World Player of the Year Messi sent special greetings to the host nation and to FIFA.com users: “I hope it'll be a magnificent U-20 World Cup in Turkey this summer," said the Barcelona and Argentina star. “More than anything else it's an opportunity for young talents to showcase their ability on the world stage,” he added.
Starlets aiming to shineRunning down the list of contenders, France would be only too delighted to match or better their achievement in Colombia two years ago, where they reached the semi-finals but lost to Portugal in the last four. Les Bleuets are hoping for great things from midfielder Paul Pogba, already more than a bit-part player for Juventus. As for the Portuguese, two-time champions at this age level, a good-looking team is built around playmaker and occasional Benfica first-teamer Andre Gomes.
The man to watch for Spain, who arrive in Turkey as U-19 European champions, is winger Gerard Deulofeu. The Barcelona youth product laid down a marker at the European tournament in Estonia a year ago, where he was named player of the tournament. England include highly promising midfielder Ross Barkley, currently rapidly enhancing his reputation with Everton in the Premier League.
Mexico come to south-east Europe with their sights set on success. After winning the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2011 on home soil, El Tri feel they will have a say in the final destination of the U-20 honours, and will be looking for inspiration from midfielder Jorge Espericueta of Tigres de la UANL, winner of the adidas Silver Ball two years ago. For Egypt, playmaker Saleh Gomaa of ENPPI was not only named best player at the most recent CAF U-20 African Championship after leading his team to the trophy, but has also already made numerous appearances for the senior national team.
Scanning the squad lists submitted by the South American nations, the names of Uruguayan Nicolas Lopez and Colombia's Juan Quintero catch the eye. Both are strikers, and both made their mark at the South American U-20 Championship earlier this year with six and five goals respectively. Both are also rapidly rising through the ranks in Italy, with Lopez on the books at Roma, and Quintero looking back on a handful of Serie A appearances for Pescara. As for hosts Turkey, one of the men to watch will be creative midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu. The wily schemer grew up in Germany, where he is rated a major talent with a strong likelihood of a Bundesliga debut for Hamburg next season.
Springboard for the hopefulsElsewhere, Daniel de Silva has already set a new record: the Australian is a mere 16 years old, making him the youngest player at these FIFA U-20 World Cup finals. The attacking midfielder is not without experience either, as he has already made his pro debut after coming on as a sub in Perth Glory’s 2-1 victory over Sydney FC on 2 March 2013. He was still only 15 at the time, making him the A-League’s second-youngest player.
With so many up-and-coming stars and hugely promising junior players on display in Turkey, the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2013 stands every chance of reproducing the high competitive standards of previous tournaments. Without a shadow of a doubt, the teams striving to win the most prestigious trophy in global junior football, and the race for individual honours, should produce exciting football and thrilling matches.
And you'll miss nothing here at FIFA.com! Visit every day for previews, match reports and post-match analysis, plus exclusive interviews and background stories filed by our reporters on the ground in Turkey.