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 By Nick Said

African stars to emerge at the Under-20 World Cup

The FIFA Under-20 World Cup starts in South Korea on Saturday, with Senegal, South Africa, Guinea and Zambia representing the continent.

It is a tournament that has seen a fair amount of African success in the past, and one which has been the launchpad for the careers of some of the world's greatest players.

KweséESPN picks out some of the players who have featured in the competition and gone on to have stellar professional careers.

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Tournament: 1981
Abouzeid finished joint top scorer at the 1981 Under-20 championship along with Australian Mark Koussas, and the German duo of Ralf Loose and Roland Wohlfarth. He was later also the leading marksman at the 1984 African Nations Cup, finishing runner-up in the African Player of the Year voting that season. He would go on to lift the continental trophy two years later and represent Egypt at the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy. Abouzeid scored 189 goals in 393 appearances for Al Ahly, winning seven Egyptian league titles, eight domestic cup titles and the Champions League competition twice. He is currently Egypt's Minister of State for Sports.

Tournament: 1985
Siasia would go on to both play for and coach the Nigerian national team, and was part of the side that excelled at the 1994 World Cup in the United States. He had a varied club career that saw him play most notably with Lokeren in Belgium and Nantes in France, but also in Portugal, Sudan, Australia and Israel. He coached the Nigerian side at the 2005 Under-20 World Cup where they finished runners-up to a Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina.

Tournament: 1993
Foe was a key player in the Cameroon Under-20 side that competed at the 1993 championships, and that same year made his debut for the senior national team, who he would represent over the next decade until his tragic death during the 2003 FIFA Confederations Cup in France. At the time he was playing for Manchester City, but he also found success with Lens and Lyon in France, and West Ham United in England. He played all of Cameroon's matches at the 1994 and 2002 World Cups, but missed out in 1998 due to a broken leg.

Tournament: 1997
McCarthy had already emerged as a major talent in South Africa by the time he played at the Under-20 World Cup in Malaysia, and a year later famously scored four goals in a single game against Namibia at the African Nations Cup finals. He starred for Bafana Bafana at the 1998 and 2002 World Cups, and won the UEFA Champions League with unlikely heroes FC Porto under Jose Mourinho, having previously also turned out for Ajax Amsterdam and Celta Vigo in Spain. He remains South Africa's record scorer in international football with 31 goals in 80 appearances. 


Tournament: 1999
Keita is a legend in Mali football and played over 100 senior national team games in a stellar career that has lasted nearly 20 years. He rose to fame at the 1999 Under-20 World Cup where he helped Mali to third place, winning the Golden Ball for best player as well. After being scouted by Marseille in France, he played for Lorient and Lens, before being snapped up by Spanish side Sevilla, and then Barcelona, where he spent four years between 2008 and 2012. He won three La Liga titles there and the Champions League twice, being an influential figure in all four of his campaigns at the club.

Tournament: 2001
Essien was a standout player in the 2001 Under-20 World Cup, where he helped Ghana to the runners-up spot as they lost the final to hosts Argentina. Within a year he was playing at the African Nations Cup finals and helped Ghana to the 2006, 2010 and 2014 World Cup tournaments. He featured for Bastia and Lyon in France, but rose to global stardom when he signed for Chelsea in 2005, where he stayed until 2014. He also had one season away on loan at Real Madrid. He won two Premier League titles, four FA Cups and the Champions League with Chelsea.

Tournament: 2005
Mikel starred for Nigeria at the 2005 Under-20 World Cup where they finished behind Argentina as runners-up. The midfielder picked up the Silver Ball trophy for second-best player in the competition. The winner of the Golden Ball? Lionel Messi. A season later Mikel was signed by Chelsea and would spent the next 11 years with them before recently leaving for Tianjin TEDA in China. Like Essien, he won two Premier League titles, four FA Cups and the Champions League with Chelsea.

Tournament: 2009
Ayew is currently a top international with Ghana and is the son of the legendary Abedi Pele. But before that he helped Ghana to victory at the 2009 Under-20 World Cup as part of a Golden Generation that have since gone on to make up the backbone of the Black Stars. Success at senior level has been harder to find; he has two runners-up medals at the African Nations Cup finals, but at 27 still has time on his side. He was a stalwart for Marseille for eight years up until 2015, when he moved to England and joined Swansea City and later his current club, West Ham United.

Nick Said is a Southern African sports writer for KweséESPN. Follow him on Twitter @NickSaid.


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