U-17 World Cup: five players to watch
The FIFA U-17 World Cup has an inconsistent history with respect to its ability to identify future stars. For every golden ball winner (Cesc Fabregas or Toni Kroos) or top scorer (Carlos Vela), there is a Sergio Santamaria or Sani Emmanuel, whose senior careers did not or are yet to reach the heights suggested by their strong displays at this level.
The latest edition of the competition kicks off in Chile on Saturday. Here are five players who can be expected to impress and who may eventually progress to become consistent top-flight performers in the senior game.
Timothé Cognat, CM, Lyon/France
Cognat captained France to victory at the U-17 European Championship in May. France's only previous success in the tournament had come back in 2004 with a team featuring Karim Benzema, Jeremy Menez and Samir Nasri, and while attacking talents such as Bilal Boutobba and eight-goal striker Odsonne Edouard again shone, it was Cognat who held the team together with strong leadership and a well-balanced skill set.
Equally adept at linking attacks through midfield as he was in making intelligent supporting runs into the final third, the 17-year-old was the central hub of an attractive and fluid side whose high-tempo passing football brought deserved reward. Tottenham Hotspur are said to be keeping a close eye on the progress of the OL youngster, but a similarly strong tournament on the world stage will surely attract additional suitors.
Constantin Frommann, GK, Freiburg/Germany
Frommann is the latest custodian to emerge from Germany's seemingly never-ending conveyor belt of talented young goalkeepers. He kept five consecutive clean sheets as they progressed through the final of the European Under-17 Championship in May and their eventual 4-1 defeat to France would have been much worse were it not for his heroics. He had earlier made two good saves in the quarterfinal penalty-shootout victory over Spain.
The 17-year-old has all the attributes expected of a modern goalkeeper. He is quick off his line, strong in one-on-one situations and comfortable with the ball at his feet. Add self-confidence to those traits and it is easy to see why he's compared with national team goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. The Freiburg youngster still has a long way to go before he reaches that level but can further his reputation over the next few weeks.
Leandro, FW, Ponte Preta/Brazil
Leandro (sometimes known as Leandrinho) scored eight times in nine appearances to take home the top scorer's trophy from Brazil's success in March's South American U-17 Championship. His partnership with the similarly talented Evander Ferreira was key to their triumph, and the pair's performances are likely to go a long way toward determining whether Brazil can add to their three previous U-17 World Cup trophies.
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With slick dribbling skills, a rapid turn of pace and a keen eye for goal, Leandro has already drawn comparisons to Neymar and Robinho -- two players he admits to looking up to. The 17-year-old scored his first senior goal in a Copa do Brasil win over Moto Club MA in May and has already appeared five times as a substitute in the Brazilian top flight. He will join Italian side Udinese when he turns 18 next October.
Pablo López, CM, Pachuca/Mexico
Mexico progressed unbeaten through the group stage of the CONCACAF U-17 Championship earlier this year before comfortably defeating hosts Honduras 3-0 in the final. López was named player of the tournament following a string of influential displays from the centre of midfield, and he will need to re-create those performances in Chile if Mexico are to make it out of a tough group that features both Argentina and Germany.
A dynamic left-footed operator capable of performing a wide variety of midfield tasks, the 17-year-old is one of five Pachuca youngsters included in the Mexico squad. He is highly thought of within the club following a number of successes in their youth categories and has already trained with the first team. Strong displays over the next few weeks may yield his senior debut sooner rather than later.
Lee Seung-Woo, FW, Barcelona/South Korea
The standout player at last year's Asian U-16 Championship scored five goals -- including an outstanding solo effort for his second goal in the quarterfinal victory over Japan -- and provided four assists for the South Korea team that finished the tournament as runners-up. He will again have to be at his best in Chile if they are to advance beyond both Brazil and England.
Quick, intelligent and technically accomplished, the 17-year-old certainly has the necessary tools to help his side. In the western world, he is primarily known for being one of the nine underage players whose recruitment led to Barcelona receiving a transfer ban from FIFA in 2014. Spotted at a youth tournament in South Africa, he moved to the Catalan giants at the age of 12 and has been a prolific scorer on his way up through the ranks at La Masia.
Nick Dorrington is a freelance football writer. Twitter: @chewingthecoca.