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Jun 20, 2013

Under-20 stars ready to dazzle

Just a few years ago, the Under-20 World Cup would have been a treasure trove for any scout with a modestly budgeted club, where maybe there was a chance of picking up a star of tomorrow before they truly exploded onto the global scene.

There is little chance of that today. The next three weeks in Turkey are likely to be lit up by a number of names already familiar to regular watchers of European football, and club spies will have their work cut out trying to find any bargains.

A brief recall of the last tournament, in Colombia in 2011, gives us a window into the true price of football's globalisation. Brazil won the final with a hat-trick by Oscar, who joined Chelsea in a £20 million move the following year. Of that year's alumni, Erik Lamela and Ahmed Musa completed big moves not long after, while Brazil full-backs Danilo and Alex Sandro had been picked up by Porto for a combined fee in excess of €20 million before the tournament even began. The big clubs usually get there first, these days.

• Atkins: U20 World Cup kicks off amid Turkish protests

This time around, France's core of Paul Pogba (Juventus), Geoffroy Kondogbia (Sevilla) and Lucas Digne (Lille) are already renowned and coveted. Yet for some participants, a good tournament in Turkey could be their platform to fully impose themselves in 2013-14 with their current clubs or a new one.

Florian Thauvin (France/Lille): There are few wide players out in Turkey this summer with the potential to excite as Thauvin does. After playing a minor role in Bastia's promotion back to Ligue 1 in 2012, the teenager hit the top flight hard in Frederic Hantz's attack-minded side, announcing his arrival with a fine finish to set them on the way to an August win over Bordeaux.

A left-footer with fine acceleration and jaw-dropping close control, Thauvin was closely followed by Newcastle and Arsenal before Lille paid €3.5m for him in January. The northerners instantly loaned him back to Bastia and he finished the season with 10 league goals. Now 20, Thauvin's Lille career could be over before it has begun, with the player reputedly unsettled by coach Rudi Garcia's departure and firm interest from Marseille. Lille have thus far refused to yield - with Dimitri Payet seemingly on the way out, he would be a key part of their attacking blueprint. Thauvin may well show why in the blue of France.

Jese Rodriguez (Spain/Real Madrid): If Spain's production line of talent and their greedy accumulation of international experience is becoming a cliche, then Jese is reinforcing perfectly. The Real Madrid Castilla forward was top scorer in last year's Euro Under-19 tournament, having previously worn the red shirt at every other representative level from Under-16 upwards.

Happiest in a second striker role, Jese has written himself into Merengue history this season by scoring 22 times for Castilla, El Real's B team, surpassing a 19-year-old record held by one Emilio Butragueno. The goal that set the new mark was worthy of the moment - Jese dribbled in from the left, past five defenders and the goalkeeper before slotting home in a 4-0 drubbing of Alcorcon. Originally slated to go out on loan next season, Zinedine Zidane has apparently reconsidered in the light of Jose Mourinho's exit, promising Jese more first-team chances. Alongside Alvaro Morata, he may finally slay the myth that only Barcelona produce great talent.

Bruma (Portugal/Sporting Clube de Portugal): This 18-year-old is the latest in the string of wide players produce by the famed Sporting academy. With Bruma, there might just be a twist; he's a little more direct than some of his predecessors, including Luis Figo and Ricardo Quaresma. Blessed with good pace, he scored the goals in the Elite Round games earlier this summer which saw the Under-19s through to the Euros in Lithuania - including a hat-trick against Czech Republic and the late penalty which beat Denmark.

Having made his senior bow for Sporting in February, Bruma has already made a strong impression on the first-team, and he is just the sort of young talent they want to build around as they enter an era of austerity. The bad news is that his contract expires in 2014 and though he is keen to stay, a strong performance here will only add to his lengthy list of high-rolling suitors.

Salih Ucan (Turkey/Fenerbahce): It takes a certain level of self-assurance to play for one of Istanbul's big three, but 19-year-old Salih Ucan looks as if he has been wearing Fenerbahce's blue and yellow stripes forever. Signed from Bucaspor in 2012, his gangly figure recalls a young Javier Pastore, and he has all the tricks to match.

Salih has the courage to dribble and to keep the ball, as well as the ability to unlock the door with his passing, and has a developing eye for goal. Despite an aggressive recruitment programme, Fenerbahce will surely build their side around him next season. Somebody with Salih's vision was desperately needed in a sometimes conservative side for much of last season. He could be the man to fire the host nation here first.

Eric Dier (England/Sporting Clube de Portugal): The only member of the England squad to play outside the country, the 19-year-old has grown up with Sporting, having lived in Portugal since the age of 9. His combination of typically English physicality (Dier stands at 1.88m) and the Sporting academy's trademark technical quality is a beguiling one, with an 18-month loan spell at Everton back in 2011 credited with having toughened him up.

Dier is a leader, and versatile too. After making his first team debut in November last year at right-back against Braga, he has since done a sterling job in central defence - which most consider his natural position - and even defensive midfield. He is the young hope that Sporting will be most loathe to lose, but one wonders how long they can keep him.

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