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Aug 14, 2007

Lula headlines 2007 crop of U-17 stars

Landon Donovan, Cesc Fabregas and Anderson are just some of today's leading players who made their initial impact at the U-17 World Cup.

This year's tournament in Korea (which runs from Aug. 18 -- Sept. 9) again will provide a good indication of soccer's next crop of young talent.

The players will experience heavy rainfall during Korea's summer, but a couple of eye-catching performances could see them showered in the glory and wealth of the world's top leagues.

Here's my pick for the top 10 players at this year's tournament.

Players to watch

1. Lulinha (Luiz Marcelo Morais dos Reis), Forward, Brazil.

In the past twelve months, Lulinha, or Lula as he is sometimes known, has been compared favorably with Ronaldinho and Kakà, and not without justification.

His flair does draw comparisons to Ronaldinho, but it's his end product that has Liverpool, Chelsea, and Barcelona queuing up to meet Corinthians' $10 million valuation of the Sao Paolo native.

Lulinha's game is well-developed for his age, and although the tricks and flicks are eye-catching, it's the playmaker's incisive passing and cold-blooded finishing that could make Korea 2007 his tournament.

2. Bojan Krkic, Forward, Spain.

Krkic is seen by many as the next superstar to roll out of Barcelona's academy. The striker has broken every youth goal-scoring record in the club's history.

Internationally, Krkic is equally impressive. He was top scorer in the U-17's European Championship in 2006 and fired the winning goal at this year's final in Belgium. In the penalty box, Krkic has a style and approach similar to Michael Owen's.

3. Kelvin Owusu Bossman, Forward, Ghana.

Ghana has a tradition of producing the U-17 tournament's top goal scorer. Bossman has caliber and will be looking to emulate former Golden Ball winners Nii Lamptey and Daniel Addo.

The Reading FC apprentice is tall, powerful and a natural goal scorer. Bossman can attack off either flank, and he already is pushing for a place on Reading's first-team squad.

4. Ellis McLoughlin, Forward, USA.

McLoughlin has a natural eye for scoring goals. He lacks the innate flair of the South American forwards, but his movement and presence keeps the opposition defenses on the back foot.

Importantly for a goal scorer, McLoughlin is adept at creating space for himself in the penalty area, and he has the ability to score big goals in important games.

5. Toni Kroos, Midfield, Germany.

Kroos carries himself on the pitch with the same majesty as Michael Ballack and, like his former Bayern Munich colleague, Kroos always has time and space on the ball.

Germany will be expecting the creative midfielder to be the catalyst for the side's offensive play. Kroos' class and maturity already has seen him progress to Bayern Munich's first-team squad.

6. Reimond Manco, Forward, Peru.

Player of the tournament in March's U-17 South American Championship. Manco alerted European scouts to his talent with his goal-scoring feats in Ecuador, showing his ability to thrive under pressure.

Manco scored key goals for Peru in its 2-1 defeat of Brazil in the Sudamericano, and against Ecuador in a qualification decider. Real Madrid and PSV are leading the chase to sign this talismanic figure.

7. Cristian Nazarith, Forward, Colombia.

Nazarith's display in the South American Championship caught the attention of Arsene Wenger. Nazarith is not yet a ready-made replacement for mercurial Thierry Henry, but comparisons are merited.

Like the Frenchman, Nazarith has a burst of speed to unsettle defenders and possesses guile in the attacking third. He scored six goals in the U-17 South American Championship.

8. Michael Woods, Midfielder, England.

Woods is regarded as an exceptional young talent. A product of the Chelsea youth system, the midfielder has shades of Paul Scholes and Roy Keane in his game.

Woods plays as a holding midfielder but is ruthless in the box. He will provide plenty of entertainment and is crucial to England's chance of progressing.

9. Ibrahim Rabiu, Midfielder/Forward, Nigeria.

Rabiu was a star performer for Nigeria at this year's African U-17 Championship. The midfielder is compared to Jay Jay Okocha. The Gateway FC player is a strong dribbler and possesses a deft final pass.

10. Dan Wenzel, Midfielder, USA.

Since becoming a starter for the U.S. U-17s, Wenzel has been at the very heart of the U.S. team's ability to dominate and dictate the tempo to European and South American sides.

The Washington state native is a natural leader with an array of deft touches and passes and often looks a man among boys.

Andrew Rogers is a freelance contributor to ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at andrewrogers@optonline.net.