The U17 World Cup is about to kick off in India, a tournament where some of the greatest players of the modern game have taken their first strides
One of the best players who ever lived won the World Cup in 1958 at the age of 17 years and 249 days. The youngest ever to do so, with six goals in the four matches he played in the tournament, including a hat-trick in the semis and a brace in the final.
There were no age group editions of the World Cup then. The FIFA U20 World Cup began in 1977 while the U17 version, initially started as an U16 tournament, came into existence only in 1985.
As a 17-year-old, Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known as Pele, had the distinction of being the best young footballer in his first World Cup in 1958. After the introduction of age group tournaments, there have been a plethora of footballers who have used these competitions to announce their arrival to the football world. Here are ten stars from previous editions of the U17 World Cup.
Luis Figo (U17 World Cup in Scotland, 1989)
Despite being a ‘Galactico’, Luis Figo did not win a trophy for Portugal. He led the nation to the runners-up spot in the European Championships in 2004 – held in his own country – while in the senior World Cup, he lost to his friend Zinedine Zidane’s France in 2006. The tradition started in 1989 when Portugal lost to hosts Scotland in the semifinal of the U17 edition. Figo scored two goals, notably one against Argentina. But they had to be satisfied with third.
Juan Veron (U17 World Cup in Italy, 1991)
The midfielder scored Argentina’s first goal in the tournament against China. The Albiceleste lost the semifinal battle to Spain 0-1, but the spotlight was on Juan Veron. From Estudiantes in Argentina to Inter Milan in Italy, he had a wonderful career spanning more than 20 years. And it all started in Italy where he represented Sampdoria, Parma, Lazio and Inter Milan in Serie A.
Hidetoshi Nakata (U17 World Cup in Japan, 1993)
A midfielder with awesome set-piece skills and a nose for goals, Hidetoshi Nakata is one of the finest footballers Japan has ever produced. His debut was in his own country, Japan. But the hosts were defeated in the quarterfinals 1-2 to the ultimate winners, Nigeria. Nakata’s only goal in the tournament was against Nwankwo Kanu’s Nigeria in that match.
Julio Cesar (U17 World Cup in Ecuador, 1995)
The Brazilian goalkeeper conceded no fewer than seven goals in the 2014 World Cup semifinal against Germany, but he was not to be blamed for the debacle. Incidentally, Julio Cesar’s U17 World Cup debut was against the same opponent – Germany – where Brazil blanked the Europeans 3-0. Brazil lost to Ghana in the final 2-3. Cesar conceded only three goals in six matches in the tournament.
Ronaldinho (U17 World Cup in Egypt, 1997)
Twice the Brazilian was the FIFA Footballer of the Year. On the field, he orchestrated FC Barcelona’s rejuvenation at a time when Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta were beginning to be world-beaters. Ronaldinho won the U17 World Cup along with the Bronze ball, the third best player of the tournament award, with his mesmerising skills in Egypt. It took only five years for him after that to win a World Cup in 2002 for Brazil which, to date, remains the only achievement of a footballer to win both the U17 and senior World Cups.
Iker Casillas (U17 World Cup in Egypt, 1997)
One of the great goalkeepers of the modern era, Iker Casillas, came to the limelight with his performances for Spain in Egypt. True, Spain did not win the tournament, but under his leadership, Spain had won two consecutive Euros (in 2008 and 2012) and in between the World Cup (2010). Casillas was the undisputed leader of Real Madrid for more than a decade.
Xavi Hernandez (U17 World Cup in Egypt, 1997)
What should be the ideal role model of a modern midfielder? Give a teenager some videos of Xavi Hernandez. He will not need anything else! The maestro in midfield started his journey in the Egypt U17 event where Spain scored as many as 20 goals. Xavi’s name never featured in any of those. They lost to Ghana in the semifinal and to Germany in the third place playoff. But the career of the pass-master was launched.
Andres Iniesta (U17 World Cup in Trinidad &Tobago, 2001)
The Barca man resembles those eras when midfielders used to be frail, socks down to the ankle, jerseys out of shorts – a philosopher on the pitch who suddenly comes to life when the ball is delivered to his feet and finds the best man on the field to receive his pass. The beginning was not so impressive, though. Spain were third in the group and thrown out of the tournament. Andres Iniesta, however, went on to excel after forming a great partnership with Xavi for Barcelona and Spain.
Giovani Dos Santos (U17 World Cup in Peru, 2005)
Mexico scored 16 goals in the tournament to end up as champions. Giovani Dos Santos assisted half of those goals to win the Silver Ball award for Mexico. An attacking midfielder who can operate on the wings with great speed and send inviting crosses into the box, Dos Santos had been one of the stars for Mexico ever since. His club career is not as famous as of Javier Hernandez aka Chicharito, but more influential with his wonderful build-up game.
Mario Goetze (U17 World Cup in Nigeria, 2009)
His was the World Cup winning goal against Argentina in the 2014 final. But his first meeting with the Argentines ended in a 1-2 defeat where also Mario Goetze scored. Germany have yet to win the U17 World Cup while Goetze did his best to take the team to the knockout round, scoring three goals in the four matches Germany played. He was considered as one of the best German talents. But a mystery illness has kept him more on the sidelines rather than the first XI of Borussia Dortmund, his boyhood club.’