Young talent on display at U20 World Cup

By Tales Azzoni

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 9 2011 1:10 p.m. MDT

Costa Rica's Joel Campbell, left, fights for the ball with Ecuador's John Narvaez during a U-20 World Cup Group C soccer match in Pereira, Colombia, Saturday Aug. 6, 2011.

Dolores Ochoa, Associated Press

BARRANQUILLA, Colombia — Brazil striker Oscar knows the football world is watching. He knows it's a chance like no other.

At the Under-20 World Cup, Oscar and other promising young players from around the world have the opportunity to demonstrate if they're destined for stardom.

While a few, such as Spain's Sergio Canales and Brazil's Philippe Coutinho, have already made it at big European clubs, most players at the tournament are hoping a good performance in Colombia will boost their careers.

"Everybody is anxious, trying to show how well they can play," the 20-year-old Oscar said. "We know the world is watching, everybody is focused on playing at their best."

Oscar, currently with Brazil's Internacional, is one of the many players to watch in the Brazilian squad, along with fellow striker Henrique, right back Danilo, defender Bruno Uvini and midfielder Casemiro. All have been playing well and soon could be making the move to teams in some of the world's top leagues.

Players in other national teams have been thriving, too, attracting the attention of top clubs across the globe.

Spain's Alvaro Vazquez, currently with Espanyol, is certainly taking advantage of his opportunity, scoring four goals in two matches and establishing himself as the competition's leading scorer entering the second round.

Spain also has Canales, the talented playmaker who scored a goal and set up another in the 2-0 win over Ecuador, which marked his debut in the tournament after recovering from a lingering injury. The 20-year-old also scored a goal in Spain's 5-1 routing of Australia on Saturday, a day after he made headline news in Spain when Real Madrid announced his loan to rival Valencia.

Six-time champion Argentina is staying in contention thanks in part to goalkeeper Esteban Andrada, who reportedly will announce a deal to move from Lanus to Barcelona when this tournament is over. Andrada has not allowed a goal in three group matches. Argentina also has Erik Lamela in its squad, the talented defensive midfielder who plays for AS Roma.

Brazil's main star in Colombia is Inter Milan's Coutinho, the only one in the squad not playing in a Brazilian club. He has embraced his role as the team's leader with three goals and two assists in Brazil's first three matches.

"I'm in a different position compared to my teammates because I'm already playing for a top club, but it doesn't mean that I don't have to try to play my best," the 19-year-old Coutinho said. "Everybody's goal here, ultimately, is to help our team win the title, that should be the only priority right now."

Among others trying to prove their worth is Costa Rica's Joel Campbell, who reportedly is close to signing a deal to join Arsenal in the Premier League. The Saprissa striker scored two goals to lead Costa Rica to the knockout round.

"I'm motivated to play my best, this World Cup is like a shop window," Campbell said. "I'm confident that very good things will come in the future, but my responsibility is to help (Costa Rica)."

Host Colombia has striker Luis Muriel with three goals in the tournament. The 20-year-old Muriel moved to Udinese last year and his performance in Colombia could lead him to a top-tier club in the near future.

Even minnow Panama, which was eliminated in the first stage, has players hopeful of making it abroad.

"Unfortunately Panama couldn't continue in the competition, but I think it was important for all of us to be playing here," said Panama's leading striker, Cecilio Waterman, currently with Uruguay's Fenix. "We all got to play in front of the entire world and hopefully it was enough for us to show our potential."

Not all top young prospects have been playing in the tournament in Colombia, because clubs were not obligated to release their players.

England, for example, had 30 eligible players not released by their clubs. Brazil is without its top stars, Neymar and Lucas, also not released after missing club action because they played the Copa America with the senior national team last month.

The Under-20 World Cup's second round begins Tuesday with four matches: Cameroon vs. Mexico, Portugal vs. Guatemala, Colombia vs. Costa Rica and Argentina vs. Egypt. The round of 16 continues Wednesday with Nigeria vs. England, Spain vs. South Korea, Brazil vs. Saudi Arabia and France vs. Ecuador.

The competition is FIFA's top tournament for youth squads. Football's governing body also organizes the Under-17 World Cup, while the Olympic tournament is mostly for under-23 players.

Associated Press Writer Jorge Rueda in Manizales, Colombia, contributed to this report.

Tales Azzoni can be reached at http://twitter.com/tazzoni

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