10 players you should be watching at the U-20 World Cup

The FIFA U-20 World Cup is underway in South Korea. Here, we offer 10 youngsters to keep an eye on during a competition that will showcase some of world football’s most exciting young talent.

Issa Diop (France)

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  • Age: 20
  • Club: Toulouse
  • Position: Central defender

Physically imposing, the 6-foot-3 defender goes into the tournament as one of the most experienced players on offer; Diop, an uncompromising central defender who anchored France’s title-winning side at the U-19 European Championship last summer, has already made over 50 appearances in two seasons with Ligue 1 side Toulouse.

Rodrigo Bentancur (Uruguay)

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  • Age: 19
  • Club: Boca Juniors (joining Juventus this summer)
  • Position: Central midfielder

Plenty of Juventus supporters will be keeping a close eye on Uruguay’s exploits in South Korea following Bentancur’s €9.5-million move to the Italian side last month. The angular midfielder, who is a sight to behold when striding about the pitch with the ball at his feet, has a chance to show the world why the Bianconeri were so keen on acquiring his services from Boca Juniors.

Adalberto Penaranda (Venezuela)

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  • Age: 19
  • Club: Malaga (on loan from Watford)
  • Position: Forward

One of the most electrifying players in the competition, Penaranda’s nascent career has stalled over the past year thanks to wasteful loan spells at Udinese and Malaga. Owned by Premier League side Watford, the Venezuelan winger will be hoping this tournament reinvigorates a still-promising career that looked certain to flourish when he burst onto the scene with Granada in 2015-16.

Dominic Solanke (England)

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  • Age: 19
  • Club: Chelsea
  • Position: Forward

A dominant force at the youth level for Chelsea, it remains to be seen if Solanke will ever get an opportunity to succeed for the Blues’ senior side. Regardless, the versatile England forward will look to showcase his scoring talents in South Korea, be it for Antonio Conte, or another club that may be interested in bringing him aboard. He’s off to a good start, netting a penalty in the Young Lions’ 3-0 triumph over Argentina in their first match of the competition.

Related: England U-20s clinically top Argentina in 1st World Cup win since 1997

Rodrigo Amaral (Uruguay)

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  • Age: 20
  • Club: Nacional
  • Position: Forward

Amaral led Uruguay to victory at the South American Youth Football Championship earlier this year, finishing as joint top-scorer with five goals in the competition. The Nacional forward will be the marquee attacker for a highly touted Uruguayan side at this event too, looking to provide the prolific finishing to complement the midfield creativity of Bentancur.

Santiago Ascacibar (Argentina)

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  • Age: 20
  • Club: Estudiantes
  • Position: Central midfielder

A tenacious, tough-tackling midfielder, Ascacibar has drawn comparisons to compatriot Javier Mascherano for his style of play, but the Estudiantes product is also an accomplished passer who will be relied upon to both kill opposition attacks at one end, and then launch them going in the other direction.

Rolando Mandragora (Italy)

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  • Age: 19
  • Club: Juventus
  • Position: Central midfielder

One of Juventus’ brightest prospects, Mandragora is back in the fold for the Old Lady after spending several months on the sidelines; the 19-year-old required a pair of surgeries to mend a broken right foot. A central midfielder who is calm and composed on the ball – he says he models his game after fellow left-footer Thiago Motta – the Italian teenager will act as the chief playmaker for Italy in the tournament.

Alban Lafont (France)

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  • Age: 18
  • Club: Toulouse
  • Position: Goalkeeper

AC Milan stud Gianluigi Donnarumma garners most of the attention in Europe, and that’s certainly fair given his excellence for the Rossoneri on a weekly basis, but Toulouse shot-stopper Lafont continues to provide stiff competition in the race to be crowned the best teenage goalkeeper in the game. The agile 18-year-old uses cat-like reflexes to pull off stunning saves others would only dream of.

Gedion Zelalem (United States)

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  • Age: 20
  • Club: VVV-Venlo (on loan from Arsenal)
  • Position: Attacking Midfielder

Tab Ramos’ United States side will rely heavily on the creativity of Zelalem – the bench boss has said so himself in the buildup to the tournament. The Arsenal product hasn’t developed as many would have hoped after he made his debut with the Gunners as a 16-year-old, but his vision and passing ability remain, and he’ll need to be a key attacking outlet for the Americans to have success in South Korea.

Allan Saint-Maximin (France)

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  • Age: 20
  • Club: SC Bastia (on loan from Monaco)
  • Position: Forward, attacking midfielder

As outlined above with the presence of both Diop and Lafont, France – also boasting the likes of Christopher Nkunku, Jean-Kevin Augustin, and Lucas Tousart – will be fielding a side bursting at the seams with promising talent. Saint-Maximin, another of Monaco’s crop of burgeoning kids, might be the most exciting of the group. A dribbling wizard who slices through defenders with ease, his 5 successful dribbles per 90 minutes with Bastia this season put him alongside the likes of Neymar as one of Europe’s most prolific players with the ball at his feet. Defenders beware.

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