This week marks the beginning of the Under-20 World Cup.
For fans looking to get on the inside track of the next stars in the global game, the U20 competition serves as a notable barometer. It’s where a young Lionel Messi announced his potential stardom, Paul Pogba dominated the midfield for France and many others.
The upcoming competition begins on Thursday in Poland, with France unsurprisingly one of the heavy favorites. Here are some of the names to know from outside the U.S. roster.
M Gedson Fernandes, Portugal (Benfica)
Outside of France, the Portuguese side will fancy its chances as second favorites (at least according to some of the bookies). Gedson is one of the key players set to anchor the team in central midfield, where he can burst forward on the ball to jump-start attack as well as break up play. He’s already earned a pair of caps with the full national team and was one of the best players in Portugal during the 2018-19 campaign.
D Diego Palacios, Ecuador (Willem II)
While Holland isn’t exactly known as a hotbed for developing defenders, Palacios has acquitted himself well during the 2018-19 season, making 27 appearances in the Eredivisie for Willem II. That experience by itself gives him a leg up on many of his peers at the tournament, and he can cut a crucial figure for Ecuador attacking from the left side.
M Agustín Almendra, Argentina (Boca Juniors)
Ezequiel Barco and his ties to Atlanta United make him a prominent name on Argentina’s Under-20 squad, which should also fancy their chances of making a run at the tournament. Looking outside of U.S. shores, Alendra successfully made the jump to Boca’s first team, although injuries did hamper him at various points during the 2018-19 season. Capable of playing in central midfield or on the right side, expect to see plenty of Almendra in Poland.
F Cucho Hernandez, Colombia (SD Huesca)
With four goals and three assists to his name in the most recent La Liga season, Hernandez enters the U20 World Cup as one of the most prolific strikers for a first team in a major European league. He’s a stocky player that can combine, run onto a through ball and isn’t afraid to try and take on opponents with the ball at his feet. If he’s able to keep his form going into the tournament, it bodes well for the South American side’s chances of causing trouble in group play and beyond.
D Dan-Axel Zagadou, France (Borussia Dortmund)
The list of up-and-coming talent in the French squad is an embarrassment of riches. According to transfermarkt.com, the estimated value of the 21 players is $167.41 million – ridiculous. Zagadou is one of several candidates worthy of this list. The left-footed center back is coming off a topsy-turvy season in Dortmund, where he enjoyed some solid shifts but also endured injuries and some bad performances (especially in the second matchup with Bayern Munich).
M Kang In Lee, South Korea (Valencia)
A tricky, shifty attacking midfielder that can create problems with his passing or dribbling ability, Lee’s another bright prospect knocking on the door to the Valencia first team. While he made just three appearances in this most recent La Liga campaign, he earned run in the Copa del Rey and UEFA Youth League games. If he can find ways to stamp his authority on games in the form of goals or assists, it bodes extremely well for the South Korean side.
M Sarpreet Singh, New Zealand (Wellington Phoenix)
Even if New Zealand may not be a hotbed of talent, Singh’s someone that’s made a name for himself during the most recent A-League season. With five goals and seven assists, he’s shown the ability to win a job for a first team, and there’s a huge chance for him at the upcoming World Cup for him to earn a move to a big club abroad – even if it’s simply across the Tasman Sea to an Australia-based club.
D Alpha Dionkou, Senegal (Manchester City)
Born in 2001, Dionkou stakes a claim as one of the youngest players at the competition. The right back, who is on the books at Manchester City, is a long, long way from the first team. But he’s certainly made a case for a possible World Cup-breakout, after playing up with City’s U23s in Premier League 2 action. He also saw minutes in the FA Youth Cup and UEFA Youth League competitions, and will look to make a claim for a starting role in Poland.
M Diego Lainez, Mexico (Real Betis)
The Mexican winger made the move from Club America to Real Betis during the January transfer window. And while he didn’t set La Liga alight, notching just a single assist in 12 appearances, it was only natural for the Spanish side to ease him into a new team and level. If Mexico, which didn’t look very good in the U20 Concacaf final, is to have any joy at this tournament, it’ll likely come through Lainez and what he is able to contribute in the final third.
D Vitalii Mykolenko, Ukraine (Dynamo Kiev)
One of the Ukraine’s most experienced players, Mykolenko is a quality left back prospect that could slot in centrally at this age group. He logged more than 2,600 minutes for Dynamo Kiev this past season in all competitions, and is one of the team’s best players. With a couple of full team appearances under his belt already for the Ukraine, he’s a player for the United States to watch out for ahead of Friday’s group opener.