A springboard for the stars of the future

Slow burners

In 1991, a ‘golden generation’ was hailed in Portugal as the tournament hosts made it back-to-back title triumphs. However, neither Luis Figo, Rui Costa nor Joao Pinto stole the show for the winners; instead it was Peixe, whose career surprisingly did not reach the same heights as his compatriots.

In subsequent years, soon-to-be global stars like Adriano, Hidetoshi Nakata, Fernando Morientes and Paulo Wanchope would grace the U-20 stage. In 1997 Argentina lifted the title with Juan Roman Riquelme and Esteban Cambiasso, even if the Golden Ball was ultimately awarded to Nicolas Olivera. However, while the Uruguayan subsequently struggled to live up to expectations, several of his contemporaries, such as Thierry Henry, Michael Owen, David Trezeguet and Nicolas Anelka all went on to reach the very top.

Indeed, it became a regular occurrence at U-20 World Cups for future top-class players to be pipped to the awards at the end of the tournament. This trend continued at Nigeria 1999, where Ronaldinho, Roque Santa Cruz, Xavi and Diego Forlan all participated, but saw the Golden Ball given to Seydou Keita, who was a surprise choice for some observers. Keita would later play for Barcelona and win the UEFA Champions League title twice.

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