Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi of Argentina, Luis Figo of Portugal, Ronaldinho of Brazil, Michael Owen of Ghana, and Michael Essien of Ghana are some of the biggest names in football. All these stars share one thing in common: they have all played in the Under-20 youth World Cup. This tournament is seen as the biggest youth soccer event in the world, and has, since its inception in 1977 in Tunisia, churned an endless supply of talented youngsters who have gone on to achieve great things in the world. Statistically, in the tournament’s 32-year history, 485 participants have gone on to play in the World Cup proper; thus the competition is seen as a perfect springboard for young players to move to the next level.
This year’s edition of the biennial tournament is being hosted by Egypt, where Alexandria’s Egyptian Army Stadium provided the backdrop for the opening events to unfold. As always, the kick-off of the first game, which was between Egypt and Trinidad, was heralded by an impressive opening ceremony. There were eight giant screens on the field, and these showed highlights of Egypt’s majestic culture and tourist attractions. There were several musical performances, and a splendid display of fireworks capped the ceremony. At this point the crowd was quite excited for the first match to start. Egypt President Hosni Mubarak and FIFA President Sepp Blatter were some of the important dignitaries present at the ceremony.
The first match kicked off at exactly 18:00 GMT, and Egypt beat Trinidad and Tobago by four goals to one at the end of the ninety minutes. With the raucous home fans urging it on, the Egyptian team got the first goal through Afroto in the 32nd minute, plunging the partisan home crowd into euphoria that caused a Mexican wave to go around the stadium. Jean Luc Rochford of Trinidad silenced the 88,000-strong vociferous crowd when he capitalized on a lethargic Egyptian defense to fire home the equalizer from close range.
But the Egyptians were not done yet. Six minutes into the second half Arafat restored Egypt’s lead with a fine effort at goal, and the home crowd found their voices again. Eight minutes later Mohamed Talaat capitalized on a rebound to bury home Egypt’s third goal. Three minutes into injury Arafat delivered the coup-de-grace to the Trinidadian lads when he fired home a missile of a shot past the hapless Trinidadian shot-keeper, bringing the final score to 4 goals to one in favor of the Young Pharaohs.
But this tournament is not all about Egypt—Africa has other strong representatives. The final four teams from the African edition of the U-20 in Rwanda all join Egypt to showcase the soccer prowess of the continent. Ghana, the gold medallists, Cameroon, the silver winners, and Nigeria, the bronze pickers, as well as South Africa, the fourth-placed team, completes the African contingent. Important stars to look out for are Ghana’s Ransford Osei, who was the highest scorer of the African competition, and FC Barcelona’s young prodigy, Bojan, who leads the Spanish quest for honors.
No matter which one of the twenty-four nations at this tournament wins, one thing is for sure: the next generation of football stars will likely come from this elite tournament currently taking place on African soil. Don’t be surprised to see a few of these boys suit up for the national teams in the World Cup proper in South Africa in 2010.