The countdown for the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup has begun, with the much-anticipated event set to take place in India in less than 100 days from now. Young footballers from around the world will go be aiming to show their worth to world football's elite. What makes this tournament really interesting is that fans from all over the world over will be hoping to spot some future stars, who could go on to enjoy illustrious careers in the sport.
Take a look at players who went on to become football stars after shining at the U-17 events.
One of Barcelona's greatest midfielders, Xavi featured in Spain's 3-2 win over Mexico at the 1997 U-17 World Cup in Egypt. Although Spain did not win the championship, Xavi went on to join the list of the country's most decorated players.
Xavi's phenomenal passing range, immaculate vision and an uncanny ability to dictate tempo in the middle of the park earned him a place in Barcelona's first squad. Dutch coach Loius van Gaal handed Xavi his debut in 1998 and since then he finished third in the FIFA Ballon d'Or in three consecutive years, between 2009 and 2011. He ended his career with eight La Liga titles, four Champions League medals, two European Championships, and the FIFA World Cup.
The Manchester City midfielder was the heart of Spain's midfield alongside Fabregas at the 2003 U-17 World Cup. Despite being on the bench for the first game, he went on to score three goals in the second, was sent off in the third, was banned for the fourth and fifth but played in the disappointing loss to Brazil in the final.
Silva made his name in Valencia and spent six seasons at the club, making a total of 150 appearances before joining City in 2010. He has won one FA Cup, two League Cups and two Premier League titles in his career so far.
Bayern Munich academy graduate Kroos was a part of Germany's youth teams since the age of 16. His incisive passing and seven goals for third-placed Germany in south Korea earned him the Golden Ball in the 2007 U-17 World Cup. Not to forget, he was also the best player of the 2006 U-17 European Championship. He left Bayern in 2013 to join Real Madrid, and since then he has won three Champions League titles and one La Liga winners medal.
The 1997 edition in Egypt proved to be one of the best editions in terms of talents as the youngest player in the Spanish squad, Casillas, made the headlines for all the good reasons. Spain finished third but his heroics between the sticks earned him a starting XI place at Real Madrid where he went on to spend 16 highly successful years, winning five La Liga titles and three Champions Leagues. He became the club's second-most capped player of all time after Raul Gonzalez, eventually taking over as captain of the team.
Casillas wasted no time to break into Spain's first team in 2002 and played a vital role in goal during the team's successful run between 2008 and 2012.
Who would have thought that Ronaldinho's mazy dribbling and love for scoring extraordinary goals would make him the world’s best player? The Brazilian legend played all the seven games in the 1997 tournament in Egypt, tearing defences every time he had the ball on his feet. He went on to lift the title as Brazil defeated Ghana 2-1 in Cairo. None of his teammates came close to his success, though winger Giovanni played for Barcelona and Manchester City.
After his exploits at the U-17 World Cup, Paris Saint-Germain came calling for Ronaldinho. He moved to Spain with Barcelona in 2003. He won five La Liga titles, along with a Ballon d'Or and two FIFA World Player of the Year Awards.
One of the famous 'La Masia' graduates, Fabregas stole the show at the 2003 U-17 World Cup, becoming the joint top-scorer in the tournament. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was impressed with his ability to control the midfield and soon Fabregas went to on become the youngest player to feature in the club's starting XI in the 2004-05 season. In 2008, he was named the PFA Young Player of the Year and in the summer of 2012, he decided to go back to his boyhood club Barcelona before returning to England, this time for London rivals Chelsea.
Fabregas played alongside his U-17 teammate Andrés Iniesta and won a La Liga title, the Copa del Rey, the FIFA Club World Cup, the UEFA Super Cup and two Spanish Super Cups. With Chelsea, he clinched the League Cup and two Premier League titles.
By the time Neymar turned 18, Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid were already in a tussle to sign the Brazilian. He announced himself in the 2009 U-17 World Cup in Nigeria and was a teenage sensation with his club, Santos. His dribbling, finishing, and ability with both feet earned him comparisons to former Brazil and Santos forward Pele and caught the eye of top European clubs. He signed for Catalan giants Barcelona in 2013.
Neymar enjoyed treble success of La Liga, the Copa del Rey, and the UEFA Champions League in the 2014–15 season alongside Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi. He was an instrumental figure in Luis Enrique's side who won the domestic double in the following year, where he finished third in the 2015 FIFA Ballon d'Or.
At just 25, Neymar is the fourth-highest goalscorer for his national team.
Arsenal legend Kanu was known as a beast in front of the goal since the age of 16, and he scored five goals to at the 1993 World Cup edition to guide Nigeria to their second U-17 title. His ability to lead from the front earned him the captain's armband in 1994. He was signed by Ajax before Arsenal snatched him in 1999.
Kanu has won the Champions League, Premier League, UEFA Cup medal, three FA Cups and two African Player of the Year awards and notably an Olympic gold.
There is a reason why Donovan is the greatest player USA have ever produced. He was awarded the Golden Ball for his exploits in the midfield where he netted three goals and was the nation's main attacker throughout the tournament in 1999 before signing with Bayer Leverkusen later that year. After six years with the German club, Donovan moved back to his home country to sign with the Los Angeles Galaxy. Since then, he has played for Bayern Munich and Everton on loan. In Major League Soccer (MLS), the 35-year-old has a record six MLS titles to his name and is both the league's all-time top scorer with 145 goals and all-time assists leader (136).
The Argentine maestro featured in the 1995 U-17 World Cup where Argentina finished third. However, it was the start of a stellar career for Cambiasso, who later guided Argentina to the 1997 FIFA World Youth Championship and even netted in the final against Uruguay. With his powerful left foot and physical prowess, he went on to play for Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Leicester City and Olympiacos winning a total of 23 titles, which is more than the legendary Alfredo di Stefano.
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Updated Date: Sep 28, 2017 14:40:51 IST