France emerged victorious from a penalty shootout with Uruguay to win their first ever U20 World title in Istanbul on Saturday. After a slow start to the tournament, Les Bleus began to show their class in the knock out stages with high-scoring victories over Turkey and Uzbekistan. A Florian Thauvin inspired brace saw off Ghana in the semis before edging a dogged and organised Uruguay side from the spot after a goalless 120 minutes.
It was a heart-breaking end for the resolute South Americans who had battled their way to the final, beating favourites Spain along the way, based on a solid defence and the tireless running of midfielders Laxalt, Gino, Pais and Cristoforo. Despite a versatile range of forwards, ultimately Uruguay couldn’t break the deadlock and the talent French were able to triumph.
An entertaining Ghana claimed bronze ahead of the surprise package Iraq, who were the revelation of the tournament. Playing attractive football and supplemented by a brilliant team spirit, many nations were forced to sit up and take notice of the Asian runners up.
Elsewhere much fancied Spain crashed out early and Colombia, Nigeria, Chile and Portugal were also unable to live up to their pre-tournament billing, while England finished bottom of their group without a win.
The last edition of this tournament heralded the arrivals of the likes of Oscar, Isco and James Rodriguez, so with that in mind Back Page football looks at some of this year’s standouts. Playing in a 4-2-3-1, here is the BPF best XI:
GK: Alphonse Areola (France)
The Clairefontaine graduate didn’t always have a lot to do but was consistently solid and kept his concentration at vital moments, most notably his two saves in the final penalty shootout. He had previously denied Avenatti one-on-one during the game and made four crucial saves against Ghana in the semi-final, as well as a penalty save against the USA in the group stages. An agile and calm presence between the sticks, the keeper of Phillipine descent will hope he gets the chance to make the grade at nouveau riche PSG.
DR: Guillermo Varela (Uruguay)
Signed by Manchester Utd after some impressive performances at the South American qualifiers, Varela had a decent tournament as part of the sternest defence on show in Turkey. Ever-present in the run up to the final, Varela was compact and disciplined at the back and always eager to get forward. His shackling of Gerard Deulofeu in the quarter-final was a particular highlight.
DL: Ali Adnan (Iraq)
One of the star performers in Iraq’s run to the semi-final, the marauding full back caught the eye with his bursts forward, vicious crosses from deep and impressive shooting ability – demonstrated by his return of two goals and three assists. Attacking tendencies aside, Adnan was solid in defence and regularly displayed his strong mentality and big character, stepping up at crucial moments time and time again. From his injury time equaliser against England – which seemed to almost kick start their fantastic campaign – to his extra-time assist versus Paraguay and the brilliantly opportunistic free kick against Uruguay that almost booked a place in the final, the 19-year-old left back made a telling contribution. With 17 senior caps already, Adnan certainly has a bright future ahead of him.
DC: Kurt Zouma (France)
Highly-rated St Etienne centre back Zouma was a tower of strength at the back for France. Despite being one of the youngest members of the squad, the 18-year-old showed great poise, anticipation and maturity beyond his years. Injured for the first two games, there was a notable improvement when Zouma was reinstalled to the starting XI. Good aerial presence, calm on the ball and not afraid to step out of defence to start attacks, it’s not surprising that Jose Mourinho, among others, is a fan. Seems destined for a big move.
DC: Jose Gimenez (Uruguay)
Despite the array of attacking talent in the Uruguay squad, it was their defensive performances that really stood out as they reached the final. Boasting the best defensive record, conceding just three times in seven games, Uruguay displayed great organization, grit and temerity that the Charruas are renowned for. 18-year-old Gimenez was a rock, particularly against Spain in the quarter finals, and formed a great partnership with Gaston Silva. He also displayed his versatility with a fine performance at right back in the final against France. Atletico Madrid securing his signature from Danubio in April and on this showing it looks a shrewd piece of business by los Colchoneros.
MC: Moses Odjer (Ghana)
One of the revelations of the tournament, Odjer put in some eye-catching displays in the heart of the Ghanaian midfield. Energetic, tough-tackling, quick across the ground with tidy passing and good positioning, Ghana always looked to have the extra edge with the diminutive midfielder in the side. He scored a wonderfully taken goal versus Chile in the quarter-final but his absence was noted after he missed the semi-final through suspension. He returned for the third-place play-off and provided an assist as Ghana walked away with the bronze. Currently plying his trade for Tema Youth in his homeland, he is likely to be flooded with offers with Liverpool and Rennes just two of the names mentioned.
MC: Paul Pogba (France)
Golden ball winner Paul Pogba was a colossus in the heart of the French midfield. Possessing all the attributes of a modern box-to-box midfield, the captain lead by example as he drove France to a first U20 title. Coupled with his brilliant technique, hulking physical presence and great vision, there seemed to be an added maturity to his game and he really rose to the occasion in Turkey. Forming a fantastic partnership with Geoffrey Kondogbia, France bossed the midfield, allowing their forward players the freedom to flourish and though he scored only once, his influence cannot be understated. Manchester Utd’s loss will most certainly be Juventus’ gain.
AML: Frank Acheampong (Ghana)
In Ghana’s run to the semi-final, flying winger Acheampong was one of their most potent threats. Popping up on the left and linking well with full-back Baba, he tormented defences with his direct running, good footwork and blistering pace. Scorer of two goals (against USA & Iraq respectively, he also notched three assists, the most important of which coming in extra time against Chile, summarising the never-say-die attitude of the Ghanaians. After a spell in Thailand and a failed trial at Celtic, he’s now on the books of Belgian champions Anderlecht.
AMC: Juan Fernando Quintero (Colombia)
A brilliant display at the Sudamericano that saw Colombia finish top of the qualifiers, Quintero came into the tournament with a big reputation and did not disappoint. A mesmerizing player to watch, Quintero was at the heart of everything good about Colombia, displaying a dazzling array of skill, sublime technique, quick feet, jinking runs & pin-point passes. Teams inevitably tried to put an extra man on him but he still dictated play and he scored three goals – including an injury time free kick equaliser against South Korea – and provided one assist in four games. Ultimately, Colombia suffered for being overly reliant on their talisman and succumbed to an unexpectedly early exit. Nevertheless Quintero comes out of the tournament as one of the stars and will make a 10mil move to Porto where he will undoubtedly flourish.
AMR: Bruma (Portugal)
Portugal made an electric start to the tournament with Bruma central to their high-scoring exploits. Five goals in four games, two assists and ubiquitous in the deadly Portuguese attack, wonderkid Bruma is the latest from line of talents to emerge from Sporting Lisbon’s prestigious production line and looks to have all the qualities to become a top, top player. Ultimately, Portugal’s defensive frailties were exposed as they went out to a spirited Ghanaian display in the round of 16 but Bruma still managed to shine and win the Silver Ball. It could be a messy exit from Lisbon this summer after it emerged that he might be leave on a free following contract disputes and even a failed kidnap attempt by angry fans. Whoever gains his services will have a diamond in the rough.
SC: Jese Rodriguez (Spain)
Pre-tournament favourites Spain were unable to continue their blistering early form and crashed out in the quarter-finals but nevertheless Real Madrid hitman Jese made a huge impression. Fleet footed, lethal in front of goal and capable of playing anywhere across the front three, Rodriguez struck five goals in five games and walked away with the bronze ball. With chances likely to be limited at the Bernabeu he may look for first team football elsewhere.
Mohammed Hameed : Eccentric Iraqi goalkeeper and captain had fine tournament and was the penalty shoot-out hero against Korea.
Javi Manquillo : The Spanish right back caught the eye with some surging runs and good crossing.
Lucas Digne : French left back unlucky not to make XI. His scampering forages, blistering pace and brilliant crossing added an extra dimension to France’s attack.
Oliver Torres : Incredibly gifted Spanish midfielder who pulled the strings in the centre of the park. Spain’s early exit the only reason he misses out on the starting XI.
Abbosbek Makhstaliev : The Uzbek midfielder scored twice and grabbed an assist, following on from his good performances at the U17 World Cup in Mexico, as his side reached the quarter-finals
Giorgian De Arrascaeta : The playmaker added invention to Uruguay’s hard-working midfield. Linked with Roma.
Florian Thauvin : Winner of France’s young player of the year award, Thauvin grew throughout the tournament and singled-handedly hauled les bleus to the final with a brace against Ghana.
Nicolas Castillo : The powerful Chilean striker fired in four goals in five games and was always a menace
Ebenezer Assifuah-Inkoom : The explosive Ghanaian striker with a great turn of pace was the golden boot winner with six goals.
Nico Lopez : The toothy silver ball winner bagged four goals with his intelligent movement and sharp-shooting as Uruguay finished runners up.