FIFA U-17 World Cup puts future stars on display | Soccer | CBC Sports

SoccerFIFA U-17 World Cup puts future stars on display

Posted: Friday, October 18, 2013 | 04:23 PM

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Canada's men's U-17 soccer team has now made back-to-back appearances at the FIFA U-17 World Cup. (Rodrigo Arangua/AFP/Getty Images) Canada's men's U-17 soccer team has now made back-to-back appearances at the FIFA U-17 World Cup. (Rodrigo Arangua/AFP/Getty Images)

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FIFA's U-17 World Cup is for many the last stop for soccer players before they embark on their professional careers, and plenty of nations are set to showcase their talent at this year's tournament.
It is talent at its most raw. The rough edges are in plain view and emotional maturity is years away. 

Watch closely because somewhere in there is an athlete whose name you will come to know, whose skill you will come to admire. In years to come you will look back and remember how a man in a boy's body left his mark in the desert.

A glance at the history books confirms the hypothesis. Luis Figo, Cesc Fabregas, Landon Donovan, Toni Kroos and many more have excelled at FIFA's Under-17 World Cup - the last stop before embarking on highly successful and lucrative professional careers.

The biennial tournament, which showcases the world's top teenagers, is underway in the Middle East with the United Arab Emirates acting as host. Twenty four nations, including 
Canada, are competing in the biggest tournament of their young lives. 

CBCSports.ca will be streaming the gold medal final live on Friday, Nov. 8 (11 a.m. ET)

For some this will be as good as it gets. Most aspiring professionals never get to live the dream. Even at this global level the failure rate is enormous and despite years of sacrifices on the part of the individual, an appearance at a junior FIFA tournament will be a career highlight for many.

Promising teenagers

For a select few the U-17 World Cup is the launching pad to fame and fortune. To the players it is a competition within a competition. 

In amongst the fans are the businessmen - the scouts and agents, trying to spot the next big thing. These are the people on the inside of the football industry who will shape the careers of these promising teenagers.

There are plenty to choose from. More than 500 players from all corners of the earth, hoping for the performance of a lifetime. Each one proud to represent his country and share a unique bonding experience with his teammates. Each one dreaming he will deliver the eye-catching display which will propel him into the professional ranks. 

The big picture is difficult to see. Due to the age restriction of this tournament, which dates back to the mid 1980's, most players will only get one crack at the U-17 World Cup. A national coach may find himself blessed with a golden generation or a roster full of journeymen so any sort of continuity is tough to assess.

That said, history offers us a hint of the likely contenders in the UAE. While Brazil prepares to welcome the world in the summer of 2014, its youngsters are often well to the fore. The three-time U-17 world champion has no bigger incentive than to get the pre-World Cup party started by claiming the silverware in Abu Dhabi.

African nations boast a proud record of success at the U-17s. Nigeria and Ghana have tasted success five times between them over the years and the Nigerians, who have also finished runners-up on three occasions, are back for more.

The Golden Eaglets find themselves in the same group as Mexico - another country which knows how to win at this age group. The Mexicans broke through in 2005 and arrive in the UAE as the defending champions, having captured the title again on home soil in 2011.

Canada optimistic

Canada is also competing after an impressive showing at the regional qualifiers. After an absence of 16 years, head coach Sean Fleming has now guided his team to back-to-back U-17 World Cups and is optimistic his class of 2013 will do itself justice.

Fleming's squad, drawn chiefly from Canada's three MLS academies and FC Edmonton, is not without genuine talent. Hanson Boakai and Marco Bustos both possess excellent technical skill going forward, while captain Marco Carducci cuts a commanding figure in goal. 

The Canadians will face Austria, Iran and Argentina in Group E. Whether Fleming's team can build on its successful qualifying campaign, only time will tell. 

Failure at the U-20 World Cup doesn't necessarily mean the end of a career. At the 1993 tournament, a young goalie called Gigi Buffon had his confidence shattered by a 4-0 hammering at the hands of Ghana to send the Azzurri home from Japan winless and bottom of the group. 

Suffice it to say, neither the teenage Buffon, nor his teammate, Francesco Totti, let the humiliation harm their glorious careers.

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