2001 World Youth Championship Preview: Eight to Watch

The World Youth Championship, which will be played June 17-July 8 in Argentina, will feature many of the world's top young players. Here's a look at eight who are tipped for greatness.

The World Youth Championship, launched by former FIFA President Joao Havelange in 1977, has been a springboard for many of the world's top young players.

The World Youth Championship's future was secured when an 18-year-old Diego Maradona led Argentina to the 1979 title before huge crowds in Japan.

Since then, many of the world's top players began their international careers in the under-20 championships.

Marco Van Basten was a star on the 1983 Dutch team.

More recently, Thierry Anelka, David Trezeguet and Nicolas Anelka formed the French frontline at the 1997 World Youth Championship in Malaysia.

Here are eight players who will be on display at Argentina 2001 and should be stars in the years to come.

ADRIANO (Brazil). The Flamengo striker (no relation to the MVP of the 1993 World Youth Championship) went scoreless two years ago when he started on the Brazilian team that won the Under-17 World Cup, but he has improved his game since then. He had six goals in leading Brazil to the South American under-20 championship last winter. Adriano has been compared, not so flatteringly, to Brazilian World Cup '82 striker Serginho. Inter Milan is rumored to have offered Flamengo $9 million for Adriano.

MIKAEL FORSELL (Finland). Forsell, who helped the Finns qualify for the World Youth Championship for the first time, already has 10 caps for Finland's senior team. "Miklu" is the most talented player the Finns have produced since Jari Litmanen. Forsell debuted at 17 for English club Chelsea before he was farmed out to Crystal Palace for more seasoning. He went on a tear last winter, scoring 10 goals in 14 First Division games.

PEDRO MANTORRAS (Angola). The 19-year-old striker led the Palancas Negras to their first African Youth Championship last winter. Mantorras is being called one of the best players to come out of Portuguese Africa since Eusebio. He's expected to join Eusebio's old club, Benfica, from tiny Portuguese club Alverca next season, although big European clubs such as Barcelona and AC Milan have been tracking him. Mantorras' preference? "I'll join [AC Milan] even if I have to run from Portugal to Italy."

PHILIPPE MEXES (France). Mexes, 19, is probably the most highly touted teenager in Europe today. He sweeps for French club Auxerre, famous for producing young talent, and has been compared to former French national team sweeper Laurent Blanc, who like Mexes was raised in southwest France and played for Auxerre. Mexes dismissed press reports linking with just about every big European club. "Sometimes, I wonder where these guys get this stuff," he says. "There are interviews and quotes I never gave. It makes me laugh, just like when an agent calls and says he's got a deal for me I can't pass up."

QU BO (China). Bora Milutinovic spotted Qu on China's youth team shortly after taking over as national team coach last year and considers him the top young player in China. Qu scored for China's national team in its 2-1 loss to the United States in January. Qu also scored for China's U-20 team, which faces the United States in the first round, in its 3-1 victory last winter in Hong Kong over World Youth Championship host Argentina.

ROQUE SANTA CRUZ (Paraguay). Bayern Munich picked up the lanky Santa Cruz two years ago after the World Youth Championship in Nigeria. The German club took a lot of heat for paying $5.5 million for a 17-year-old Paraguayan, but Coach Ottmar Hitzfeld dubbed him "an extraordinary talent." Santa Cruz was so young he had to wait until his 18th birthday to be eligible to play for Bayern. He also was young enough to play in a second World Youth Championship even though he's a regular (11 games, 2 goals) on the Paraguayan national team.

JAVIER SAVIOLA (Argentina). The pressure will be on Saviola to lead the hosts to their fourth under-20 title. Saviola, who has 10 goals in 16 games this spring for River Plate, is the latest in a long line of players dubbed the new Maradona. Saviola, affectionately known as "El Pibito" ("The Little Kid"), wants to move to Spain, and Maradona's old club, Barcelona, appears to have the edge over Real Madrid in a tug-of-war for Saviola's services. River Plate's price tag: $25 million.

RAFAEL VAN DER VAART (Netherlands). The 18-year-old midfielder is the best player to come out of the famous Ajax youth system since Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf and Patrick Kluivert burst on the scene in the mid-'90s. Van der Vaart, born of a Dutch father and Spanish mother, already has attracted Real Madrid's attention.

by Soccer America managing editor Paul Kennedy

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