A number of FIFA U20 World Cup stars swapped national teams at senior level for various reasons.
The FIFA U20 World Cup 2023 is over, with many of the tournament’s stars moving on to the next stage of their careers, earning a senior call-up. This is not as easy as it seems. In fact, it has proven difficult. Even winning the Golden Ball, Golden Boot or Golden Glove award does not guarantee a spot on the senior national team.
The likes of Bournemoth’s Dominic Solanke, Bologna’s Riccardo Orsolini and former Newcastle man Freddie Woodman are recent examples. They were the best U20 World Cup 2017 alumni. Solanke, the Best Player in the tournament, has only earned one cap so far. Orsolini, the top scorer, has only made two appearances with Gli Azzurri, whereas Woodman, the best goalkeeper in Korea 2017, has not been so lucky compared to the first two. He has never had a single call-up from the Three Lions. It is even harder for the 26-year-old shot stopper to be named in Gareth Southgate’s squad since he is no longer playing for a Premier League side. He already moved to the Championship’s Preston North End, in 2022.
On the other hand, players who did not even feature in a single game in a U20 World Cup such as Emiliano Martinez and Dominik Livaković – who were only backups in 2011 and 2013 editions respectively – are shining today. The former even has been awarded the best goalkeeper at the 2022 World Cup as well as the FIFA Best Awards in the same year.
Some players dislike the idea of being caught in a state of uncertainty. Being overlooked by their own countries can be even more disheartening. It’s no surprise that those who had a chance to switch side, would do so before it was all too late.
The most recent examples are Adebola Lookman, Armine Harit, and Julian Araujo. Lookman, who was a member of England’s squad for the 2017 U20 World Cup, chose to play for Nigeria last year. Meanwhile, Harit and Araujo, who previously represented France and the United States in the U20 World Cup, have switched to Morocco and Mexico, respectively.
There will undoubtedly be more of these in the future. Here are some of the players in the U20 World Cup past editions who switched sides at the senior level and even were able to play in FIFA World Cup.
U20 World Cup Alumni Switching Sides in the Senior Team
Asmir Begović (Bosnia Herzegovina)
Begovic played for Canada in the U20 World Cup 2007. The former Stoke City and Chelsea man did get his senior call-up in August 2007. Yet, he was yet given a chance to be on the pitch. Initially, he was content to wait for his next opportunity.
However, due to his dual nationality and an approach from Bosnia Herzegovina, Begović eventually opted for his birth nation. He made his debut in 2009 and was able to play in the 2014 World Cup. The 35-year-old shot stopper is currently free agent after rejecting a new contract with Everton. Luton Town, a newly promoted EPL club, is said to be in talks with him for the coming season.
Gabriel Palleta (Italy)
Palletta was Messi’s teammate in the 2005 U20 World Cup. He took part in all seven games of the tournament. Unfortunately, the centre back received no call-up from La Albiceleste. His misfortune was reversed in 2014, when his ancestor’s homeland of Italy came calling. He was named to the 2014 World Cup squad and featured at the opener while beating England 2-1. Sadly, the former Parma, AC Milan and Monza man has never been included in the Italian squad since.
Kalidou Koulibaly (Senegal)
Inter Milan target, Kalidou Koulibaly, was apart of French U20 squad in Colombia 2011 alongside Antoine Griezmann. He started in six games in the competition. Yet, in 2015, the former Napoli man chose to play for Senegal despite Didier Deschamps’s interest in calling him up for the senior squad. Koulibaly did play his part in the Lions of Teranga qualifying for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups consecutively. He even netted a decisive goal in the latter edition to secure one spot at the round of 16.
Jeramain Jones (USA)
Jeramain Jones was the former USMNT midfielder in 2010s and became the key figure in the 2014 World Cup. Jones scored one goal against Portugal, which helped the Americans advance to the round of 16.
Previously, the former Eintracht Frankfurt, Schalke and Beşiktaş man played for Germany with three caps at senior level. He also featured in four games during the 2001 U20 World Cup. He decided to switch nations in 2010 due to his dual nationality. Jones also saw no future with Die Mannschaft as he was constantly overlooked for competitive matches.
Matthias Sammer (Germany)
Unlike any other players, Sammer switching sides was a different story. He did not exactly do it on purpose, but due to a political situation. The former Dortmund man was the star of the East German national team with 23 caps. He helped the U20 team finish third in the 1987 World Youth Championship.
The German unification in November 1990 gave him a chance to play for Germany’s unified national team. Sammer was one of few former East Germany player who managed to get a call-up in Die Mannschaft. In fact, He was named in the squad for three major tournaments: EURO 1992, 1994 FIFA World Cup and EURO 1996.
Zvonimir Boban, Davor Šuker & Robert Prosinečki (Croatia)
The case of Boban, Šuker and Prosinečki was the opposite of Sammer’s. They played for Yugoslavia in the U20 World Cup 1987, lifting the trophy. Šuker and Prosinečki were both included in Yugoslavia squad for 1990 World Cup.
Nevertheless, all of them had to switched sides to Croatia after the Balkan War in the 1990s because of their birthplace. They succeeded in raising their new country’s profile in football by finishing third in 1998 World Cup. Šuker was the top scorer in that tournament.