With the U20 World Cup coming to an end, often football fans find time to reflect on the biggest breakout stars of the tournament. The next big name, the player who is the future of Spanish football, the new Lionel Messi and the headlines go on.
However, at this 2023 edition of the U20 World Cup, there was some trepidation as to how exciting the tournament would be. Several popular future stars would be missing the tournament for various reasons. The biggest of these stars were arguably the Brazilian Endrick, and Manchester United superstar Alejandro Garnacho for Argentina, both of whom were not released by their clubs.
However, this has only meant more focus has been given to those who are yet to be recognized on the biggest stage, and several players have certainly made a name for themselves.
Take the Brazilian wonder kid Marcos Leonardo, for example. Leonardo has scored five goals in five games and topped this off with one assist as well. Although not a formidable striker in size, Leonardo led the line largely on his own for Brazil and was particularly impressive against Italy, scoring two in a 3-2 loss.
He was perhaps unfortunate to also score in the 3-2 loss to surprise competitors Israel. Leonardo is currently contracted to Santos, and he has been growing in prominence gradually with the previous season being his first full-season.. Leonardo has certainly impressed, and it has been rumored that several English Premier League clubs are interested in securing his signature.
Another wonder kid is Cesare Casadei who joined Chelsea from Inter Milan in 2022. Casadei, who spent the second half of the 2022/23 season on loan at Reading in the EFL Championship, should certainly have Chelsea fans excited. Casadei has featured in all six of Italy’s games at the World Cup, and has scored seven goals and recorded an assist. An impressive return, particularly as he is often deployed as either the left or right central midfielder in a 4-3-1-2 formation.
Casadei even recently earned praise from Roberto Mancini, the coach of the Italian Men’s National team, which is a positive sign for the young Italian’s future. A formidable figure standing at 1.86 m tall, Casadei stands out and although next season might come too soon for him to break into Chelsea’s first-team squad, he is certainly one to watch.
Attention must also be given to Italy’s opponents in the World Cup Final, Uruguay, who have had two key standout players this tournament. Other than their 3-2 Group Stage loss to England, Uruguay have not conceded a goal on their journey to the final, and a lot of credit for this has to be given to center-back Sebastián Boselli.
Boselli has averaged 3.5 tackles per game, won 86% of his aerial duels, and is also a neat passer of the ball. Boselli is currently contracted to Uruguayan side Defensor Sporting Club, however his contract expires at the end of the year. I do not think it is out of the question that clubs will have scouts watching him as he may make a move to Europe in the future.
Another star for the Uruguayan team has been midfield sensation Fabricio Díaz. Díaz is an interesting case, as he is yet to explode properly at club level, but he excels at youth level on the international stage.
This is usually an indication of potential, but also is an indication of a player still being raw and undeveloped. Díaz first shone at the U20 Conmebol Championship, where he contributed seven goals across eight games at the start of the year. During the 2023 U20 World Cup, Díaz displayed his skills as more of a midfield orchestrator, with impressive passing range and his ability to win individual duels in the centre of the field.
He has averaged 4.7 key passes per game, meaning he is creating numerous goal-scoring opportunities on a regular basis. Díaz is currently playing his trade in Uruguay for Liverpool FC Montevideo, and as aforementioned, he is yet to truly show his international youth form for his club team. This may make European clubs more hesitant to pounce just. However, given his importance to Uruguay on their road to the final, there is no doubt that scouts will have taken notice.
Seung Won Lee
Another star and one who has perhaps gone under the radar is South Korea’s Seung Won Lee. The South Koreans had a surprisingly strong tournament, finishing above France in their group and losing 2-1 in the Semifinals to Italy. South Korea also knocked out strong competitors such as Ecuador and Nigeria.
Their top performer Seung Won Lee was crucial to this run, operating as the attacking midfielder and pulling the strings in the attack. He managed to grab two goals and four assists in his six games, which deserves praise. Seung Won Lee has only just moved to his current club Gangwon FC from Dankook University; nevertheless, his performances on the international stage make him one to keep an eye on.
Finally, Óscar Cortés is one for those who love some South American flair. A clever player who can play on either wing or as an attacking midfielder, Cortés scored four and assisted twice in five games. Almost every attacking chance Columbia generated came through Cortés, and this form is not just a purple patch.
This season, Cortés has established himself as a key member of club side Millonarios FC in Columbia, and has contributed seven goals from nine appearances this season. Cortés has previously been linked with a move to Torino, and although he is not yet a megastar South American export, he is another to keep an eye on for the future.
This U20 World Cup has produced some incredible stories and introduced the world to the next potential superstars. Leonardo of Brazil has attracted interest in England, Casadei of Italy may yet play a part in Chelsea’s plans for the upcoming season, and Boselli and Diaz of Uruguay have reached a World Cup Final.
Under the radar stars such as Seung Won Lee and Oscar Cortes have shone as well, and these young stars are all reasons to tune in to international youth tournaments. The magic of the cup and the unveiling of the next superstars; the U20 2023 World Cup has been one to remember as the final between Italy and Uruguay takes place on Sunday.