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FIFA U20 World Cup Team of the Tournament: Casadei, Leonardo & others shine

We have a very busy summer of youth football this year. The U21 and U19 European Championships are to come, but the big one has just concluded — the FIFA U20 World Cup.

Uruguay were crowned champions for the first time after beating first-time finalists Italy in Argentina, capping off three weeks of exciting action.

The main point of such tournaments is to give young talents a platform to showcase themselves to the world, and many of them seized the opportunity here.

After much deliberation, we have picked out a team of the tournament with the eleven best performers in each position.

GK: Sebastiano Desplanches

Team: Italy
Club: Vicenza
Birth year: 2003

The fact that Italian goalkeeper Sebastiano Desplances won the Golden Glove ahead of his Uruguayan counterpart despite Randall Rodríguez keeping six clean sheets in seven games should say a lot.

While Desplances did concede more goals, he also had much more work to do. He averaged 3.3 saves per match, but equally impressive was his ball-playing ability.

Desplanches effectively operated as an extra centre-back when Italy built out from the back and looked very comfortable and secure on the ball — qualities that are now essential for goalkeepers too.

The 20-year-old shot-stopper spent the first half of this year on loan at Trento in Serie C from Vicenza, who also play in the same league. Teams in higher tiers will surely be keeping an eye on him.

RB: Mateo Ponte

Team: Uruguay
Club: Danubio
Birth year: 2003

The right-back spot in our team has to go to Uruguayan defender Mateo Ponte, who unfortunately missed their last two games due to an injury but looked quite impressive before that.

The Danubio defender patrolled the right flank for his side, always willing to advance in the opposition half but never neglecting his defensive responsibilities.

His physical attributes particularly stood out as he won 7.2 duels per game, while also impressing with his speed when on the attack and stamina to go up and down the flank so much.

Ponte has not been able to establish himself as a regular starter for Danubio this season, but he will hope to change that once he is fully fit again.

RCB: Daniele Ghilardi

Team: Italy
Club: Hellas Verona
Birth year: 2003

There was no shortage of impressive centre-backs on display in the final, so our central defensive pairing has one from either side.

On the right, we have Daniele Ghilardi. The Italian defender’s standout attribute was his ball-playing ability as he operated at the heart of what became a back-three in possession, spraying about 50 passes around per match on average to help his side advance up the pitch and break down the opposition block.

From a defensive point of view, he was not put through the sternest of tests but did seem a strong aerial presence in particular, standing at 189cm.

Ghilardi was also plying his trade in Serie C this season with Mantova, but he was on loan from Serie A side Hellas Verona whom he will hope to feature for in 2023/24.

LCB: Facundo González

Team: Uruguay
Club: Valencia
Birth year: 2003

One of the big reasons why Uruguay were able to keep six clean sheets was centre-back Facundo González, who was an absolute rock at the heart of their defence.

He spent every possible minute on the pitch, and barring the two goals England were able to score past him, stood up to every test.

Much like Ghilardi, González’s aerial qualities caught the eye in both boxes. He looked good in terms of bringing the ball forward — a quality made even more valuable by the fact that he is left-footed.

González spent most of this season with Valencia’s B team, but he should consider himself ready to train with their senior squad now.

LB: Alan Matturro

Team: Uruguay
Club: Genoa
Birth year: 2004

We also have a Uruguayan left-back, if we can call him that. Alan Matturo was a centre-back when he came through at Defensor Sporting and really remains one, but he was shifted out to the left to accommodate González as well.

Had someone watched him without that knowledge, they would also have been quite impressed by his abilities as a full-back.

The 18-year-old defender did not hesitate from pushing forward on the flank in an unfamiliar role, while unsurprisingly looking titanic defensively.

For a defender to win the Silver Ball is quite something, so that should tell you all about how impressive he was.

Matturo left Uruguay for Serie B promotion-winners Genoa at the start of this year, so he will be contracted to a Serie A club at the start of next season. He certainly is one to watch.

RDM: Fabricio Díaz

Team: Uruguay
Club: Liverpool
Birth year: 2003

Moving into midfield, we have more Uruguayans in our side. Their double pivot bossed proceedings in almost all of their matches, so we have no choice but to pick the pair of them.

First up we have Fabricio Díaz, an exquisite midfielder already. The Uruguayan captain’s leadership qualities were undoubtedly worthy of the armband, but in terms of playing football, he was an absolute joy to watch.

He was the key link between defence and attack for his side, picking up pockets of space behind the opposition’s first line, receiving and quickly turning before playing forward.

Díaz is currently contracted to the Uruguayan Liverpool who are based in Montevideo for whom he seems to be starting to break into the first team, but he is already attracting interest from Europe. A transfer might well be on the cards in this window.

LDM: Damián García

Team: Uruguay
Club: Peñarol
Birth year: 2003

Damián García was the perfect partner for Díaz at the heart of Uruguay’s midfield.

While the captain stole the spotlight when they had the ball, García’s off-ball defensive work was crucial both in terms of preventing counterattacks and pressing high or defending in a block.

He hustled and bustled around all over the park, winning close to four duels per match.

García was promoted to Peñarol’s senior squad earlier this year and should be expected to feature for the first team more often after this tournament.

RW: Oscar Cortés

Team: Colombia
Club: Millionarios
Birth year: 2003

Colombia succumbed to Italy in the quarter-final, but a big reason why they got there in the first place for Oscar Cortés.

A technically excellent player, Cortés not only got people off their seats with his dribbling and ball control but also had end product.

He scored a match-winning brace in Colombia’s tournament opener against Israel, got a late equaliser against Senegal and played a part in three goals in the round of 16 thrashing of Slovakia to help himself to the bronze boot.

The fact that he slotted straight into Millionarios’ line-up after Colombia’s elimination should say a lot about how valued he is at his club, but he might not stick around for much longer.

French club RC Lens are working on a deal to sign him, so he may be spotted in Ligue 1 soon.

CAM: Cesare Casadei

Team: Italy
Club: Chelsea
Birth year: 2003

Without a shadow of a doubt, the player of the tournament was Cesare Casadei.

Beyond his national record seven goals at an international tournament which comfortably won him the golden boot, Casadei’s technical ability and maturity meant that he was impossible to miss in almost every match he played.

His only off-day was in the final against Uruguay, and the consequent performance drop from the entire Italian side said a lot about his importance.

Having been signed by Chelsea last summer, Casadei spent the second half of the season at a relegation-threatened Reading side in the Championship.

The fact he was able to put up some fairly decent numbers and performances for what was a pretty poor side overall is yet more indication of his outstanding quality already, so his potential has to be considered sky-high.

LW: Cade Cowell

Team: United States
Club: San Jose Earthquakes
Birth year: 2003

The US made it to the knockout stage, but that was largely down to the fact that they were drawn in one of the easiest groups and did not face a tough test until they were outplayed by Uruguay in the quarter-final.

Even against less-fancied sides like Fiji and Slovakia, their performances were fairly lacklustre. One of their few bright sparks was left winger Cade Cowell, who operated in narrow areas and consistently posed a threat behind thanks to his athletic build and pace.

He also picked up intelligent positions between opposition lines to help his side get into dangerous areas.

His three goals and an assist from the tournament gave him the best return for his side, after which he has gotten back to business for the San Jose Earthquakes.

He has been playing for them since he was 17, so major European clubs have been taking note of his talents for a while.

The most concrete interest comes from Juventus and AC Milan, so it should be interesting to see if a move goes through.

ST: Marcos Leonardo

Team: Brazil
Club: Santos
Birth year: 2003

Very few number nines impressed in this tournament as the trend of the death of the pure striker seemed to continue, but Marcos Leonardo proved to be a real handful for all the centre-back that came up against him.

The Santos striker won the silver boot after scoring five goals in as many games, leading the line very well for a Brazilian side that was unsurprisingly packed with talent in the middle of the park.

He did not get involved in the build-up too often, but he did his primary job of getting on the end of moves very well.

Those following the Brazilian league would not have been surprised by his quality, as he has been a key player for Santos since the start of 2022.

He returned with 13 goals last year with some impressive underlying numbers to boot, which have alerted a plethora of European clubs.

Team of the Tournament

Here is our final XI:

Stats and images courtesy Transfermarkt, Sofascore, and Opta via Fbref.

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