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Under 21s at the World Cup: Groups C and D

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The first edition of Under 21s at the World Cup was rather popular so I’m back with a look at Groups C and D and whether the teams in those groups are travelling with any youngsters that may be the next big thing.

Group C
Algeria (1) — 20-year-old Ryad Boudeboz was selected for the preliminary Algerian World Cup squad. The young midfielder only just announced his allegiance to the African nation he was born in. He moved to France when he was 14 to play for FC Sochaux and he has since played for the French Under-19 team.

It’s not hard to think that the pull of World Cup football would be pretty strong and that’s why Boudeboz decided to switch allegiances back to his home country. He only made his debut against Ireland on the 28th of May, but the attacking midfielder had a fairly good season with Sochaux bagging six goals in a total of 34 appearances this season. He could provide an attacking spark for a team that’s light on forwards and could look to clog the field when playing against teams like England and the US.

England (1) – Theo Walcott can’t exactly be classified as an up-and-comer. The 21-year-old midfielder, who has an eye for goal, made headlines back in the 2005/2006 season when he signed for Arsenal from Southampton. He was immediately thrust into the first team squad at Arsenal where a mixture of injury, stiff competition and inconsistent form saw him struggle to hold down a regular first team spot.

Nevertheless, he’s an exciting prospect who has electric pace and the ability to turn a game on its head. In the Champions League game against Barcelona Walcott came off the bench to help Arsenal claim a draw by scoring a goal. His pace and skill on the ball caused huge problems for Barcelona and he’s also been able to turn on the skill at international level.

His hat-trick against Croatia was a highlight of the qualifying campaign and Walcott should be a great addition to the England squad. The problem for Capello may be whether to start him or bring him on later in the game where his pace will play even more havoc on opposition defenses.

Slovenia (2) — Forward Tim Matavz (21) and midfielder Rene Krhin (20) are the two young players in Matjaz Kek’s Slovenia side.

Matavz had a breakout season with FC Groningen in the Dutch Eredivisie this season where he scored 13 goals. That sort of return was enough to warrant a place in Kek’s side. Matavz hasn’t made an appearance for the national team yet, but with Kek showing a willingness to employ three strikers against certain names, potentially Algeria at the World Cup, there’s a good chance Matavz will make his appearance soon. Krhin has also found his time in the national squad limited, making only four appearances as a substitute.

Krhin is regarded as one of the rising stars of Slovenian football. He’s on the books at Italian giants Internazionale, where he’s made a few appearances, and is highly regarded for his distribution and vision. Both these players should make Kek’s final squad as they provide an element of unpredictability and, hopefully, a winning spark.

If Krhin has a successful Cup, he could find more opportunities at Inter or it could spur him on to seek a loan away, while if Matavz can score on the biggest stage, he could find himself the target of some of Europe’s bigger clubs.

United States (1) — Striker Jozy Altidore (20) is the only Under-21 player to make Bob Bradley’s final United States squad for the World Cup. Surprisingly, at only 20, Altidore is also the most experienced international striker in the team depending on where Bradley chooses to use star player Landon Donovan.

The young striker has scored NINE goals for the national team, including a hat trick against Trinidad & Tobago in World Cup Qualifying. He endured a horrible campaign in England with newly relegated Hull City and he’ll need a good Cup to remind clubs of his ability. He’s already back on the right track with a goal against Turkey in a recent friendly.

His mix of speed and power should prove a handful for defenders although the English defenders may have his number. Either way his international experience should be of great benefit to the US attack.

Group D
Australia (4) — Pim Verbeek has kept four players under the age of 21 in his preliminary squad. Defenders Shane Lowry (20) and Rhys Williams (21) join midfielders James Holland (21) and Thomas Oar (18) in the squad.

Oar’s selection has caused quite a stir in Australia, with the young winger garnering a lot of media attention. He is expected to provide backup for Harry Kewell who is injured at the moment. Both Williams and Lowry ply their trade in England with Williams playing for Middlesbrough and Lowry playing for Aston Villa.

Lowry only recently announced his allegiance to Australia after playing for Ireland’s youth sides, and while he’s been called up before he hasn’t made an appearance yet. Williams and Lowry have attributes typical of Australian players. They are both big, physical players who are also versatile. Lowry can play in the centre or on the left of defense while Williams can play on the right or centre of defense as well as in the centre of midfield. Their versatility could prove vital during the tournament as injuries take their toll.

Holland plays for Dutch club AZ Alkmaar, but is yet to make a first team appearance. Holland was a fixture of the Under-20 national team and shows great leadership at a young age. Australia’s central midfielder stocks are pretty deep so Holland may find his time limited; he also appears to lack the versatility of Williams and Lowry.

Germany (6) — Joachim Loew has opted for a strong youth contingent in his German squad which is expected to go far. Striker Thomas Muller (20), midfielders Toni Kroos (20), Marko Marin (21), Mesut Ozil (21), and defenders Holger Badstuber and Jerome Boateng, both 21, have all been selected in Low’s squad, which is being affected by injuries to some of its stars like Michael Ballack who won’t travel to South Africa.

That means there’s more pressure on some of the young players to step up and fill the gaps. Kroos certainly has the skill set to fill Ballack’s role as he’s shown maturity beyond his years on loan at Leverkusen where he’s practically run the midfield there. His free-kicks and shots from distance can be particularly dangerous, contributing nine goals this past season, and he could be one to make a name for himself at the tournament.

Werder Bremen’s Marko Marin could also light things up in South Africa. The left winger has a knack for supplying goals for his teammates with 25 assists in all competitions in the past 2 seasons. Ozil also shows that German fans shouldn’t be too concerned about the future with the skillful player being likened to Maradona for his ability to turn a game. He plays for Bremen with Marin and the two of them have formed a highly productive midfield capable of supplying goals and assists.

If these three midfielders can replicate there club form in South Africa then Germany will indeed go far. The problems may come from the expectations placed on their young shoulders. With Ballack, Christian Trasch, and Simon Rolfes out, Germany’s central midfielder stocks are low, meaning Ozil or Kroos could be thrust into the limelight.

The equally talented Munich based Muller and Badstuber and Hamburg based Boateng show that Loew has no end of talented youngsters to deploy in South Africa. Muller had a brilliant season at Munich, bagging 19 goals in all competitions. His physical size has been a concern but the guy has talent to spare. Badstuber and Boateng are the future of Germany’s defense and it should be a bring future. Boateng can be a bit hot headed, earning a red card on his senior German debut, but he’s got the perfect physique for his position a mix of strength and speed that makes him hard to beat. Badstuber emerged as a key cog in Bayern Munich’s side this season. He alternates set-piece duties with Bastian Schweinsteiger such is his talent on the ball.

Basically, any one of these players could make a decisive impact in South Africa if they are given the chance and if Germany’s injury woes continue Loew’s hand may be forced.

Ghana (8) —The Black Stars continue the Group D trend of incorporating youth in the National team. Winger Andre Ayew (20), defenders Jonathan Mensah (19) and Samuel Inkoom (20), and forward Dominic Adiyiah (20) could be the young guns to watch out for.

Ayew is a quick left winger who loves to get forward and attack. He has greatness in his blood with his father Abedi claiming the African Player of the Year award three times in the 90s. Mensah has been the focus of European attention for several years, with Greek, Italian and Spanish clubs interested in his services. A solid Cup performance could see Mensah finally make the move to Europe. He was a key member of the Under-20 World Cup winning Ghana team.

The same can be said for Inkoom and Adiyiah who also performed brilliantly at the Under-20 World Cup. Inkoom was rewarded with a starting rightback place in the African Cup of Nation while Adiyiah was voted Most Valuable Player. The quartet are an explosive bunch of players who will need to be at the top of their game if Ghana is to navigate such a tricky group.

Ayew and Inkoom are likely to feature heavily after being part of the African Cup of Nations while Adiyiah could be a vital impact player from the bench. Ayew and Inkoom have something most of the other young players don't, tournament experience, and that is something that could be vital to their success.

Serbia (3) — Commanding defensive midfielder Radoslav Petrovic (20), powerful central defender Neven Subotic (21) and enthusiastic left back Ivan Obradovic (21) make up the Serbian youth brigade and also make Group D home to a wealth of young talent.

Subotic is already regarded one of the best defenders in Germany, where he plays for Dortmund. He’s hard in the tackle and has a never say die attitude that coaches love. It won’t be long before the big boys of Europe come knocking on Dortmund’s door.

Obradovic recently signed for Real Zaragova but he’s already attracting attention from Barcelona such is his talent as an all action left blank that can get up and down the flank all day long. Petrovic could be the one to gain the most from an impressive Cup performance. He still plays in Serbia, for Partizan, but he is gradually drawing interest from abroad.

All three have some experience with the national team but expect Subotic to be the one to get significant playing time in South Africa with Obradovic and Petrovic operating more off the bench.

So far Group D is shaping up as the group to watch with a large amount of young players potentially on display. 

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