There has been a general ignorance in England to the FIFA Under-20 World Cup, which has been taking place since the middle of May. Until the England team reached today’s final against Venezuela.
Over the last couple of days, several references have been made to the tie being England’s first participation in a FIFA World Cup final since 1966, when they famously defeated West Germany 4-2 at Wembley.
The tournament has been broadcast in Great Britain for its duration on Eurosport, but the final clash against South American opposition made it onto the BBC.
An increase in attention has been understandable, there is something extremely appealing about watching potential stars emerge for the future. Having drawn to the close of the European club season with the same established names, the tournament offers some glimpse towards the coming years.
For England’s opponents Venezuela, their impressive progress at the tournament has provided some cause for optimism, with anti-Government protests and a collapsing economy back home.
Regardless of the final result, which ended up being 1-0 to England, the tournament does give countries hope that they could make an impact at the senior event in the future. There is also the intrigue about which players could become the Messi’s and Ronaldo’s of the future.
The former, of course, participated in the 2005 edition of the competition. Arguably it marked the Argentine’s first real emergence onto the world stage. Messi scored six goals and claimed the best player award at the tournament, as Argentina claimed the title. Clearly not a bad indictor for the future.
There are other examples of the stars of previous versions of the tournament having failed to live up to their early promise, whereas players in unsuccessful teams have gone on to better things. For instance, Harry Kane was a member of the England under-20 side which finished bottom of their World Cup group containing Chile, Iraq and Egypt in 2013, scored and captained the senior team yesterday, just four years on.
The World Rugby Under-20 Championship, which has reached its semi-final stage, has also provided a launchpad for a host of talent over recent years. Winger Julian Savea is a member of that tournament’s graduate club.
He starred at the 2010 tournament, when it was known as the Junior World Championship. Savea’s list of achievements since has been impressive, having been part of New Zealand’s triumph at the 2015 Rugby World Cup. The winger was the top try scorer at the senior tournament, as they defended their title.
England fly-half George Ford and Welsh back-row forward Taulupe Faletau are also among the names to have competed at the youth level event, before establishing themselves in their senior national teams.
The joy of these youth level events is getting the crystal ball out and trying to predict the future stars. One wonders how many people watching the Wimbledon girl’s final at 2014 would have guessed that in just three years time Jeļena Ostapenko would win the French Open.
Yesterday, the Latvian became the first unseeded player to win the women's title at the event in 84-years. The 20-year-old was the definition of youthful exuberance throughout the match with Romania’s Simona Halep.
As a first-time Grand Slam finalist, I admit I thought there was very little chance of Ostapenko battling back having lost the opening set to Halep. How many times have we seen a surprise finalist freeze under on the grandest of stages.
Instead, the Latvian continued her gameplan, which was to relentlessly power shots across the court. The number of unforced errors was high, but the volume of winners which flew past Halep’s racket was highly impressive.
Much was made of Ostapenko becoming the first player since Gustavo Kuerten to win their first career title at a Grand Slam, with the Brazilian having won his first title at the 1997 French Open on the day Ostapenko was born.
Having never won a Women's Tennis Association (WTA) Tour-level title before and playing in only her eighth Grand Slam tournament, one wonders whether the experience of the junior Wimbledon event may have helped her preparations and mindset during the closing stages of the match.
The focus now turns to see whether Ostapenko can build on her achievement at the French Open and become one of the stars of the women’s game for the foreseeable future.
The emergence of a potential young star certainly wowed those watching across the world, with the Latvian having gone from relative obscurity to most of the public’s mind to bludgeoning her way past Halep with an array of superb shots.
It was also mentioned on several occasions that Ostapenko was being cheered on by a large crowd in Latvia’s capital Riga, which had gathered to watch their home grown talent.
While it will be excellent to watch the established names of Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka take to the court in the men’s final, there is nothing quite like watching the emergence of the next generation onto the big stage.