Gabriel Slonina, Andrey Santos & 20 wonderkids to watch at the 2023 Under-20 World Cup

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Andrey Santos Chelsea 2022-23
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The tournament has given birth to some future superstars of the game, and there are plenty of potential candidates to follow that path in 2023

Lionel Messi. Diego Maradona. Paul Pogba. Erling Haaland. All superstars of the game, and all players who won either the Golden Ball or the Golden Boot (or in Messi's case, both) at the Under-20 World Cup before going on to become household names.

The 2023 edition of the biggest global tournament outside of the senior World Cup will kick-off on Saturday in Argentina, with 24 teams vying for a title and the chance to say they lifted the one of the most prestigious trophies in the game for their country.

The build-up has been plagued by controversy. Argentina were only confirmed as hosts in March, after original choice Indonesia were stripped of the rights because of the potential for protests during the tournament.

A number of rows, meanwhile, have broken out between clubs and countries regarding whether certain players could be selected. With the tournament getting under way while the European season still has key fixtures to play out, some coaches are going to be without star names who they hoped would be able to lead them to glory in South America.

Manchester United and Argentina winger Alejandro Garnacho is perhaps the most high-profile absentee, while Chelsea and England midfielder Carney Chukwuemeka is one of a number of players who will only join up with their national sides once the domestic campaign is complete.

Despite all that, a number of potential superstars will be on show, and GOAL has joined forces with NXGN to run through 20 players you won't want to miss:

  1. Andrey Santos (Brazil)
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    Andrey Santos (Brazil)

    Chelsea paid £13 million to sign Andrey Santos in January, and though work permit issues meant that he was forced to return to Vasco da Gama on loan for the remainder of the English season, there is already excitement brewing at Stamford Bridge regarding the midfielder's potential.

    The 19-year-old has been compared to Sergio Busquets in the past, but his all-round game is perhaps more well-rounded than the Barcelona legend, as showcased during January's U20 South American Championship, when Andrey finished as joint-top scorer with six goals as he captained Brazil to the title.

    He will wear the armband again at the World Cup, as Brazil go in search of sixth success.

  2. Yaser Asprilla (Colombia)
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    Yaser Asprilla (Colombia)

    The latest talent to emerge from the Envigado academy that has developed a number of Colombia internationals, including James Rodriguez, Asprilla has already both played and scored for the senior national team.

    Dropping back down to the U20s, the 19-year-old will be expected to lead from the front for the South American outfit, especially as one of their more experienced players.

    A quick-footed attacking midfielder, Asprilla made 37 appearances for Watford in the Championship last season, as he impressed for the Hornets in his first taste of English football.

  3. Tommaso Baldanzi (Italy)
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    Tommaso Baldanzi (Italy)

    An attacking midfielder with an eye for the spectacular, Baldanzi has enjoyed a breakout season in Serie A for Empoli, scoring four goals, including an already-famous winner against Inter at San Siro.

    Voted the Primavera (U19) Player of the Year as he fired Empoli to the national title in 2021, Baldanzi has already trained with the senior Italy squad, and could well be on the move this summer.

    The 20-year-old's agent has confirmed that a number of top Italian sides are tracking him, with Inter, AC Milan and Lazio among those said to be interested.

  4. Cade Cowell (United States)

    Cade Cowell (United States)

    A pacey wide forward, Cowell has been making waves for the San Jose Earthquakes over the past couple of MLS seasons, and is expected to move to Europe in the not-too-distant future.

    Barcelona were previously linked with the 19-year-old, while Juventus and AC Milan have been tipped to make moves at some point in 2023, and an impressive showing at the U20 World Cup could accelerate the process.

    Cowell, who already has three senior caps for the Stars and Stripes, will be expected to provide the goals for the U.S. in Argentina, with excitement building over which of their players could emerge and eventually star at the 2026 World Cup on home soil.

  5. Samba Diallo (Senegal)
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    Samba Diallo (Senegal)

    Dubbed 'the next Sadio Mane', Diallo began to get noticed during the 2021-22 season, when he was one of the stars of the UEFA Youth League as Dynamo Kyiv reached the knockout stages.

    The winger scored doubles against both Bayern Munich and Barcelona, leading to reports of interest from the German champions, though he remains with the Ukrainian side for now.

    The 20-year-old, who captained Senegal to glory at the U20 Africa Cup of Nations in March, has made just three senior appearances for Dynamo thus far, but a strong showing in Argentina for his country could convince them to give him more opportunities moving forward.

  6. Fabricio Diaz (Uruguay)
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    Fabricio Diaz (Uruguay)

    Uruguay are set to transition to a new generation of players under incoming manager Marcelo Bielsa, and Diaz is expected to be a key piece of the jigsaw when he eventually makes the leap to the senior side.

    For now, the 20-year-old will captain his country at the U20 World Cup, and he will be looking to repeat some of his eye-catching displays from the recent U20 South American Championship, where he scored five goals as Uruguay finished as runners-up.

    A relative veteran of over 100 senior games for Liverpool FC Montevideo, reports suggest a deal has already been agreed for the central midfielder to join Barcelona this summer.

  7. Taichi Fukui (Japan)
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    Taichi Fukui (Japan)

    Bayern Munich have made a concerted effort over the past few years to boost their academy ranks with signings from around the world, and Fukui is one such player, having moved to Germany in late-2022.

    The midfielder caught Bayern's eye with his performances for Sagan Tosu in the J1 League, and he has impressed thus far while playing for the Bavarian club's reserve side in the fourth tier of Germany football.

    The 18-year-old is one of a number of talented Japan players to keep an eye on at this tournament, including Cerezo Osaka attacking midfielder Sota Kitano and Barcelona centre-back Niko Takahashi.

  8. Giovani (Brazil)
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    Giovani (Brazil)

    Antony may not have set the world alight in his first season at Manchester United, but that has not stopped top European clubs from taking an interest in signing Giovani, who is regularly compared to the ex-Ajax ace.

    The 19-year-old was a target for the Dutch side over the summer of 2022, and the likes of Chelsea, Newcastle and United themselves are said to have joined the race for the Palmeiras winger over the past 12 months.

    He is not the only wide forward in the Brazil squad who is worth watching, either. Arsenal winger Marquinhos is also in the squad, as is PSV loanee Savio, whom the Gunners tried to sign last summer onlyforhimtoendupjoining City Football Group-owned Troyesinstead.

  9. Marcos Leonardo (Brazil)
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    Marcos Leonardo (Brazil)

    Brazil's hopes of glory in Argentina were hit when Barcelona target Vitor Roque was blocked from participating in the tournament, but in Marcos Leonardo, they have a more-than adequate replacement.

    Having broken countless goalscoring records in the Santos academy, Leonardo has carried that form into the senior set-up. His tally of 13 goals in the 2022 Brasileirao season was topped by only four players in the top flight, and he has already netted eight times in all competitions this year.

    Liverpool have been linked with the 20-year-old in the past, and it is unlikely to be long before he transfers to Europe.

  10. Wilson Odobert (France)
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    Wilson Odobert (France)

    Paris Saint-Germain's failure to keep hold of homegrown talents has been well-documented and if Odobert's first season of senior football is anything to go by, then the French champions might have let another top talent slip through their fingers.

    The forward rejected a professional contract at Parc des Princes to join City Football Group-owned Troyes in the summer of 2022, and despite their relegation from Ligue 1, the 18-year-old has scored four goals and laid on two assists.

    Though he signed a new contract in January, the prospect of playing in the second tier, combined with a potentially impressive U20 World Cup, could lead to Odobert looking for a move this summer.

  11. Maximo Perrone (Argentina)
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    Maximo Perrone (Argentina)

    Manchester City have a tendency to sign a lot of teenage South Americans, but few go straight into Pep Guardiola's matchday squad, so the fact that Perrone has been on the bench for most of the second half of the campaign suggests the Premier League champions see something special in him.

    City paid £8m to bring the midfielder to England from Velez Sarsfield in January after his performances in Argentina had been compared to the likes of Frenkie de Jong and Fede Valverde.

    The 20-year-old will now be relied upon to lead from the front for the hosts over the next few weeks, as they look to add to their record six U20 World Cup titles.

  12. Kendry Paez (Ecuador)
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    Kendry Paez (Ecuador)

    The youngest player at the U20 World Cup might also go on to become one of the best, with Paez regarded as perhaps the greatest footballing talent to ever emerge in Ecuador.

    That potential has certainly been recognised by Chelsea, who are set to agree to a deal worth up to £17.5m to bring the Independiente del Valle academy product to Stamford Bridge, though the 16-year-old will not arrive in England until the summer of 2025.

    Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund were also keen on the fleet-footed playmaker, and while it remains to be seen how much Ecuador rely on him at this tournament, Paez's is a name that you are going to hear plenty about over the next few years.

  13. Simone Pafundi (Italy)
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    Simone Pafundi (Italy)

    The youngest player to represent Italy at senior level for over 100 years, Pafundi has dropped back down to the U20s to try and help them win the World Cup for the first time.

    The 17-year-old is regarded as perhaps the best teenage talent in Italian football right now, and has already made nine Serie A appearances for Udinese.

    A diminutive attacking midfielder, it is perhaps unsurprising that Italy's biggest clubs are already battling to secure Pafundi's signature, and a strong showing in Argentina will only intensify that fight.

  14. Kevin Paredes (United States)

    Kevin Paredes (United States)

    Despite having only turned 20 at the start of May, Paredes already has 22 Bundesliga appearances under his belt for Wolfsburg having joined the German side in January 2022.

    The former D.C. United starlet is comfortable playing anywhere down the left-hand side, and will be leaned upon to be the United States' main provider of chances in Argentina.

    Though he is yet to make his senior international debut, it is thought that a call-up to the squad is not far away for one of the success stories of the European season in terms of Americans who play across the Atlantic.

  15. Luciano Rodriguez (Uruguay)
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    Luciano Rodriguez (Uruguay)

    Uruguay will have to do without exciting Real Madrid striker Alvaro Rodriguez at the tournament after Los Blancos blocked him from taking part, and so his strike partner from the U20 South American Championships will be relied upon to provide most of the goals in Argentina.

    Luciano Rodriguez has himself been linked with Madrid since he scored five times at the continental tournament in January, and the 19-year-old is definitely a Golden Boot contender to watch in the coming weeks.

    Should he finish among the top scorers, then Liverpool FC Montevideo can expect to be fielding plenty of calls regarding the sale of a player they only signed themselves in December.

  16. Dane Scarlett (England)
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    Dane Scarlett (England)

    Tottenham might need to begin preparing for life after Harry Kane this summer, but in Scarlett they do have a homegrown talent who many expect to be a Premier League striker of the future.

    The 19-year-old comes into the tournament after his first season of senior football on loan at Portsmouth yielded just six goals, though he did catch the eye with his all-round ability.

    Scarlett led the line for England as they won the U19 European Championship in 2022, and though he faces competition from Manchester City's Liam Delap for his place in Argentina, he has the capabilities to fire the Young Lions to their second U20 World Cup.

  17. Alex Scott (England)
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    Alex Scott (England)

    Back in February, Scott was dubbed "an unbelievable talent" by Pep Guardiola after Manchester City had faced the Bristol City starlet in the FA Cup, and it is a description that many within English football would agree with.

    The 19-year-old was named Young Player of the Year in the Championship for 2022-23, and is now expected to be signed for between £20-25m this summer as the likes of Liverpool, Newcastle and West Ham eye the midfielder.

    With Chukwuemeka unlikely to join up with the England squad until the knockout stages, Scott will be relied upon to dictate games from central areas - something he is more than capable of doing.

  18. Gabriel Slonina (United States)

    Gabriel Slonina (United States)

    The U.S. has a proud history of developing goalkeepers, but Slonina might be their best yet, with the 19-year-old having already been compared to the likes of Gianluigi Buffon and Jan Oblak.

    Chelsea paid over £12m to sign Slonina from the Chicago Fire, and though he is yet to make an appearance for the Blues, he is certainly regarded as the No.1 of the future at Stamford Bridge.

    Already the youngest 'keeper to ever represent the Stars and Stripes at senior level, Slonina is expected to be the best goalie on show at the U20 World Cup.

  19. Matias Soule (Argentina)
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    Matias Soule (Argentina)

    Massimiliano Allegri has turned to youth over the course of the season in a bid to revitalise his ailing Juventus side, and Soule is one of those who has benefited from the exposure to senior football.

    The forward, who has been likened to team-mate Angel Di Maria in style, already has 21 first-team appearances for the Bianconeri under his belt, after being one of the stars of the 2021-22 UEFA Youth League season.

    One of a number of top prospects to have initially emerged at Velez Sarsfield, 20-year-old Soule will be expected to fill the Garnacho-shaped hole for the hosts over the course of the tournament.

  20. Alan Virginius (France)
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    Alan Virginius (France)

    A rapid winger whose style of cutting inside from the left has been likened to Thierry Henry and Kylian Mbappe, Virginius profiles as France's most potent attacking threat in Argentina.

    The 20-year-old first caught the eye playing for Sochaux in Ligue 2, and his performances in both the second tier and at last summer's U19 Euros convinced Lille to sign him ahead of the 2022-23 season.

    Virginius' first top-flight season as underwhelmed somewhat, but he has time on his side, and a strong tournament here could be the kickstart he needs to truly breakout next term.