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SCOUTED XI: Our U-20 World Cup Team of the Tournament
The best eleven players in Argentina - then eleven more, just for fun.
It’s all over. 52 games later and we have a new Under-20 World Champion: Uruguay. In a tournament loaded with quality at both ends of the field, that bombarded young legs with game after game and subjected them to increasingly difficult pitch conditions, it was the Garra Charrúa – the overwhelming intensity and tenacity of the Uruguayan team – that eventually won out.
But there was so much to like wherever you looked: Israel backed up their finals appearance at last year’s Under-19 Euros with a third-place finish. South Korea solidified their appearance in the final of the Under-20 World Cup in 2019 with a semi-final appearance here in 2023. Outstanding performances by Gambia saw them top their group and effectively knock out France, while an undermanned Italian team stormed to the final on the back of Golden Ball and Golden Boot winner Cesare Casadei.
And there was also the emergence of the South American next generation from outside Brazil and Argentina, with Colombia and Ecuador unveiling a host of young stars to a global audience.
Missed our previous matchday round-ups? If so, click below…
Italy impress and Bojang bags: FIFA U-20 World Cup, MD1
The Lunas and Leonardos: FIFA U-20 World Cup, MD2
France win but crash out: FIFA U-20 World Cup, MD3
Things are getting serious: FIFA U-20 World Cup, RO16
With the dust settled, it’s time to put together our Team of the Tournament, including an extended substitutes bench and a list of honourable mentions to ensure we don’t leave too many names out.
Without further ado, here’s Scouted Football’s Under-20 World Cup 2023 Team of the Tournament:
🇮🇹 GK: Sebastiano Desplanches (2003, LR Vicenza)
While Italy were collectively strong, a big factor in their success at this tournament were the exploits of Sebastiano Desplanches in goal. Desplanches, who derives his last name from his French father, was deservedly awarded the Golden Glove by FIFA for his performances – particularly in two crucial knockout games against England and Uruguay in which he held Italy together in pivotal moments.
His reflex saves and impact coming off his line were the basis for his success, with one critical save in the final - racing off his line to face down five Uruguayan attackers in stoppage time - the major highlight.
The Milan goalkeeper was always quick to get low to palm away shots across his body. His save against Colombia, who were just starting to get momentum as they looked to come back from 3-1 down in their quarter-final clash, was a great example: Tomas Angel gained possession with a yard of space on the left side of the box and whipped a well-directed snap shot across Desplanches, who dropped low with lightning speed and extended a strong left hand to deflect the ball outside the far post.
🇧🇷 RB: Arthur (2003, Bayer Leverkusen)
Brazil’s quarter-final catastrophe coincided with the first game that Arthur missed (alongside Robert Renan) through suspension. Until then, Arthur had been the ‘glue guy’ for Brazil, the player who strung things together both in and out of possession with his work rate and qualities both defensively and offensively.
The right-back, who is off to Bayer Leverkusen in the summer, was able to routinely perform the fundamentals at a high level, whether that be maintaining his shape defensively, providing width in attack, or duelling for the ball with intensity.
But he also demonstrated splashes of real quality with the ball in attack and midfield, either with dazzling runs inside to overload the midfield, or by attacking the flank to deliver dangerous crosses and cut-backs.
Leverkusen will be particularly happy with what they saw, even if Brazil weren’t able to live up to the pre-tournament hype.
🇰🇷 RCB: Kim Ji-soo (2004, Seongnam City)
Kim Ji-soo was one of the players we picked out to watch before the tournament and he certainly lived up to expectations. South Korea followed up their final appearance in 2019 with a fourth-place finish in Argentina, and the 18-year-old played all but 46 minutes of that run.
Despite being the youngest in the squad, Kim played with remarkable composure and assurance – he never seemed rushed nor flustered in his work. His reading of play and defensive footwork was rock-solid throughout, controlling attacks through the wider channels and standing firm to clear deliveries into the box. His rounded defensive nous has real high-level upsides.
We got to see the comfort with which he plays freely off either foot – one of the standout skills we picked out about him pre-tournament – but not the full breadth of his progressive ball-playing ability, save for a few driving runs through midfield, as South Korea played in a slow and steady style.
All in all, this tournament was a vindication of Kim Ji-soo’s highly-touted, high-level talent. Clubs were definitely watching and undoubtedly impressed. It would be extremely surprising if he doesn’t make a big move to Europe this summer.
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🇺🇾 LCB: Facundo González (2003, Valencia)
Facundo González or Sebastián Boselli – take your pick. We could’ve put either of Uruguay’s starting centre-backs in this team of the tournament, but we’ve plumped for the former on the basis of balance.
The 20-year-old has already racked up almost 20 caps at U-20 level, many of them alongside Boselli, and the two formed a rock-solid partnership at the heart of defence. Whereas his partner is of a smaller stature, González looks like a typical centre-back with a tall, long frame.
His defensive style is adaptable; he was just as comfortable cutting out a pass as he was competing with a striker in the air or levering in to ease an opponent off the ball. He rarely made rash decisions, holding Uruguay’s excellent defensive unit together and sliding out to cover the unique Alan Matturro on odd occasions. Alert at all times, he adjusted his game to suit the situation at hand.
There is – or was – nothing flashy about González at this tournament; he was as solid as they come. With Valencia once again mired in financial instability, it will be interesting to see if he can force his way into the first-team fold next season.
🇺🇾 LB: Alan Matturro (2004, Genoa CFC)
If you needed an exemplar for Uruguay’s approach to this tournament, look no further than Silver Ball winner Alan Matturro. Nominally a centre-back, the Genoa defender was shifted out to the left for this tournament to accommodate others, and grew into the role to become one of the Under-20 World Cup’s finest performers.
Matturro is gigantic for a left-back, with an upper body built like a barrel, and he used his size to great advantage both defensively and offensively throughout. Going forward, he quickly learned how to maximise his skillset, and in the knockout rounds became a driving force down the left, making direct driving runs with the ball and unsettling defenders with his size and brutal approach to duels. He never looked the most technically in tune, but his intent and aggressive nature won out more often than not.
In more comfortable, defensive surroundings, he was even better. Attackers on Matturro’s flank often struggled to make inroads as he imposed himself physically as a ball-winner, while also working in tandem with Facundo Gonzalez and a rotating cast of midfielders to quell approaches in more settled phases of defensive work.
🇺🇾 DM: Fabricio Díaz (2003, Liverpool (URU))
Fabricio Díaz is a captain you would run through brick walls for, and his Uruguay team played like it. With a senior-ready profile and over 100 pro appearances to his name, Díaz’s performances at this tournament have surely led him to the brink of the Uruguayan senior side.
He is a workhorse that wills himself, and by extension his team, into a physical powerhouse. This was best demonstrated in the final against Italy, as Díaz led a midfield that continually outmuscled and outworked their opponents to win complete territorial dominance.
In possession, Díaz was a constant threat through midfield as a forward-thinking passer. While occasionally over-ambitious, he was a consistent enabler of Uruguay’s excellent transition players like Franco González.
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🇮🇹 CM: Cesare Casadei (2003, Chelsea)
While undoubtedly the player of the tournament, there will be a sense of ‘what if?’ for Italy’s Cesare Casadei as he leaves Argentina with a runners-up medallion.
After a dominant tournament in which he was top scorer, Casadei’s impact in the final was nullified by a Uruguay team that limited his ability to retain possession and therefore Italy’s to progress through the middle third.
The final highlighted the limitations of the Italian’s game, especially his first touch under pressure, and he will need to learn how to play through a team focussed solely on stopping him.
But before the Uruguayan roadblock, Italy found success throughout the tournament by pushing Casadei forward of the ball, where he did catastrophic damage. He scored seven times (five non-penalty) in seven matches and was a constant presence both in the air and from the edge of the penalty area.
There’s much still to work on, but this tournament proved the Italian has the technical and athletic foundations to make a massive impact on senior football in the next 12-24 months. A deserving Golden Ball winner, and our Player of the Tournament.
🇰🇷 CM: Lee Seung-won (2003, Gangwon FC)
South Korea dedicated themselves to defending as a team and exploding to life on the break. Those counter-attacks were led generally by captain Lee Seung-won, whose driving runs and excellent range of passes helped South Korea progress play quickly and become the tournament’s most devastating team in attacking transition.
In a role that required great discipline, Lee balanced his attacking and defensive duties expertly, always preying on the moment South Korea would win possession to spring forward as the first link in an attacking chain. From there, he looked wide, to willing runners Kim Yong-hak and Bae Jun-ho.
Lee was also an excellent finisher from the penalty spot, scoring in both the semi-final against Italy and in the third-place play-off against Israel. He also bagged South Korea’s first goal of the tournament in their 2-1 win over France, with all three goals (as well as his passing range) highlighting his great ball striking technique
🇺🇾 AM: Franco González (2004, Danubio)
While others succumbed to a combination of injuries and suspensions, Franco González was the ever-present in Uruguay’s title-winning attack. And while the eventual champions weren’t always pretty going forward, they were devastatingly effective, and much of that was due to González’s role as chief creator.
González is not the biggest, but makes up for it with an intensity both in and out of possession that became emblematic of the Uruguayan triumph. He worked tirelessly to drop into midfield and give his team numerical superiority around the ball, but was equally quick to spring out in transition and find spaces to attack, often through the right channel.
Given the direct nature of Uruguay’s attacks, González had license to take risks in possession, often looking for the dangerous pass that would set his team off on goal, or (perhaps too often) to test the goalkeeper from distance.
He can count himself unlucky that he was left out of FIFA’s selection for the tournaments best three players, but he leaves with a much-enhanced reputation regardless. Incoming senior Uruguay coach Marcelo Bielsa will surely be a fan.
🇮🇹 AM: Tommaso Baldanzi (2003, Empoli)
With Fabio Miretti’s absence from the Under-20 World Cup, Tommaso Baldanzi was given his moment to shine, stepping up from substitute understudy at last year’s Under-19 Euros to become Italy’s leading creative force. He came to the tournament prepared after a strong season playing regular senior minutes in Serie A with Empoli.
Baldanzi is a throwback, a classic number ten with a modern twist: he is tenacious off the ball and a willing runner whenever called upon to drop back into midfield and regain control.
He is equally fast springing back to life in transition, where his ball carrying ability and intent to be direct and penetrating with his dribbling and passing became the fulcrum through which Italy built their attack.
While we didn’t see the best of his lovely left foot in front of goal, Baldanzi will return to Empoli having grown immensely through his experiences at this tournament, and will certainly find suitors in Serie A.
🇧🇷 ST: Marcos Leonardo (2003, Santos)
The proper number nine is back in fashion and once again the hottest commodity in European football. And so it seems only a matter of time before European clubs turn to Santos’ Marcos Leonardo, who led the line brilliantly in a free-scoring Brazil side at this Under-20 World Cup.
The Brazilian is a wonderfully well-rounded striker who contributes to all aspects of play. He is quick, strong and agile - without being an outlier in any specific category - is a great penalty box presence with excellent goal poaching qualities and strong in the air.
He is also a good link player, comfortable in slow build-up with the ball at his feet, though he prefers to hold the line forward and let others access the vacated spaces behind him.
Despite Brazil’s quarter-final exit, Leonardo still finished as the tournament’s second top scorer with five goals and a hugely enhanced reputation.
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You thought we’d finish there? You’re wrong! We were going to settle for the usual seven substitues but thought, ‘hey, why not do an Alternative Team of the Tournament?’, so that’s exactly what we’ve done. This is basically the All-SCOUTED Second Team.
Needless to say, a few of these – particularly the Uruguayans and South Korea’s Kim Yong-hak – had credible claims to be included in the proper Team of the Tournament. You should also notice the Honourable Mentions beneath each write-up. Anyway, less waffle, here it is:
🇺🇾 GK: Randall Rodríguez (2003, Peñarol)
Six clean sheets in seven games is tremendous going, but that remarkable record is testament to Uruguay’s collective defensive quality rather than insane Randall Rodríguez performances. That’s why Desplanches, who kept Italy at least competitive in the final, gets in ahead of him.
Nevertheless, Rodríguez had a very solid tournament. One save in the semi-final in particular stuck out, when he tipped a Tai Abed shot around the post to deny Israel taking an early lead; all tournament he took control of his area with decisive decision-making to come off his line. Remarkably, he’s already played 30 times at U-20 level for his country. Peñarol have a good one.
Honourable mentions: 🇮🇱 Tomer Tzarfati, 🇺🇸 Gaga Slonina
🇺🇾 RB: Mateo Ponte (2003, Danubio)
Had Mateo Ponte not missed the semi-final and final, there’s a good chance he’d have been in this team’s First XI. The Danubio prospect was a powerful two-way force from right-back, catching the eye and progressing play by ducking inside and driving past defenders with the ball.
His rounded athletic profile enabled him to do that, as well as defend the back post stoutly with an onus on helping the similarly-sized Boselli at centre-back inside him. Uruguay reshuffled well to account for his absence, but Ponte was still a significant miss.
Honourable mention: 🇳🇬 Daniel Bamyei (NGA)
🇺🇾 RCB: Sebastián Boselli (2003, Defensor Sporting)
As we underlined, it was pretty much a toss up between both Uruguay centre-backs for a spot in our First XI. Sebastián Boselli was the more proactive centre-back in the partnership with Facundo González and engaged in tackles more. He was difficult to get the better of in the air, too, despite his smaller stature.
He’s now joined up with the senior Uruguay squad having enjoyed these title-winning celebrations; Marcelo Bielsa will appreciate his defensive mobility and committed mentality. It’s also worth noting that River Plate, the Argentinian version, are in negotiations for his signature. It’s been a whirlwind month for the teenager.
Honourable mention: 🇮🇱 Stav Lemkin
🇮🇹 LCB: Daniele Ghilardi (2003, Hellas Verona)
The true colossus of Italy’s back four was Daniele Ghilardi. Seemingly always in the right place at the right time to intervene, Ghilardi’s calmness in executing defensive actions showed an underlying maturity to his game, even in the high-pressure occasion of a World Cup final.
His recovery speed is very good, he is a good size to compete in the air, he doesn’t shirk the ball in possession and often looks to drive forward and take ground as a ball carrier before distributing forwards.
With the absence of his partner-in-crime from the Under-19 Euros – and club team-mate – Diego Coppola, Ghilardi took the reins of Italy’s defensive unit and led them to within a whisker of World Cup glory.
Honourable mention: 🇪🇨 Joel Ordoñéz (ECU)
🇨🇴 LB: Andrés Salzar (2003, Atlético Nacional)
Colombia were a fun team to watch at this tournament. They had Yaser Asprilla and Óscar Cortés in attack, Gustavo Puerta connecting in midfield, Kevin Mantilla at the back, then Andrés Salazar racing up and down the left wing.
An impressive all-round athlete, Salazar played every single minute in a two-way left-back role that provided his side with impetus from deeper areas. He did so through direct carries, punchy passes, sleek give-and-gos and dynamic running. The 20-year-old is a left-back that lower-half top-five league clubs should have on their shortlists.
Read of our MD3 review for a more comprehensive write-up about him.
Honourable mention: 🇦🇷 Valentín Barco, 🇮🇱 Roy Revivo
🇳🇬 DM: Daniel Daga (2007, Dakkada FC)
There were two 2007-born players at this tournament: the highly-rated Kendry Páez and the unheralded Daniel Daga. Starting every game possible, both more than held their own as key starters for their sides.
Daga earns a place in our alternative team of the tournament for his performances as the screening midfielder in a solid Nigeria side. He’s an impressive athlete for his age – mobile, balanced, sturdy; he was difficult to beat in direct duels; and his distribution was steady, if a bit erratic. When you factor in his age, Daga had a very good tournament.
Honourable mention: 🇮🇱 Ilay Madmoun
🇬🇲 DM: Mahmudu Bajo (2004, FK Podbrezová)
Gambia have a senior-level talent in this group, and Mahmudu Bajo is one of them. He was the connecting player in their midfield – he always wanted to get on the ball to pass it around the pitch, showcasing impressive poise and awareness. He very rarely used more than two touches to receive and distribute in his role as the primary passer.
His leggy physique has its defensive upsides too, as he’s able to stride across big spaces easily and smother angles in tighter situations. Bajo has already sealed a move to Slovakia prior to this tournament, joining FK Podbrezová this summer, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if bigger clubs try to tempt them with an immediate flip on their investment.
Honourable mention: 🇮🇹 Matteo Prati, 🇧🇷 Marlon Gomes, 🇮🇱 El Yam Kancepolsky
🇪🇨 CM: Óscar Zambrano (2004, LDU Quito)
Óscar Zambrano was one of our favourite discoveries at this tournament. We’d never watched him before but we will definitely watch him again. Basically, he’s a busy deep-lying passer that can spread play around at a frisk tempo, punch clever passes into dangerous areas and break up play with tenacity.
His engine was outstanding too. His intensity hardly dipped throughout games, despite playing every minute of every one, and he demanded the ball and defended doggedly until the death. Clubs like Brighton would appreciate his profile. Keep tabs on Zambrano.
Honourable mention: 🇺🇸 Jack McGlynn, 🇨🇴 Gustavo Puerta, 🇳🇬 Tochukwu Nnadi
🇰🇷 RW: Kim Yong-hak (2003, Portimonense)
Kim Yong-hak was the under-the-radar flyer of this tournament, playing an unheralded but hugely important role in attack for South Korea.
His hard running, rigid frame as a hold-up player, and excellent dribbling skills were crucial to South Korea’s efforts to progress the ball forward. While he may not have demonstrated the shining moments of brilliance of his attacking counterparts, his ability to extract the absolute maximum from himself defensively and offensively played a big part in South Korea’s tactical shape and overall success.
Honourable mention: 🇺🇸 Diego Luna, 🇨🇴 Yaser Asprilla
🇰🇷 LW: Bae Jun-ho (2003, Daejon Hana Citizen)
It took Bae Jun-ho a little while to grow into this Under-20 World Cup, but by the time the tournament hit the knockout rounds he seized his moment to shine.
His pièce de résistance came in the round of 16 against Ecuador, with an astonishing goal featuring two of the slickest turns of the tournament.
The goal highlighted exactly what he is: a superbly gifted technician that, with opportunity to get on the ball, will make a defender’s life miserable. In that game alone, Ecuador made several substitutions just to ensure Bae’s tricky running didn’t see any of their defenders sent off.
Honourable mention: 🇨🇴 Óscar Cortes, 🇺🇿 Abbosbek Fayzullaev
🇬🇲 ST: Adama Bojang (2004, Steve Biko FC)
Our revelation in the tournament, especially in the eyes of European clubs, Adama Bojang’s performances at the Under-20 World Cup all but guaranteed him a big move to Europe in the coming summer.
We already covered his Osimhen-like athletic talents in our MD1 round-up, and they’re primary among the reasons he’s so cherished by European elites. But Bojang brought another dynamic to his game in Argentina: the ability to work off team-mates, especially with tight one-twos around the penalty area. Meanwhile, a little closer to goal, his ball striking on his left foot looks outstanding.
Honourable mention: 🇮🇱 Dor Turgeman
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