Turkey, the Netherlands and Italy hold European hopes in their hands when the FIFA U-17 World Championship begins today in Peru.
The trio earned their chance of a global campaign by taking the top three places at May's UEFA European Under-17 Championship, but face a tough task in a tournament traditionally dominated by South America and Africa. France bucked the trend in 2001, but Spain were defeated by Brazil in the 2003 final in Finland, and only one other European nation, the Soviet Union, has won a title which Brazil have taken three times in the last four editions.
Whichever new stars emerge by the time of this year's final on 2 October, the biggest impact could be made by technology - every game will be played on artificial turf, and a special ball will be used that will alert the referee when it crosses the goalline. If the latter experiment proves successful, it will be used at next year's FIFA World Cup in Germany.
As for the football itself, all three UEFA representatives have players in their ranks with the potential to emulate Alessandro Del Piero, Luís Figo and Cesc Fabregas, who all shone at this tournament. And Turkey, who claimed the continental title in some style in Tuscany, have a number of impressive talents in their ranks.
Coach Abdullah Avci's pre-tournament bullishness was borne out when Turkey produced a string of superb performances, bouncing back from losing 1-0 to Italy with victories against England, Belarus, Croatia and, in the final, the Netherlands. Turkey fielded the same starting lineup in all four wins, and that eleven are all in Peru along with the bulk of the European champion squad.
Tefvik Köse, European Championship top scorer with six goals, is ably supported by Özgürcan Özcan and Deniz Yilmaz, but the real key to the team is BV Borussia Dortmund midfield dynamo Nuri Sahin, who last month made history by becoming the youngest player in Bundesliga history. They will aim to make a winning start today in Lima against Australia, before further Group B fixtures against Uruguay and Mexico.
Dutch meet Brazil
The other two European contenders start on Saturday, and the Netherlands are in Group D along with their opening opponents, Qatar, African champions Gambia and holders Brazil. Dutch coach Ruud Kaiser said: "Brazil are a very talented side but there is no reason why we can't beat them."
Kaiser has also ensured his brightest talents have travelled to Peru, including forward Diego Biseswar, tall goalkeeper Tim Krul, speedy winger Melvin Zaalman, who recovered from injury to score the semi-final winner against Italy in May, and the man Kaiser has singled out as a real force for the future, AFC Ajax's versatile Vurnon Anita.
Italy start their campaign against Ivory Coast before Group C games against the United States and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Unlike Turkey and the Dutch, Italy have played in this tournament before, four times in all, and finished fourth in 1987 when it was a U16 competition. Francesco Rocca's team boast a strong defence, backed by goalkeeper Enrico Alfonso, while Andrea Russotto and Salvatore Foti form a potent strikeforce.
As for the most likely threat to Europe's contenders, Brazil pipped Uruguay to the South American title on goal difference after a tournament that saw Argentina surprisingly eliminated, and both should challenge. African championship finalists Gambia and Ghana must be considered, and the well-prepared US, the only team to have played in every edition, are always strong.
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