Tomorrow's stars today

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:33 AM ET

From Maradona to Ronaldinho to ...

It's a long, long, long list of the top names in the game who went on from the FIFAU-20 World Cup to superstardom.

Buy programs. Save the line-ups. Look at them when the World Cup begins in 2010.

For the fans, that's the drill and part of the the thrill. And the guessing game about which players might launch their careers to worldwide fame may as well begin now with the arrival of the Czech Republic team to play against Canada tonight at Commonwealth Stadium in the final friendly leading to the event.

Czech striker Marek Strestik, who scored five goals to lead the Czechs in qualifying for the event, is one of the players many expect to leave here a much bigger name than he came.

"I actually think they may have a couple of those players," said Canada's coach Dale Mitchell.

"Strestik is a great distributor of the ball and Martin Fenin always looks dangerous.

"Based on what we watched, those two guys impressed us the most. But when this is all over, maybe Strestik is the one you'll be talking about. He's pretty skillful."

SHOWCASE EVENT

This tournament was invented for young talent to strut their stuff for every player in the tournament, not just the ones who will become global stars.

"It's a showcase," said Will Johnson, the Toronto product.

"There are so many important people from the entire soccer world watching that if you have a good tournament, a lot of good things can happen. If you have a good game in a friendly, nobody sees it. But at the U-20 World Cup, a great number of important soccer people take notice."

It happened to him.

"I did well the last one and got a chance to play in Holland," said the forward with SC Heerenveen.

It's important for pro careers of every single player in the tournament he said, including the handful of Canadians who already are with pro teams in Europe.

"Nobody is playing for Real Madrid here," he laughed.

With every game you play, the more important eyes will watch you.

"If your team does well, the individuals on that team are going to do well. The deeper the team goes in the tournament, the more you help each other out."

Canada lost two and tied one in making an early exit from the previous tournament.

"You play against good players. If you do well, the pro clubs will take notice," said Jamie Peters, a midfielder from Pickering, Ont. who plays for Ipswich Town in England, another of the six players who has played in the U-20 World Cup before.

"It's the best young talent in the world with all the clubs and scouts. You prove yourself at this tournament and you will land a good job," said keeper Asmir Begovic of Edmonton who is a back up with Portsmouth and is said to have the attributes to become one of the best goaltenders in the world.

Coach Dale Mitchell says there's all that, but the biggest thing involved is for a Canadian to find out he can play with top young talent from countries like the ones Canada played to get to their final friendly and the teams they'll play when the tournament begins.

CONFIDENCE BUILDER

"What's so great about this is for a Canadian kid to discover he can play against the best young players from top soccer nations like Brazil and Argentina. It gives those kids a kind of confidence they can't get any other way."

But there's another angle to this, too.

Begovic says it's big for everybody, even the players who will not go on to have a career, players who will disappear from here.

The ones who play against the next Maradonas and Ronaldinhos in this tournament, if nothing else, will have that forever.

"It's an experience you won't forget in life. It's huge. And to do it in Canada, that's once in a lifetime."


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