Barcelona starlets, Messinho and Mali’s magicians: The best players at the 2023 FIFA U17 World Cup

Neel Shelat
Neel Shelat
  • Updated: 1 Dec 2023 15:31 GMT
  • 12 min read
Paris Brunner, Borussia Dortmund, Germany
© ProShots

The FIFA U17 World Cup concludes on Saturday, with France and Germany meeting in the final of the event.

As debutants in senior football continue to get ever younger, many youth football tournaments have started to become places for young professionals to showcase their talents rather than a development ground for non-senior players. So the place to look for hidden gems is no longer the Under-20 World Cup (hyperlink: but rather the Under-17 World Cup.

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Of course, a number of players have caught the eye in the 49 matches played so far, so let us briefly take a look at ten of the best.

Paris Brunner - Germany

Birth Year: 2006

Club: Borussia Dortmund

Position: LW

Paris Brunner was one of the few well-known names going into the tournament, having impressed for Germany at the U17 Euros and made the news at Borussia Dortmund (albeit in an unwanted fashion as he was suspended by the club for “disciplinary issues”). His talent is unquestionable, though, and it eventually shone through at this tournament.

For a player of his reputation, he did not have the best of group stages as he returned with just one goal in three comfortable wins. Perhaps the key moment of his tournament was the decisive assist he provided for a late winner in the round of 16, as he has not looked back since.

He won and converted the penalty that proved to be the only goal of the quarter-final against Spain, and then absolutely took over in the semi-final against Argentina with two fantastic goals and the winning attempt in the penalty shoot-out.

As an individual, he is thoroughly entertaining to watch thanks to his flashy tricks, flicks and electric footwork while dribbling, which enable him to run rings around any opposition full-back. His shooting technique is polished too, although he could develop a better ability to get into good positions off the ball rather than just by carrying it.

In any case, Brunner is an exceptional talent who could easily go on to become a superstar with the right guidance, so he has to be one to watch at Dortmund.

Paris Brunner
© ProShots - Paris Brunner

Pau Cubarsi - Spain

Birth Year: 2006

Club: Barcelona

Position: CB

The ball-playing centre-back is becoming increasingly valuable these days, and what better place to look for one than Barcelona and Spain?

Pau Cubarsi showed fantastic qualities on the ball through some pinpoint progressive passing and very secure carrying whenever a clear opportunity to do so presented itself, but it is also worth focusing on the defensive side of his game. Spain conceded just one open-play goal in four matches with him on the pitch, as he showed great intelligence and strength in duels to enable their expansive in-possession style.

Even though he is just 17 years old, Cubarsi has already featured on the bench for the senior Barcelona team on a few occasions amidst their injury crisis in the defensive department, so it might not be too long before he makes his senior debut.

Claudio Echeverri - Argentina

Birth Year: 2006

Club: River Plate

Position: AM

Argentina came agonisingly close to reaching the final of this competition for the first time ever as they lost out on penalty kicks in their semi-final. The clear star in their side was attacking midfielder Claudio Echeverri, who has already made the River Plate side and is regarded as one of their most exciting talents.

Nicknamed ‘El Diablito’, he certainly must feel like a little devil for opposition defenders. Asked to drift towards the left side for Argentina in this tournament, he showed great off-ball awareness to drift into pockets of space to receive the ball, after which no one could take their eyes off him. His exceptional close control enabled him to slip in and out of the tightest of spaces and glide past anyone, after which he showed fantastic creative vision to slip through some wonderful through balls. Of course, he posed a serious shooting threat to return with five goals to his name.

We need not tell you to keep an eye on Echeverri, because he seems almost certain to become a star as he starts getting more regular game time for his club side.

Claudio Echeverri
© ProShots - Claudio Echeverri

Estevao Willian - Brazil

Birth Year: 2007

Club: Palmeiras

Position: RW

At higher youth levels than this, we often see younger players who are clearly a step clear of their compatriots and therefore playing above their age category. There is not much of a scope to do so at the U17 level, but we did see a fair few 16-year-olds.

One of the clear standouts was Brazilian winger Estevao Willian, who is called ‘Messinho’ by some. Of course, that is an extremely premature comparison to make, but you can see similarities in terms of playing style. Being a diminutive left-footed right winger is the qualifier, but Estevo also showed incredible ball control and shoulder drops to ease past opponents that would not looked out of place in a compilation of the Argentine great.

After a successful World Cup campaign at an individual level as he returned with three goals and as many assists in five matches, Estevao was called up to the senior Palmeiras team upon his return and even sat on the bench in their last league match. A senior debut could well be on the cards soon.

Hector Fort - Spain

Birth Year: 2006

Club: Barcelona

Position: RB

Amidst all this talk of wingers, it is also worth shifting perspective to look at full-backs.

A good few of them stood out, but no one more so Hector Fort. He was solid defensively whenever called upon, but of course, he saw a lot more of the ball at his feet for Spain.

The Barcelona youngster helped build his side’s attacks down the right wing with some great passing from deep and also looked to get forward himself – both with and without the ball. His best attribute was visible in the final third, where his crossing was unmissable. Not only was Fort consistently able to whip his deliveries around the first defender, but he was scarily accurate in terms of dropping them in the right area.

Like Cubarsi, he too had made the senior Barcelona bench on a couple of occasions before the tournament, so it is safe to say that their future looks quite secure in the defensive department.

Mohamed Hamony - Morocco

Birth Year: 2006

Club: Le Havre

Position: LW

One of the first standouts of this tournament was Mohamed Hamony, who introduced himself in some style in Morocco’s opener against Panama.

Nominally starting on the left, Hamony loved to drift infield both with the ball at his feet and to receive it. With sensational close control, good strength to hold off defenders and a very quick turn of pace to chop and change direction, he must have been a real nightmare for defenders but was an absolute joy to watch.

The only disappointment he might have is his output, which was just a solitary goal. He did show some good flashes of quality in the final third, though, so the Moroccan youngster could easily improve in that regard with a little bit of work. The renowned academy of Le Havre is one of the best places to do that, so he would be best advised to stay put despite interest from bigger clubs.

Sekou Kone - Mali

Birth Year: 2006

Club: Guidars FC

Position: CM

Mali might have only won the bronze medal, but they were unquestionably the most fun and entertaining team at this World Cup. We could have picked out almost any of their players – especially their attackers – but we have chosen to go with their two key midfielders.

Sekou Kone was the slightly more reserved of their double pivot in a 4-2-3-1 formation, but that did not stop him from catching the eye. His fantastic passing range – and particularly his accurate crossfield switches which also made it easy for the receiver to go forward – was hard to miss, but he also retained the ball very well by slipping past opponents and worked very hard defensively to shield his back line.

Hamidou Makalou - Mali

Birth Year: 2006

Club: Guidars FC

Position: CM

As good as Kone was, it would be hard to argue against the fact that his midfield partner Hamidou Makalou shone even brighter.

Playing a more box-to-box role, Makalou excelled in almost all departments. On the ball, he was a great forward carrier and also linked up very well with his teammates through his passing, going on to pose a significant goal-threat with his dangerous long shots and movement into the box.

Defensively, he showed great intensity to cover a lot of ground and contest countless duels.

If everything goes to plan, the Kone-Makalou midfield partnership should be seen at various levels for Mali for quite a few years.

Joel Ndala - England

Birth Year: 2006

Club: Manchester City

Position: LW

Dribbly wingers seem to be the theme of the tournament. In that respect, no one was able to get anywhere near Joel Ndala.

The Manchester City youngster’s tally of 27 successful dribbles was the highest by some margin, and anyone who watched the tournament would have easily guessed that. Ndala terrorised anyone who dared stand in his path with some brilliant flicks and tricks, serious strength to hold off challengers and lightning-quick footwork despite his taller stature. If you have seven minutes to spare, they would be well spent watching his best work at the tournament:

Ndala could well be one of the brightest talents to come out of Manchester City’s academy, so it should be interesting to see whether they can keep hold of him and ease him into the senior side like Phil Foden or if he will move elsewhere in search of game time as Jadon Sancho did.

Agustin Ruberto - Argentina

Birth Year: 2006

Club: River Plate

Position: ST

Finally, we cannot ignore the tournament’s top scorer.

Agustin Ruberto’s return of eight goals is comfortably the best, and what is even more impressive about it is the consistency he showed to get it. The young striker netted in all but one of his side’s matches up to the semi-final, when he peaked with a hat-trick. Even that was not enough to take Argentina to the final, but it effectively wrapped up the golden boot for him.

Of course, Ruberto’s goals came thanks to some clinical finishing, but he did not show much more than that. In truth, he did not need to as his role was to simply get on the end of moves that his immensely talented teammates developed, and he did that very well with some great movement in and around the box.

Alongside Echeverri among others, Ruberto represents a very exciting batch of youngsters at River Plate who will soon want to break into the world of senior football.

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