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Fearsome foursome in World Youth Championship

Monday June 27, 2005

Fearsome foursome in World Youth Championship

MIKEL: Led Nigeria to victory over hosts Holland
KERKRADE (Holland): They are four players who have defined the World Youth Championship – Mouhssine Iajour of Morocco, John Obi Mikel of Nigeria, Rafael of Brazil and Lionel Messi of Argentina. 

Tomorrow's semi-finals will pit the dribbling skills of Iajour against the vision of Mikel, and Messi's playmaking instincts against Rafael, a defender who is so often in the opponent's half of the field. 

Talent always stands out, but it is tough to find a better stage than a youth championship, where just about everything – success and failure – is painted in hyperbole. 

While those four take in the accolades, others have departed. Freddy Adu of the United States is, at 16, already trying to recapture past glories and has his coach's criticism that he didn't step up when it mattered ringing in his ears. 

IAJOUR: Outstanding for upstarts Morocco
Colombia's Hugo Rodallega already had a nickname “Rodagol'' but under-performed so much that his coach didn't even play him when Colombia lost to Argentina in the second round. 

Compare that with the tribute Mikel received from his coach, Samson Siasia. 

“He is just a genius,'' the coach said of his star midfielder, who came to the tournament with enough of a reputation that both Chelsea and Manchester United are fighting for his services. 

On Saturday, Mikel led his team against the home favourites, taking charge of the centre of the midfield against Dutch star Hedwiges Maduro of Ajax. 

“That number nine was an excellent player,'' Dutch coach Foppe de Haan said. 

Iajour also wears that number, and their clash will determine the African finalist on tomorrow. Iajour, however, will get an extra day of rest following Morocco's shootout victory over Italy on Friday. Iajour of Raja Casablanca was the top scorer in African qualifying and has added three more here. 

Messi will also have play on less rest against Rafael, who is more than just a defender and has been considered similar to Roberto Carlos with his ability to create danger with rushes up the field. 

“I like it when I get the green light to attack,'' he said. – AP 

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