ISTANBUL (AP) — It took all of five minutes for Gerard Deulofeu and Jese to announce their presence at the Under-20 World Cup.
The Spanish strikers teamed up on the opening goal of a 4-1 trouncing of the United States, as Deulofeu made one of his many strong runs and fed the ball across to Real Madrid's Jese who scored. The duo then had a goal each before halftime and Deulofeu, who plays for Barcelona, took a long ball, sidestepped the American keeper and scored a second.
Jese added a third in Spain's win against Ghana Monday. "Very much impressed, the speed, decision-making. tactical awareness — everything," said Wil Trapp, a defensive midfielder for the U.S. who was among those trying to contain the Spanish pair.
"They are complete players, extremely dangerous and they are hard to contain and play against," he said. "Deulofeu is at Barcelona and Jese is at Real Madrid. They have already made appearance for those teams so it's hard to argue against them doing big things in the future."
The duo are among a handful of rising stars strutting their stuff at the under-20 tournament, a competition that often forecasts who might be the next big thing — think of Diego Maradona in 1979, Luis Figo in 1991 and Lionel Messi in 2005.
Sporting Lisbon striker Armindo "Bruma" Bangna, who some have compared to Cristiano Ronaldo, had two goals to pace Portugal in its opening match against Nigeria which also saw Nigeria's pint-sized captain Abdul Ajagun net a brace of his own — including a floater over the keeper — in the 3-2 loss. Another potential star was England striker Harry Kane who plays for Tottenham. He didn't score but had a hand in both of England's goals — the second a pinpoint pass to Luke Williams who scored. He also nearly scored with a fine shot from inside the area in the second half.
Bruma scored against South Korea on Monday while Ajagun netted one against Cuba bringing their tournament totals to three. Others who are expected to shine included Uruguay and Roma striker Nicolas Lopez, Chile and Seville midfielder Bryan Rabello and Colombia's keeper Cristian Bonilla.
France's triple threat of captain and Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba, Seville midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia and Arsenal-bound striker Yaya Sanogo also were at their best in a 3-1 dismantling of Ghana. Pogba dominated possession while the lanky Kondogbia and Sanogo scored three minutes apart to deflate the African squad.
France coach Pierre Mankowski called Sanogo an "interesting player" who has multiple weapons. "He can receive the ball in the area and he can make deep runs," Mankowski said. "He is also a good finisher. All these qualities are very useful for the whole team."
As for Kondogbia, Mankowski said he has benefited immensely from his time at Seville. "He gained a lot of experience," he said. "He now understands the right moment to try and score. When he is good on the pitch, the team is good."
France's opponents seem awed by the triple threat. Ghana's coach Sellas Tetteh called them "tough customers" who were constantly a threat to his defense after his team's loss. Before United States 1-1 draw with France, American coach Tab Ramos said the prospect of facing France's big three offers a similar challenge to what the U.S. confronted against Spain.
"Obviously, they (Kondogbia and Sanogo) are both dangerous players. They play in a difficult league and get goals in that league," Ramos said. "We also have to look at the fact that Pogba touched the ball 115 times in the games, which is a lot," he said. "So we are on top of what we need to do. At the same time, I always say great players make things happen no matter what you do. We will do the best we can to contain their best players and we are ready to make something happen on the other end of the field."
Sanago scored France's lone goal but the Americans did a good job containing the other two stars. Deulofeu and Jese are the most impressive players so far. Their quickness and technical skills have been unmatched and they are seen as the keys to Spain winning its second Under-20 World Cup.
But Spain, the favorite in the tournament, has been careful to redirect the spotlight onto the team. "They are really quick players but everyone works for the team," captain Jose Campana said. "There were so many spaces behind the right and center back that we benefited. We could pass through their defenders and their speed is impossible to defend."
Deulofeu — whose name in Catalan means 'God Made Him'— is seen as the next player to come out of La Masia, Barcelona's training facility. He is seen as keen to move beyond the club's B-team and possibly play for another big side next season.
But so far this tournament, he has kept his ambitions in check. "I'm satisfied to have scored two goals but the more important was to get the three points because it was key to start well this tournament," he said. "The first game is always crucial, and now we have to carry on with the next two games and hopefully further in this World Cup."