National Soccer Hall of Fame goalkeeper Tony Meola started all three games for the U.S. at the 1987 U-20 World Cup. (Andy Mead/YCJ Photo)
By Michael Lewis
Some of the world’s best soccer players have performed and stood out at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup.
Some 30 years ago, FIFA held one of its greatest U-20 tournaments in Chile.
In the Nov. 19, 1987 edition of Soccer Week yours truly listed several names to remember from that tournament (I covered that tournament).
Today, I look back to see how these players fared professionally.
Robert Prosinecki, midfielder, Yugoslavia
Then: It was a pleasure to watch an 18-year-old with the poise of a 10-year veteran. Prosinecki was the field general of Yugoslavia’s championship team. He scored only one goal and sat out the final because of a yellow-card accumulation. Yet, the media was wise enough to vote him the Golden Ball as the player of the tournament.
Now: Prosinecki enjoyed a nice, long pro career, playing for 11 clubs, including Real Madrid, Barcelona and Portsmouth (saving the club from relegation in 2001-2002. He retired from the highest levels of the games after the 2003-2004 season after playing for NK Zagreb (he reportedly now plays with NK Savski Marof in the Croatian Fifth Division). He went on to play for two countries — Yugoslavia (four goals in 15 appearances) in 1990 World Cup and Croatia (10 goals in 49 matches) in 1998 (third-place finish) and 2002. Like it or not, Prosinecki forged a reputation of being a heavy smoker, which had to hurt his play.
Marcel Witeczek, forward, West Germany
Then: Yes, he missed a penalty kick in the shootout that decided the championship. Witeczek, then 19, was the best role player of the tournament, if you call a goal-scorer a role player. Witeczek led everyone with seven goals to earn the Golden Boot and was third in MVP balloting to capture the Bronze Ball.
Now: He never lived up to his promise, scoring 50 goals in 410 Bundesliga games. He wound up performing for Bayer Uerdingen, Kaiserslautern, Bayern Munich (a member of the 1996 UEFA Cup team) and Borussia Moenchengladbach. Most recently he played in Baden-Wuerttemberg with the FC Albstadt 07 in the national league in 2006-2007.
Tony Meola, goalkeeper, United States
Then: No, he was not a token American selection. The 6-foot, 180-pound Meola received the respect of many observers the hard way. He earned it by keeping the U.S. within striking distance in its first two games. He made few mistakes and caught everything in sight. Although he played in only three games, it was difficult to ignore the 18-year-old from Kearny, N.J.
Now: Meola forged a legendary career. He backstopped the U.S. in two World Cups (1990 and 1994) and was the No. 3 keeper for 2002. Meola, who made 100 international appearances, enjoyed an 11-year career in MLS, playing with the MetroStars, Kansas City Wizards (2002 MLS Cup champions) and the Red Bulls before apparently calling it. He owns a number of MLS goalkeeping records. Meola was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2012.
Davor Suker, forward Yugoslavia
Then: He finished with six goals to capture the Silver Ball as the second-leading scorer. But it was the goal the 19-year-old stopped against East Germany in the semifinals that is more memorable. He had given his team a 2-1 lead in the 70th minute. With goalkeeper Dragoje Levkovic out of the net, he kicked away a German shot with 72 seconds left in the game.
Now: At 30 as one of the oldest World Cup scoring champions, Suker led all goal-scorers at France ’98 (six goals in seven games) as Croatia finished third. He also became Croatia’s all-time scoring leader (45 goals in 69 games). Suker played with Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia), Sevilla (Spain) as a teammate of Diego Maradona, Real Madrid, Arsenal, West Ham United and 1860 Munich.
Lukas Tudor, midfielder-forward, Chile
Then: He started out like a house on fire, scoring three goals in the first round before fading in the later rounds. The 18-year-old Tudor’s most memorable goal was scored against Togo, when he ran onto his own pass after pushing the ball in front of a defender in the penalty area.
Now: He played professionally in Chile for CD Universidad Católica, FC Sion, Newell’s Old Boys, CE Sabadell and Colo-Colo. He did not make much of an impact with the national team. He did score a goal in friendly with Arica in July, 1989.
Alex Strehmel, defender, West Germany
Then: Strehmel, 19, whose father is an American Army captain living in Germany, became a naturalized German in 1986. He wasn’t spectacular, but the 6-foot, 160-lb. defender played a solid game at stopper and was one of the reasons why West Germany allowed only three goals in six games.
Now: He was a regular with German champions VfB Stuttgart and played for SG Wattenscheid 09, Unterhaching and FC Augsburg. He wound up playing 214 games in the Bundesliga First Division and another 169 in the Second Division. He directed the German U-21 national side for two years and was an assistant coach with 1899 Hoffenheim, Rot-Weiss Essen and VfL Wolfsburg since 2009.
Zvonimir Boban, midfielder, Yugoslavia
Then: The 19-year-old Boban, winner of the Silver Ball, literally had the first and last words of the tournament. He scored the first goal in the opener. The Chilean goalkeeper made a save and Boban, just getting up from the ground after he was tackled in the penalty area, headed it into the net. In the final, he scored Yugoslavia’s lone goal in regulation and then the game-winning penalty kick in the shootout. In Prosinecki’s absence, he became Yugoslavia’s field general in the finale.
Now: He captained Croatia to a third-place finish at the 1998 World Cup, scoring 12 times in 51 international appearances (he also played eight times for Yugoslavia, scoring once). Boban starred for Dinamo Zagreb, Bari, A.C. Milan and Celta Vigo.
Camilo Pino, forward Chile
Then: He scored five goals, good for the Bronze Ball and then turned into the surprise player of the tournament for the hosts, outplaying Tudor. But the 19-year-old Pinto had to be the unluckiest player, hitting the posts twice within a couple of minutes in the 4-0 semifinal loss to West Germany.
Now: He reportedly pursued a pro career and did not make an impact with the national side.
Andres Alves Cruz, defender, Brazil
Then: He gave new meaning to the phrase Cruz missile, scoring on a couple of long-range blasts in the opening round. He also stood out at the Under-16 World Cup in China in 1985 and appears to be destined for stardom at the senior level. But one question: Why does Brazil seemingly only produce world-class defenders with great offensive prowess?
Now: He pursued a career. On Oct. 14, 1989, Cruz scored the lone goal in Brazil’s 1-0 friendly victory over Italy.
William Cesar de Oliveria, midfielder, Brazil
Then: The 19-year-old midfielder was the cornerstone of the Brazilian attack, scoring two goals and setting up a couple of others. “The two best players of the tournament were William and (Prosinecki),” teammate Bismarck Barreto Faria said. “I learned from them how to use your intelligence to play football.”
Now: He did not make an impact with the national team.
Bismarck Barreto Faria, midfielder, Brazil
Then: The 18-year-old Bismarck was expected to be a scoring force, but flew home without a goal. But he turned to his playmaking skills to help Brazil, assisting on three goals in the first round and performing the best marking job on Prosinecki. “No. 10 of Brazil (Faria) — I think he was the best player who marked me,” Prosinecki said. “I think he was one of the best players . . . on Brazil.”
Now: A Vasco da Gama product, Faria also performed for Fluminense and Goias in Brazil and for Tokyo Verdy 1969, Kashima Antlers and Vissel Kobe (retiring in 2003). He also performed with the National Team and was a member of the 1990 World Cup team that played in Italy, but never left the bench. He did go on to win the Golden Ball in the U-20 World Cup in 1989 and was a member of the Brazilian side
And then there were . . .
Some players that weren’t mentioned, but became “name” players: Andreas Moeller (West Germany), Matthias Sammer (East Germany), Thomas Epp (Germany), Predrag Mijatovic (Yugoslavia), Igor Stimac (Yugoslavia), Marcelo Balboa (U.S.) and Kasey Keller (U.S.), who was Meola’s backup. Balboa and Keller became mainstays on the U.S. national team.