We all know that football is a collective goal and one man's loss leads to everyone's loss. That philosophy, however, should not make us overlook the efforts of the individuals and give the credit where it's due. Even though the World Cup eventually went to our African brothers in another continent, there are still some U23s that made us proud and here are they below in no particular order.
1. Achraf Hakimi (Morocco)
He is just 19 years old, he is a Real Madrid player who is on loan to Borussia Dortmund for two years. That kind of CV is not earned by just anyone, and moreover, he displayed an incredible level of versatility at the World Cup 2018 this summer in Russia. For the FIFA World Cup Group B clash with Iran, he was a right center back in a defense of three. He also performed well as the left back in the following games against Portugal and Spain. This level of versatility is really commendable in a player because it ensures that they are able to grow different skills within the same tournament. He was born in Spain and is the son of Moroccan parents, he roared with the Lions of the Atlas and made them proud.
2. Peter Etebo (Nigeria)
One thing that most people would most likely remember him for is the "own goal" that he had in the Group D 2018 World Cup match against Croatia. That was not enough to destroy the player's morale in the tournament. The 22-year old showed that he has the talent to keep moving his career in the right direction. Even though he was known for his abilities as a winger, he strengthened the Nigerian defense line at the tournament which was a sign of flexibility. The player's speed when charging towards the ball was quite evident in his games. In the Nigerian game against Iceland, he proved that beyond his tenacity in tackling, he is also great at initiating attacks. He recently signed a 5- year contract with Stoke City where he will take the next step in the development of his career.
3. Ismaila Sarr (Senegal)
Any ordinary 20-year old's dribbling skills would not match Sarr's skills. His tenacity on the field was unquestionable during the 2018 FIFA World Cup as he dribbled his way out of his competitor's traps. His performance made the just the right amount of noise and caught the attention of Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool. All teams have been making inquiries with the hope that this youngster will soon grace their squads. The price at which the player is estimated to be purchased for is around 50 Million Pounds. This young player has been dubbed "one of Senegal's brightest young attacking prospects".
4. Francis Uzoho (Nigeria)
In the early stages of his career, he was determined to be a center-forward, but his coach saw beyond what Francis thought was his dream at that point. Today, the 19-year-old stands between the goal posts of the Nigerian team. While the other Nigerian goalkeepers could not be at the tournament, he gave a brilliant performance and only conceded 4 goals throughout the tournament. It was quite commendable that at his age, he was able to take up the task of being a first-choice goalkeeper, which is something that has been dubbed as a task for the mature. Thank you, Francis, for teaching us to always be ready to rise to the occasion when the need arises! If there is a memorable experience that we are taking away from this is that fingertip save from Messi's free kick during the Group D match between Nigeria and Argentina.
5. M'Baye Niang (Senegal)
He may have been at fault with his two yellow cards that cost Senegal qualification into the knockout stage, however, he is the reason why the team was tied with Japan in the Group H standings of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. As controversial as his goal might seem to have been, Niang was behind why Senegal was able to get away from Poland with a 2-1 victory. Poland fans were infuriated by the way the referee made a ruling on this goal, but this was a typical demonstration of a beautiful mistake. He had been out of the pitch for a short injury break and the Polish players did not notice it. He swiftly accepted a misplaced Polish back pass and went past the goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny into an empty net. This was indeed the highlight of his appearance at the World Cup. His performance in this match, specifically, also earned him the Man of the Match title.