Friday 01 November 2019, 01:38

'Willy' Gnonto: Italy’s sharp-shooting 15-year-old

  • Italian forward Gnonto will turn 16 at the U-17 World Cup

  • No7 scored in the win over Mexico and has three goals in the tournament

  • Italian is dreaming of coming up against his French team-mate from Inter Milan

Turning 16 years-old is a unique moment for any young boy. For Degnand Wilfried Gnonto, however, the celebration is set to be particularly memorable. The Italian’s 16th birthday falls next week, on 5 November. And even before reaching the milestone, he has already starred for Italy at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Brazil 2019™.

Officially, at just 15 years of age, Gnonto is the youngest player to have scored a goal so far in the tournament. On Thursday, the No7’s individual effort helped Italy to a 2-1 victory over Mexico, only days after he had scored twice in his side’s opening match against the Solomon Islands.

“I don’t know [if there will be a birthday party]. If we carry on winning, I’ll be happy. If we lose, I don’t know,” he told “Just being here and being able to celebrate out here is already fantastic. Even more so if we win again.”

Gnonto’s birthday coincides with the start of the round of 16 next Tuesday. Italy have already qualified for the knockout stages and need only a draw against Paraguay on Sunday to finish top of Group F. Regardless of whether they finish first or second, however, the Italians are sure to play their first knockout match on Thursday, by which time their sharp-shooting No7 will have finally turned 16.

When interviewed back in October, the forward said that he did not expect to be called up for the World Cup. The dream of representing his country in Brazil became a reality following the withdrawal of Sebastiano Esposito, who had been first choice for Italy at the European championships. After just two games in Brazil, Gnonto’s status in the squad has already risen by leaps and bounds.

“I didn’t know [that I was the youngest player to score at the tournament]. It’s really great, because I’m the youngest player in the team. I’m just really happy to be here.”

Despite his diminutive 1.72m frame, Gnonto is a physical player who likes to pull wide, taking his markers on and dribbling towards goal. Furthermore, as he has already proven at the tournament, he has a deadly right foot.

Potential showdown against friend Agoume?

'Willy' Gnonto, as he is known, plays for Inter Milan. One of his friends at Internazionale is Frenchman Lucien Agoume, who is also out in Brazil for the World Cup. The Italian forward is already dreaming of coming up against his club team-mate at a later stage in the tournament. “I hope to get the better of him and to go even further.”

Born in 2003 in the Italian city of Verbania, Gnonto’s family hails from Côte d'Ivoire. At only nine years of age, he had already been recruited by Inter, where he has caught a close-up glimpse of some of his football heroes, including Argentinians Mauro Icardi and Lautaro Martinez.

“When I first started playing, it was just to have fun. I didn’t think that football could become the most important part of my life,” he declared recently to Sky Sports. He will soon turn 16, and life shows no signs of slowing down for Gnonto.

Degnand Gnonto of Italy U-17 celebrates a scored goal