Italy 0-1 Uruguay (Group D, 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, 21 May 2017)

Uruguay’s opening Group D game of the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup saw them eventually overcome Italy, courtesy of some set-piece magic. Below are video highlights, a brief summary of the match and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-tracking…

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(Source: Wikipedia – Check here for all other results, fixtures and standings)

 

Italy 0-1 Uruguay

2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Group D, 21 May 2017 (YouTube)

CONMEBOL champions Uruguay must have been wondering if their chance to win had slipped from their grasp but ultimately they left the stadium in Suwon happy, courtesy of a fantastic free-kick strike. Though their European opponents, who finished runners-up in qualifying, had at least one promising first-half chance – an Andrea Favilli header in a central position, which he couldn’t quite direct on target – it was the South Americans who had the better of the opening proceedings. Indeed, Fabián Coito’s men looked sharper on the ball and had at least a few good efforts, though really should have taken the lead at the end of the half. However, captain Nicolás De La Cruz failed to convert his 44th-minute spot-kick, with the impressive Italian goalkeeper Andrea Zaccagno comfortably stopping his rather poor effort.

After the break, Italy began to enjoy more possession and caused a few scares amongst the Uruguayan back-line. The La Celeste youths appeared to be less of an attacking force, playing with less fluidity and when Nicolás Schiappacasse squandered a surprise 72nd-minute opportunity, it looked like as if it may not be their day. However, four minutes later, with what must have been his first meaningful touch of the game despite having been on the pitch for 20 minutes, Rodrigo Amaral struck. From just outside of the right corner of the area, Uruguay’s top-scorer in qualifying hit an unstoppable, pinpoint belter with his left into the opposite corner. He and his team-mates subsequently regained some confidence and saw out the remainder of the encounter to record an opening-day win that confirms that they are rather serious title contenders indeed.

Talent Tracking

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Possibly due to a minor knock, though perhaps more likely owing to the kind of on-going fitness concerns which led to him never once completing 90 minutes during qualifying, forward Rodrigo Amaral (No. 10, Nacional) started on the bench. Emerging onto the pitch in the 56th minute, it is difficult to recall one single touch from him in his first 20 minutes after joining the fray. However, he more than made up for this with his phenomenal 76th-minute winner, a left-footed free-kick from the right angle just outside the area, which was hit with such pinpoint accuracy into the opposite corner that goalkeeper Andrea Zaccagno didn’t even move. What a way for this prodigy to assert himself at the tournament which left him heartbroken two years ago. Subsequently, he was more involved in proceedings, yet at the final whistle appeared to be struggling with some kind of injury. No update has yet been released, but it should go without saying that his compatriots could undoubtedly do with Amaral at their disposal, even if it is to be only in cameo form.

Otherwise, though he really should have done better with his penalty, which was struck far too close to the goalkeeper, Nicolás De La Cruz (No. 11, Liverpool, Uruguay) nevertheless showed more than enough to suggest that he’s going to continue to be a crucial asset to the cause. Indeed, the attacking-midfielder, who was often out on the right, displayed a decent understanding with right-back José Luis Rodríguez (No. 4, Danubio), who himself had a good game, putting in at least a couple of notable crosses. De La Cruz largely looked a class act on the ball, seeking to make things happen as well as having a few chances of his own. Indeed, in the sixth minute, he bent a free-kick little more than a couple of yards the wrong side of the woodwork and in the 21st minute he managed to get a slight touch on a loose ball, but his close-range effort from an angle at the back post was instinctively blocked by Zaccagno. Also, five minutes after the restart, Carlos Sánchez’s younger brother drove forward with intent but his low shot from the edge of the area caused little alarm as it was misdirected wide. Here, he was seeking to make up for missing the 44th-minute penalty, something he was also guilty of in his side’s opening game at the CONMEBOL qualifiers in January. He has since spoke of the pain he felt following that misguided Panenka, yet as he showed immense character to go on to lead his country to ultimately triumph in that tournament, one wouldn’t bet against a similar outcome on this grander scale.

Earlier on in the 16th minute, De La Cruz also did well running infield from the right flank to pass to striker Nicolás Schiappacasse (No. 9, Atlético Madrid Under-19s), who hit a fine first-time strike with his right, which forced a spectacular one-handed save from Zaccagno. Much later on in the 72nd minute, Schiappacasse really should have done better when Rodríguez’s long ball from his own half was dummied by De La Cruz, falling to the Atleti youngster. However, from just inside the area, one-on-one with Zaccagno, he placed his shot just wide of the far post. Otherwise, Schiappacasse showed glimpses of what he can do, as did his initial strike-partner Joaquín Ardaiz (No. 7, Danubio). Indeed, both men were involved in this penalty decision as Rodríguez’s 41st-minute cross narrowly evaded Schiappacasse but Ardaiz, who nevertheless managed an effort on target from a golden position, was adjudged – belatedly, after the referee was aided via the new video technology – to have been held back by a defender.

Finally, the defence – centre-backs, in particular – deserve credit for limiting the clear opportunities conceded to Italy and one other man in particular who caught the eye of many was Federico Valverde (No. 16, Real Madrid Castilla). The midfielder appeared to be playing a more deep-lying role and was often seen caressing the ball, taking pressure off the back-line behind him as well as linking up well with those ahead. He also took a couple of decent set-pieces, the most notable being a 28th-minute free-kick which sneaked low past the wall before being parried wide for a corner.

Uruguay have several other players capable of key contributions, not least midfielder Facundo Waller (No. 15, Plaza Colonia) who was unfortunately taken off with an injury after less than half an hour. It’s currently up in the air as to whether he will take further part in this tournament but, either way, given the likelihood of this side progressing to the latter stages, there should be plenty of future opportunities for other individuals not mentioned here to shine.

In the other Group D game played today, South Africa were defeated 2-1 by Japan, who will be Uruguay’s next opponents on Wednesday 24 May 2017.

To keep up-to-date with the latest news on the South American nations at South Korea 2017, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter and check back to Hispanospherical.com for match-by-match talent-tracking articles.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

 

Argentina 0-3 England (Group A, 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, 20 May 2017)

Argentina’s opening Group A game of the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup saw them dominate play yet get emphatically beaten by England. Below are video highlights, a brief summary of the match and, most importantly, @DarrenSphericals armchair talent-tracking…

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(Source: Wikipedia – Check here for all other results, fixtures and standings)

Argentina 0-3 England

2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Group A, 20 May 2017 (YouTube)

Particularly in the early exchanges, Claudio Úbeda’s Argentina dominated possession and chances, yet ultimately found themselves on the receiving end of a hiding from their old rival, who picked up their nation’s first win at this tournament for twenty years.

In the first half, it often seemed to be a case not of “if” but “when” regarding Los Pibes attempts to convert their superior technique into at least one goal. Santiago Colombatto came closest with a 34th-minute header that glanced off the bar yet, just four minutes later, Argentina were to be taken aback by the opener scored very much against the run of play. This was a goal made on Merseyside as Everton’s Kieran Dowell crossed in from the right for his club team-mate Dominic Calvert-Lewin to head home.

After the break, though the boys in blue continued to see more of the ball, their control was to rapidly loosen. Indeed, things began to unravel further in the 52nd minute when the poor anticipation of at least two defenders led to Dowell’s ball upfield on the inside-right being taken into the area by Adam Armstrong. The forward, who this season has been scoring in the Championship for Barnsley on loan from Newcastle, hit a low shot past the near post of the out-of-sorts goalkeeper to double the lead. Upon the hour, Argentina made some attacking changes, yet 15 minutes later, any hope of a comeback was all-but-ended as one of these substitutes, star striker Lautaro Martínez, was red-carded for what appeared to be an elbow. At the death, three minutes into stoppage-time, the South Americans’ misery was completed as, after Calvert-Lewin was brought down by the goalkeeper, Chelsea’s Dominic Solanke stepped up to make it 3-0 from the spot.

Talent Tracking

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Coach Úbeda made several changes from the side that was barely ten seconds away from not qualifying for this tournament. Though it’s debatable whether he really needed to make as many alterations as he did in the attacking positions, some of the fresh individuals brought into this area nevertheless had their moments.

Indeed, none more so than the deep-lying midfielder Santiago Colombatto (No. 15, Trapani, on loan from Cagliari). Displaying often admirable poise on the ball, he also wasn’t far off the target in the 21st minute when a left-footed free-kick from just outside the right edge of the area curled into the side-netting. 13 minutes later he came much closer when his head greeted a corner from fellow new recruit, the attacking-midfielder Exequiel Palacios (No. 8, River Plate), glancing it across goal against the crossbar. Colombatto also showed himself to be a provider of some potential, such as two minutes after the restart when his corner found centre-back Marcos Senesi (No. 6, River Plate). However, the latter, who also did not feature earlier this year at Ecuador 2017, really should have done better than head comfortably over from 10 or so yards.

Otherwise, Colombatto, as well as, to a lesser extent, Palacios, also sometimes tried to play incisive balls towards yet another new call-up, forward Ezequiel Ponce (No. 18, Granada, on loan from Roma). Particularly in the first half, he was a lively presence, often making runs, attempting to latch onto passes and crosses as well as attempting to fashion opportunities of his own making. Two of his more notable half-chances were his 25th-minute turn-and-left-footed-strike from the edge of the area, which was saved low at the near post, followed later by a 34th-minute right-footed shot from around 25-30 yards out, which went a few yards wide. In the second half, like his fellow team-mates, Ponce was less visible, but had a decent strike that went wide of the post five minutes after the interval, before later at the very end managing a strong header at the goalkeeper.

This latter opportunity was set up by a fine lofted ball from the left boot of Tomás Conechny (No. 10, San Lorenzo) who, somewhat surprisingly, started on the bench along with another attacking-midfielder who impressed in qualifying, Brian Mansilla (No. 11, Racing Club). The latter came on with barely quarter-of-an-hour left and had little opportunity to change the game, but Conechny’s arrival occurred on the hour-mark and he made more than enough contributions to suggest that he should be in the next line-up on Tuesday. Indeed, upon his arrival he sought to inject some urgency, in the 70th minute chipping one of his typically well-weighted balls from a set-piece towards the back post, which Lucas Rodríguez (No. 16, Estudiantes de La Plata) headed into the goalmouth, though this was just about cleared from almost underneath the crossbar. Conechny also had some attempts of his own and in the 86th minute came the closest to scoring for his side in the second half. Here, following a Mansilla corner, he picked up the ball just outside the area, before having to agonisingly watch on as his low left-footed effort rolled an inch or two wide of the post.

Another man who started on the bench was striker Lautaro Martínez (No. 9, Racing Club), one of the hottest properties in the tournament and whose five goals in qualifying are largely the reason Los Pibes managed to qualify in the first place. In his case, however, his absence from the line-up was likely due to the knock he received in the past week. Yet, given that he was red-carded with the aid of video technology for what was adjudged to be an elbow barely 15 minutes after he entered the fray on the hour-mark, all Argentines must now wish he hadn’t been risked. He will now miss Tuesday’s encounter and it will be interesting to see whether his absence will ensure another start for Marcelo Torres (No. 7, Boca Juniors), a striker who also scored five times in qualifying but who in this game was largely ineffectual out wide before being substituted off on the hour-mark.

Úbeda is not lacking in attacking talent but he really does need to fast figure out a system that incorporates his best players. Yet, despite all this tampering up the top of the park, it’s really at the back where Argentina’s problems lie. Indeed, once again, as they did three times in qualifying, they conceded three goals in one match. Defensive-midfielder and captain Santiago Ascacibar (No. 5, Estudiantes de La Plata) can not be blamed for any of these but onlookers who have never seen him perform at club level must be wondering what all the fuss is about. He may have a duty to help shield, inspire and communicate with those behind him but some of these players need to be able to help themselves first. Thus instead, if culprits are to be pinpointed, then this would implicate the poor anticipation and positioning of virtually all of the defence – particularly left-back Milton Valenzuela (No. 3, Newell’s Old Boys) and centre-back Senesi – as well as goalkeeper Franco Petroli (No. 1, River Plate). Given the frequency of these defensive issues, it is hard to see them being rectified within this tournament, so instead a rather heavy burden – and, perhaps, some resentment – is likely to be carried into each game by the attackers – whomever they shall be.

In the other Group A game played today, Guinea were defeated 3-0 by hosts South Korea, who will be Argentina’s next opponents on Tuesday 23 May 2017.

To keep up-to-date with the latest news on the South American nations at South Korea 2017, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter and check back to Hispanospherical.com for match-by-match talent-tracking articles.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela 2-0 Germany (Group B, 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, 20 May 2017)

Venezuela’s opening Group B game of the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup saw them sensationally see off European heavyweights Germany. Below are video highlights, a brief summary of the match and, most importantly, @DarrenSphericals armchair talent-tracking… 

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(Source: Wikipedia – Check here for all other results, fixtures and standings)

Venezuela 2-0 Germany

2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Group B, 20 May 2017 (YouTube)

Rafael Dudamel’s much-admired generation of youngsters kick-started South Korea 2017 in memorable, expectation-defying fashion, defeating Germany with a relative degree of comfort. Indeed, though Guido Streichsbier’s men arguably had the upper hand during the first half, their superiority was ever so slight and consisted of little more than having the likes of Philipp Ochs aim a few extra shots from range that either missed the target or were easily stopped.

Things soon changed decisively after the break. Indeed, barely had the second period began when Venezuela had crafted the hitherto best chance of the game, which was soon followed by the opening goal in the 51st minute, scored by Ronaldo Peña. He capitalised on some defensive uncertainty on the flank before confidently waltzing with the ball past goalkeeper Dominik Reimann. Just three minutes later, the lead was emphatically doubled by Sergio Córdova, who was played into a little space on the right side within the area, before firing home low into the back of the net. Subsequently, the Europeans evidently had the wind knocked out of their sails and, as a contest, the game somewhat petered out in the final half-hour or so.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this extraordinary result for Venezuela is that both the players as well as the fans know that they can in fact play much better than this. Therefore, if to some they didn’t already, then now especially, the possibilities for this crop of cracks suddenly seem limitless.

Talent Tracking

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Though the hordes of fastidious tactics bloggers may wish to disagree, to these eyes, the best compliment that could be paid to the defence that kept this clean sheet is that, well, they weren’t very prominent. Indeed, with the exception of maybe one centre-back foot that needed to be instinctively put in to stop the ball rolling towards the wrong feet for a sudden close-range opportunity, La Vinotinto were never seriously tested. There were no last-ditch challenges, no heroic recoveries after having given away possession in the final third, no goalmouth clearances and no goalkeeping acrobatics. There didn’t need to be – and not just because the opposition were somewhat lacking as an attacking threat. Though in the initial stages, there was some midfield carelessness that allowed the Germans to roam towards the edge of the area, generally the team as a whole – and, of course, the back four, in particular – maintained their focus, kept their vigilance and tracked their rivals, rarely granting them an inch in meaningful positions.

Regarding the outfield rearguard, 18-year-old Nahuel Ferraresi (No. 4, Deportivo Táchira) was the one notable surprise on the team-sheet, as during qualifying it was the bench-dwelling Josua Mejías (No. 17, Carabobo FC) who formed one half of a much-admired centre-back partnership with Williams Velásquez (No. 2, Estudiantes de Caracas). However, the defensive record – the best in that tournament – that was achieved back then also involved a few personnel alterations necessitated largely by suspensions. Thus, it would appear that, not only did Ferraresi acquit himself well, but also that Dudamel has an impressive pool of defence-minded individuals at his disposal who are receptive to the system that has been instilled.

Furthermore in this area, left-back Eduin Quero (No. 3, Deportivo Táchira), who received two red cards in his six qualifying matches, also got booked here early on but did well to keep his cool and quell any trouble on his side. His colleague over on the right-flank, Ronald Hernández (No. 20, Zamora FC) was again the more adventurous of the pair, having Venezuela’s only real attempt on target in the first half, shooting from 25-30 yards out on the inside-right in the 24th minute, though his, admittedly ambitious, effort was comfortably saved. He did, however, also combine very well on the overlap on the right on the half-hour mark, with his nifty bit of skill ultimately leading to a lay-off to a certain individual in a good position inside the area who – to the surprise of few – skied the ball over.

This would be attacker and target man, Ronaldo Peña (No. 9, Las Palmas), who earned the ire of many fans during qualifying for his profligacy in front of goal. However, shortly after the interval, he rose to prominence, first receiving a pass from defensive-midfielder and captain Yangel Herrera (No. 8, New York City FC, on loan from Manchester City) and nudging the ball past a defender to give Yeferson Soteldo (No. 10, Huachipato, Chile) a clear, albeit brief, sight of goal. His strike was blocked by the goalkeeper but four minutes later, the diminutive dribbler – who was to later grow in confidence, enjoying short bursts with the ball – played a role in the opening goal, forcing a defender into a poor backwards header over on the right flank. This was seized upon by Peña, who gave his compatriots the gift they could scarcely have ever dreamed of as he exhibited some fine footwork, first taking the ball past another defender, then the goalkeeper, before sliding into the empty net. Cue elation.

The man who had combined well with Hernández for Peña’s first-half opportunity was right-sided attacker Sergio Córdova (No. 23, Caracas FC) and, just a few minutes after the Las Palmas youngster made it 1-0, it was he who doubled the lead. He had also struck a minor opportunity off-target in the first half and his 54th-minute goal came about following some fine work by the left-sided Adalberto Peñaranda (No. 7, Málaga, on loan from Watford). The dynamic forward who played in the 2015 CONMEBOL tournament but not the 2017 edition, showed that he can slot into this side rather neatly indeed as he dribbled from the inside-left into the dee, before sliding the ball inside the area for Córdova. The Caracas FC man thus took one touch before firing home at the near post. Cue euphoria. Overall, he showed considerable determination and ability from his right flank, impressing many back home who, in one notable online poll, overwhelmingly voted him the man of the match.

Otherwise, as is custom, midfielder Ronaldo Lucena (No. 16, Zamora FC) sprayed some good passes and put in a few notable deliveries, the best coming after 14 minutes from a set-piece which centre-back Velásquez stretched for, but couldn’t quite connect with.

Ultimately, this was a performance to serve notice to the global footballing fraternity not yet up-to-speed with the very promising developments in Venezuela. It’s especially exciting given that all Vinotinto fans know there is much more to come from their fresh-faced representatives, not least highly-rated goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez (No. 1, Caracas FC), who was never seriously troubled today. Given the organisers’ generosity of allowing 16 of the 24 group teams to qualify through to the second round, it is hard not to feel as if Venezuela already have one foot in the knock-out stage.

In the other Group B game played today, Mexico nabbed a 3-2 win at the death against Vanuatu, who will be Venezuela’s next opponents on Tuesday 23 May 2017.

To keep up-to-date with the latest news on the South American nations at South Korea 2017, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter and check back to Hispanospherical.com for match-by-match talent-tracking articles.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

 

 

 

 

 

2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup – Preview of the Top South American Talents

2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup – Preview of the Top South American Talents

This Saturday, 20 May 2017, ushers in the 23-day 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, held in South Korea. Following an opening stage that shall see a generous 16 nations emerge from the six groups of four teams (the top two from each, plus the four best-performing runners-up), the knock-out phase will ultimately provide a winner on Sunday 11 June 2017. Throughout all of this, @DarrenSpherical will be keeping track of the four South American qualifiers – Uruguay, Ecuador, Venezuela and Argentina – providing match-by-match updates on their most eye-catching talents. Thus, what follows below is a concise guide to a handful (or so) of players from each country to look out for. Those after a little more information on the majority of these embryonic cracks could certainly do worse than also check out this talent-spotting round-up from January/February’s 2017 CONMEBOL Under-20 South American Youth Championship.


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Uruguay

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(Uruguay’s Group D fixtures via FIFA.com; central times are GMT)

Consistently impressive at youth level, Fabián Coito’s men emerged victorious at the Sudamericano Sub-20, delighting their fans after the disappointment of finishing runners-up in 2015. They are a well-organised unit, having conceded the second-fewest number of goals in the tournament and are not short of players from all over the pitch capable of ending up on the scoresheet.

Top Talents

Nicolás De La Cruz (Attacking-midfielder, No. 11, Liverpool, Uruguay)

Younger brother of full international Carlos Sánchez, who displayed admirable character, composure and leadership qualities in his country’s regional Under-20 triumph and was acclaimed as this site’s Player of the Tournament. A regular at club level, where he features on the scoresheet relatively often, he is not afraid to shoot – and, perhaps, score a swerving, spectacular golazo – from range. Along with this and his free-kick attempts, expect to also see him showcase his creativity via an eclectic array of forward balls and crosses, from both set-pieces as well as open play. A move abroad surely can’t be too far off the horizon.

Rodrigo Amaral (Attacking-midfielder/Forward, No. 10, Nacional, Uruguay)

Prodigious, potentially brilliant game-changer who often roams from deep, bustling his way forward to either play in team-mates with a deft touch or – like De La Cruz – score some long-range screamers. However, though he finished as the joint-top scorer with five goals in the title win earlier this year and was possibly the most naturally gifted player in the tournament, there are serious concerns regarding his weight. So much so that not only did he never once complete 90 minutes in qualifying but immediately after lifting the trophy, his powerful agent Daniel Fonseca engineered him away from his club side to train in isolation. Amaral has since said that he has no intention of returning to Nacional and so now, the man who has already played in one Under-20 World Cup – in 2015, he heartbreakingly missed the decisive shoot-out spot-kick against Brazil – finds himself very much in the shop window.

Rodrigo Bentancur (Midfielder, No. 20, Boca Juniors, transferring to Juventus in July)

A versatile, often commanding midfielder, who frequently seeks to dispossess opponents before initiating attacks with short, precise passes, but who can also occasionally make progress upfield to inflict damage. Having already played over 50 league games for Argentine giants Boca Juniors, which has led to a €9.5 million move to Juventus, all Uruguayans will be hoping that he can play a towering role, providing the essential organisation and composure. A roamer at the centre of the park, to his left is likely to be the nifty Facundo Waller (Midfielder, No. 15, Plaza Colonia), who is poised to make some more key, understated contributions going forward.

Federico Valverde (Midfielder, No. 16, Real Madrid Castilla)

Like all of his compatriots above, this 18-year-old regular in the Real Madrid B side can certainly be an asset shooting from distance. Furthermore, if need be, he can most definitely get on the scoresheet, having netted seven times for the Under-17s in 2015’s regional tournament. However, as he was not part of the squad that reigned supreme a few months ago, it will be curious to see where precisely the ex-Peñarol man fits into this attack-blessed team.

Nicolás Schiappacasse (Forward, No. 9, Atlético Madrid Under-19s)

Playing in a more conventional striker’s role, Schiappacasse scored three times in the CONMEBOL triumph, two of his goals being rather clinical strikes; he also drew many fouls, winning free-kicks in dangerous positions as well as penalties. Just 18, he could prove to be a crucial component of the Uruguayan attack, but may also face more competition this time around from the likes of Valverde, not to mention the man a mere day his senior, Joaquín Ardaiz (Forward, No. 7, Danubio).

For more information on all of the above players (except Federico Valverde), plus some other Uruguayan talents to watch out for, click here to see how they got on at the 2017 CONMEBOL Under-20 South American Youth Championship.


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Ecuador

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(Ecuador’s Group F fixtures via FIFA.com; central times are GMT)

Ultimately denied by Uruguay at the last hurdle, Javier Rodríguez’s charges nevertheless finished a highly commendable 2nd on home soil in February. Although La Mini Tri‘s defence could do with some work – 14 goals conceded in 9 Sudamericano Sub-20 games – their plethora of bustling, forceful attack-minded players should create many difficulties for upcoming opponents.

Top Talents

Bryan Cabezas (Attacking-midfielder/Forward, No. 10, Atalanta)

One of the four joint-top scorers earlier this year with five tournament goals, this direct left-sided attacker has the ability to be a rambunctious nuisance for defenders, regularly unsettling them when charging his way forward. Last year, he played in the Copa Libertadores final for inspiring over-achievers Independiente Del Valle, subsequently earning a move to Atalanta. Although he has thus far only featured once as a substitute in Serie A, he surely still has a spring in his step after making his senior Ecuador debut in February. Another set of eye-catching performances for the Under-20s can only aid his club cause.

Pervis Estupiñán (Left-back, No. 6, Granada, Spain)

Nominally a left-back, the irrepressible Estupiñán is as unforgettable as his name, regularly manfully bombing up his flank and looking to make things happen in the final third. Even if three of his goals at the Sudamericano Sub-20 were immaculately executed spot-kicks, his four-goal tally was nevertheless eyebrow-raising. A solid performer at previous youth international levels – including the 2015 Under-17 World Cup – his true calling may well prove to be further upfield. Having started his first two La Liga games for Granada in April, with their recent relegation, it is rumoured that his potential is set to be nurtured outside of Andalusia next season.

Joao Rojas (Midfielder, No. 17, Emelec)

Particularly in the first group stage of the qualifying tournament, this right-sided midfielder looked to be Ecuador’s most creative attacker, regularly putting in dangerous balls from open play and set-pieces as well as not being afraid to strike. Whether for technical reasons and/or due to the demanding schedule that necessitates rotation, he featured less in the latter stages. The 19-year-old will thus be seeking to regain favour as well as show local giants Emelec – who signed him after nearly two good seasons with S.D. Aucas – why they should field him more often.

Jordan Sierra (Midfielder, No. 15, Delfin)

Though he was fielded in a more central, deep-lying role, the tenacious Sierra ultimately came to overshadow Rojas in the CONMEBOL under-20 tournament. Keen to fire from range, as well as hold off and evade challenges he, like Cabezas, made his full international debut for Ecuador against Honduras in February. If rumours are to be believed, the suitors are lining up to nab him after his Korean adventure, with Manchester City, Ajax and some unnamed Liga MX sides amongst those leading the pack.

Jordy Caicedo (Forward, No. 19, Universidad Católica del Ecuador) (& Co.)

Otherwise, La Mini Tri are certainly not short of persistent, rampaging attackers capable of creating chances as well as confusion – that is, amongst spectators as much as opponents. Indeed, both of whom may struggle to keep track of who is who. Perhaps most likely to get on the scoresheet is Caicedo, who notched three goals at the Sudamericano Sub-20 tournament and also has a couple this season in the domestic league. Other players to watch out for include the following: Midfielder Wilter Ayoví (Midfielder, No. 8, Independiente Del Valle), who will hopefully receive more opportunities this time around and who strongly believes he and his compatriots shall lift the trophy; Herlín Lino (Forward, No. 9, Deportivo Cuenca), who scored twice in the CONMEBOL qualifiers and, remarkably, won three penalties; and 18-year-old Washington Corozo (Forward, No. 7, Independiente Del Valle), who was a regular threat back in January’s group stage, gaining both an assist and a goal – had he and his team-mates been a little sharper, he could well have had more of each.

For more information on all of the above players plus some other Ecuadorian talents to watch out for, click here to see how they got on at the 2017 CONMEBOL Under-20 South American Youth Championship.


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Venezuela

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(Venezuela’s Group B fixtures via FIFA.com; central times are GMT)

Rafael Dudamel, who is also La Vinotino‘s senior national coach, guided his men through an exceptional showing earlier this year, finishing third and travelling to their first Under-20 World Cup since 2009. Meticulously organised, with the best defence in qualifying – seven goals conceded in the nine tournament games – much hope has been placed in this hard-working crop, four of whom have already received full caps in World Cup Qualifying matches.

Top Talents

Yeferson Soteldo (Attacking-midfielder/Forward, No. 10, Huachipato, Chile)

Despite being just 5 feet 3 inches tall, undoubtedly the most conspicuous Venezuelan will be this diminutive left-sided dribbler. While there are concerns that he can be a bit of a tunnel-visioned ball-hogger, of La Vinotinto‘s nine tournament goals earlier this year, he scored three and had a key role in at least another three (possibly five, if you ask his agent). Thus, much rests on this playmaker’s slight shoulders. Having already played for the senior side and managed to rack up over 100 appearances at club level, this 19-year-old possesses considerable experience within his own continent. Against the likes of Germany, however, will his petite frame hinder or aid his quest for global recognition?

Yangel Herrera (Defensive-midfielder, No. 8, New York City FC, on loan from Manchester City)

With organisation paramount to Venezuela’s prosperity, their versatile captain will seek to continue to play a major role, helping to communicate effectively with those around him and snuffing out danger. Vigilant as well as proactive, he frequently kick-starts attacks as well as gets forward himself, hitting the back of the net twice in his seven qualifying games. Also already a full international, he has impressed in his first few months in the MLS, scoring once and dislodging Andrea Pirlo from the New York City FC line-up. A regular place alongside senior captain Tomás Rincón surely beckons.

Wuilker Fariñez (Goalkeeper, No. 1, Caracas FC)

Universally lauded as the best shot-stopper in CONMEBOL qualifying, this sprightly 5-feet-9-inch ex-striker possesses great reflexes as well as a fearlessness when confronting danger. The Caracas FC No. 1 also has a knack for saving penalties, most notably denying Alexis Sánchez. Indeed, just a month after he turned 19, owing to his impressive performances for the Under-20s, Dudamel made him first choice for both senior qualifiers in March. As with Soteldo, it is only natural to wonder if his height shall limit his potential, but many onlookers will be hoping that this highly likeable chap can defy some more odds in the upcoming days.

Adalberto Peñaranda (Attacking-midfielder, No. 7, Málaga, on loan from Watford)

The prodigious Peñaranda did not feature at this year’s Sudamericano Sub-20, instead playing in the 2015 edition. Though that particular side had a forgettable campaign, the then-Deportivo La Guaira man was later ensnared by the Pozzo Triangle and, by the end of the year, was scoring goals, making headlines and breaking records with La Liga outfit, Granada. However, despite the hype that followed, his trajectory has stalled after negligible loan spells at both Udinese and, currently, Málaga. Still, all hope is far from lost: this restless, pacy dribbler returned to the senior fray in March and doesn’t turn 20 until the end of May. How he and Soteldo operate within the same line-up will be of great interest to many aficionados.

Williams Velásquez (Centre-back, No. 2, Estudiantes de Caracas, soon-to-be Udinese, on loan from Watford) (& Co.)

Though goalkeeper Fariñez deserves enormous credit for conceding the fewest goals in qualifying, he was also greatly assisted in achieving his four clean sheets by an exceptionally well-drilled defence. Indeed, arguably the most prominent of the outfield rearguard was centre-back Velásquez, who reportedly reached an agreement in February to later be initiated into the Pozzo Experience, with his destination at this moment in time said to be Udinese, on loan from Watford. As he is also likely to be in South Korea, in qualifying he was admirably partnered by Josua Mejías (Centre-back, No. 17, Carabobo FC), who got on the scoresheet in the breathtaking 3-0 win over eventual champions Uruguay. Lastly, on the right-flank will be Ronald Hernández (Right-back, No. 20, Zamora FC), who thwarted virtually all of the attacks on his side and was picked out by many as one of the best right-backs of the competition. As always with Venezuela, discipline is likely to be issue, but if those at the back, plus the likes of Herrera can maintain their cool as well as their collective shape, a history-making performance is eminently possible.

For more information on all of the above players (except Adalberto Peñaranda), plus some other Venezuelan talents to watch out for, click here to see how they got on at the 2017 CONMEBOL Under-20 South American Youth Championship.


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Argentina

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(Argentina’s Group A fixtures via FIFA.com; central times are GMT)

In early February, Claudio Úbeda’s men somehow scraped through in the fourth qualifying berth at the expense of the similarly underwhelming Brazil. As usual, Los Pibes are not short of attackers worth keeping an eye on, though their defence and collective character may be concerns. Being record six-time champions, they will want to improve on last time around, when they won 2015’s Sudamericano Sub-20 tournament, yet were embarrassingly knocked out of the first round of that same year’s World Cup.

Top Talents

Lautaro Martínez (Striker, No. 9, Racing Club)

Quite simply, Argentina would not be in South Korea without this frontman of awe-inspiring stamina and drive. Joint-top scorer in qualification, virtually all of his five goals were astoundingly vital, with three of them earning crucial points at the death of a trio of different games and his other two ensuring victory in the important final match. A clinical finisher with the ball at his feet as well as in the air, he is also adept at using his refined technique to score a pearler as well as set up a team-mate with a well-weighted pass. Since returning to Racing in February, he has scored six goals in eight league games; small wonder then, that the side most strongly linked to signing him are Real Madrid. In the week leading up to his Korean bow, he suffered an injury blow though, fortunately for all except his opponents, now reportedly has the all-clear to play.

Tomás Conechny (Attacking-midfielder, No. 10, San Lorenzo)

A creative attacker who has been on the radar of top scouts since at least 2015 when he banged in five goals in seven Sudamericano Sub-17 games, he emerged in spells at 2017’s Under-20 tournament as an indispensible playmaker. Indeed, he scored a fine golazo, but more notably, played a role in four other goals, two of which were put on a plate for Martínez late on, with another also gaining a point at the death. Having started a mere four matches in qualifying (with four other appearances coming as a substitute) as well as only ever emerging from the bench for his club side, it will be curious to see how much he is used in the upcoming days. He must at least derive some optimism from being upgraded from the No. 20 to the hallowed No. 10 shirt.

Brian Mansilla (Attacking-midfielder, No. 11, Racing Club)

Another potentially key individual who can play either off or behind the front-line is the left-footed Mansilla. In the qualifying tournament, he was a regular threat pacing up the inside-channels past opponents, scoring two goals and gaining an assist from his nine consecutive starts. One team evidently impressed was Ajax, yet their considerable bid was rebuffed by Racing, who clearly believe that they have something very special indeed on their hands.

Marcelo Torres (Striker, No. 7, Boca Juniors)

Unlike Martínez, Torres went into the qualifying tournament with little hype yet, particularly in the opening group stage, looked to be his nation’s most significant prospect. Ultimately, his more widely-touted striker-partner may have overshadowed him in the heroics department, but Torres nevertheless also finished joint-top scorer with five goals (from just seven appearances), two of which were exquisite finishes. Serie A sides are reportedly interested though, perhaps to the surprise of those outside of La Bombonera’s orbit, he is still yet to play a senior game for Boca Juniors. Thus, the World Cup could provide a perfect platform to accelerate his club career progression, whether at home or abroad. That said, we are yet to see precisely where a certain Ezequiel Ponce (Forward, No. 18, Granada, on loan from Roma) shall fit in. Nominally a striker who was prolific at youth level with Newell’s Old Boys, the attacker’s professional record has thus far been somewhat less remarkable. Nevertheless, though he wasn’t part of the qualifying squad, he scored in a recent warm-up game, having been set up by none other than Torres. Perhaps they need not draw pistols at dawn, after all.

Santiago Ascacibar (Defensive-midfielder, No. 5, Estudiantes de La Plata)

Already a regular at club level and tracked by some of Europe’s top clubs, much of Los Pibes‘ success depends upon the midfield harrying and leadership skills of their captain. However, though in qualification he did display some of his passing abilities when playing a key role in two goals, defensively he and his colleagues were porous. Indeed, he was at the heart of the system that leaked three goals in three separate matches, leading him to claim that their preparation had been inadequate. Thus, personal pride and patriotism surely demands that he takes charge of ensuring that there will be no recurrence of either Ecuador 2017 or, indeed, New Zealand 2015.

For more information on all of the above players (except Ezequiel Ponce), plus some other Argentine talents to watch out for (excluding Ezequiel Barco and Nahuel Molina), click here to see how they got on at the 2017 CONMEBOL Under-20 South American Youth Championship.


To keep track of how all the South American talents get on at South Korea 2017, please follow yours truly on the Twitter account below and/or return to this website for match-by-match updates.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

A Belated Pilgrimage: Visiting Old Trafford to Experience Premier League Football

Spherical Manor

At the beginning of March 2017, @SphericalManor made the lengthy journey to Old Trafford to watch what was his first-ever live Premier League match. An avid football fan for over twenty years who these days mostly witnesses the game in the flesh when he visits his local non-league side on a whim, his relationship with Salford’s finest is not as straightforward as his inner child would like it to be. A barrage of excuses and anecdotes regarding his sympathies can be found here, but below is an account of his experience as a long-distance traveller taking in Manchester United vs AFC Bournemouth.

A Belated Pilgrimage:

Visiting Old Trafford to Experience Premier League Football

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Aloof Allegiances

Stop grumbling, there are people in Africa who would kill for this. Plenty in Asia too for that matter, not to mention virtually every other corner of the globe.

But here I am, a man in his late-twenties who has followed the club…

View original post 4,131 more words

Aloof Allegiances

Spherical Manor

Recently, @SphericalManor made a belated pilgrimage to Old Trafford to watch what was actually his first ever live match of Premier League football (read about the experience here). As an explanation is possibly in order, what follows below is a lengthy account of his footballing allegiances.Packed with anecdotes and trivia, perhaps just be grateful that he isn’t still wrapped up in a sickly tangle of reminiscences….

Home shirts - 1

Aloof Allegiances

“Gloryhunter”

Unsurprisingly, this is not a word I would introduce myself with, though in response to some enquiries regarding my sympathies over the years, I have actually gone to the length of denying even liking football, less I risk getting branded one. Now, some would say not liking football is virtually a prerequisite for most long-distance Manchester United fans, but let’s not descend into petty name-calling too early here.

While the reason I, a man in his late-twenties who lives over 200 miles…

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Chile 3-1 Venezuela – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (28 March 2017)

For the first hour of the fourteenth matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, Rafael Dudamel’s men were on the receiving end of a very one-sided bombardment; ultimately, though they were able to massage the scoreline somewhat, the performance exposed many known, recurring weaknesses. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a full match report and some thoughts…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Tuesday 28 March 2017 – Estadio Monumental David Arellano, Macul, Santiago

Chile 3-1 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Chile 3-1 Venezuela, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 28 March 2017 (YouTube)

Rampant Roja Compelled to be Content with Early Blitz

With three goals in the opening 22 minutes, it looked as if La Roja were on course to break some records, though in the end they had to settle just for these strikes, as their profligacy gave La Vinotinto some unmerited late optimism in the final half-hour. 

The first goal came after less than five minutes when Arsenal’s Alexis Sánchez brilliantly curled a central 25-yard free-kick in off the underside of the bar; he hit it with such pace and accuracy that goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez seemed to not have time to even attempt a dive for it. Barely two minutes later, Sánchez did great to skip around a static Venezuelan defence from the left flank over to the centre of the area, where he slid through Charles Aránguiz, who immediately squared it to Colo-Colo maestro Esteban Paredes to tap in. Then, in the 22nd minute, the third goal came, with Sánchez once again involved. This time, he played the ball out to the right to Mauricio Isla, then beat Alexander González to meet the Cagliari right-back’s cross at the back post; from here, he headed past the flapping Faríñez into the goalmouth, where Paredes managed to nudge it over the line.

The hosts were very much dominant and frequently looked like they were about to extend their lead. Conversely, in the quarter-of-an-hour after the third goal, aside from a couple of off-target shots, Venezuela’s best moments came when their opponents had over-committed, leading to rapid attempts at countering. Most notably, Jhon Murillo twice chased forward balls, the second of which saw him virtually one-on-one with Claudio Bravo, but he couldn’t get a proper swing on his shot and the ball instead rolled tamely to the Manchester City goalkeeper. Later on in the half in the 42nd minute, arguably the best chance for La Vinotinto score before the break fell to Wilker Ángel; yet, despite the  six-feet-five-inch centre-back – who, once again, had a game to forget at the back – gaining space from his marker, he was unable to make good contact with Rómulo Otero’s free-kick.

Before this, however, Chile were nearer to the mark with two opportunities of their own. Firstly, in the 38th minute, Aránguiz headed a lofted ball back to the edge of the area from where Eduardo Vargas struck a fine low left-footed effort which hit the outside of the post. Two minutes later, from the left of the area, Jean Beausejour laid the ball to Paredes who rolled a low effort just wide of the far post.

Whatever Venezuela manager Rafael Dudamel said at half-time, it didn’t work. It shall be one of the great mysteries of the 2018 World Cup CONMEBOL qualifying campaign as to how Chile did not extend their lead. Firstly, Arturo Vidal had a couple of minor efforts early on, hitting a strike at the goalkeeper on the turn then, from the left edge of the area, knocking a surprise cross-goal shot wide of the far post. A few minutes later in the 52nd minute, however, he should definitely have scored. Here, Sánchez once again came in from the flank and left the Venezuelan back-line for dead, before this time passing to Vidal in the area; yet, the Bayern Munich man, barely eight yards out, controlled, then surprised everyone by placing his shot wide of the post. Then, just over a minute later, Vidal left the home faithful even more incredulous as, from a Paredes cut-back in the area with the defence and goalkeeper scrambling about out of sorts, he blazed over. Less than two minutes afterwards, another chance for La Roja was fashioned: Vargas came roaming forward, slid it to Vidal who was confronted by the onrushing goalkeeper, off whom the ball ricocheted; however, it then rolled to a very tight position, from which Paredes could only blast into the side-netting. Subsequently, it wasn’t long before the local league striker had a pair of better opportunities, the first arriving following a forward ball from Sánchez that the former struck at Fariñez, forcing a block; from the rebound, he hit a low shot wide.

Around this point just before the hour-mark, whilst the home fans were a little miffed not to be in a more commanding position, their team’s supremacy was such that Olés greeted every pass. Shortly afterwards, in a tacit acknowledgement that his judgement may have let him down, Dudamel withdrew right-back González, who had been given a torrid time; with Roberto Rosales having been surprisingly omitted from the squad, Víctor García instead took his place.

Then, in the 63rd minute completely against the run of play, Venezuela scored. Otero capped a fine international break in which he has been involved in some key way in all three of his country’s goals by crossing in a free-kick for Salomón Rondón to rise high to head home; this was the West Brom striker’s first goal for club or country since 14 December and will have gone some way to quietening the doubters for the time being.

Though Chile continued to have the majority of the play, this goal aroused something in Venezuela. Indeed, in the 67th minute, captain Tomás Rincón raced forward on the inside left before hitting a well-struck right-footed shot from the edge of the area, which Bravo had to parry over. Then, in the 75th minute, he was to be aggrieved to have not ended up on the scoresheet. Here, Rondón gained some space on the right edge of the area, passing towards the centre where substitute Adalberto Peñaranda deftly back-flicked it towards the Juventus man who then crashed a wonderful shot against the underside of the bar – replays show that it was marginally over the line, but with no goal-line technology, the score remained at 3-1.

Despite playing their part in allowing the visitors back into the game, Chile still pressed forward and had a golden opportunity to extend their lead in the 77th minute, after left-back Rolf Feltscher gave away a penalty. However, 19-year-old goalkeeper Fariñez – who had made some decent blocks, even if his positioning looked somewhat suspect on two of the goals – enhanced his growing reputation by making a brilliant low save to deny a well-struck Sánchez spot-kick.

Nevertheless, though they should have got considerably more and Vidal acknowledged afterwards that he was partially responsible for not killing off the game sooner, Chile eventually saw out the game 3-1. Following all the other results from Matchday 14, they now sit fourth in the hotly-contested upper echelons of CONMEBOL qualifying; conversely, following Bolivia’s 2-0 win over a Messi-less Argentina, Venezuela are now four points adrift at the bottom, with just six points to their name.

Thus, given that the next qualifiers are five months away, in response to the question posed at the bottom of this site’s round preview, “Is It Even Possible To Pick Up Momentum?“, whilst it is impossible to give a conclusive answer, one has to at least state that Venezuela have not done so. Indeed, over the two games, once again, the entire defence, particularly Ángel and González, have certainly not covered themselves in glory; how many of them survive the next call-up is anyone’s guess, though a recall for Rosales at right-back aside, it’s debatable whether there are any vastly superior replacements available. Thus, Venezuela’s porous defence is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, which will have a negative impact on the attackers, who won’t be flowing with confidence knowing that their work can easily be undone at any moment.

That said, if everyone’s fit, then come late August against Colombia it wouldn’t be a surprise to also see at least two, possibly three, changes in this similarly unsettled forward area. If anyone here has come away with their reputation enhanced, it is surely Otero, who scored against Peru, played a key role in the other goal in that match and directly set up Rondón’s goal against Chile. Things can easily change in the upcoming months, but right now there wouldn’t be many complaints to see him start in an attacking position alongside a fit-again Juanpi, as well as – if a 4-2-3-1 is selected – one of at least two or three other candidates.

The manager Dudamel will have no doubt learned a few things from these two encounters, but given that his results were very similar to the last two matches of Noel Sanvicente before his sacking this time last year (2-2 away draw with Peru and a 4-1 home loss against Chile), it is hard to feel as if any real progress has been made. New faces sometimes come along or old ones re-emerge and some of these may suggest different directions for the squad but overall the performances and results are underwhelmingly consistent.

Dudamel is now charged with getting a new generation – who many of his compatriots are excited about – prepared for the Under-20 World Cup in May. The likes of Faríñez, Yeferson Soteldo and Yangel Herrera should feature – as they also all did in this round of senior qualifiers – and the coach will know a good showing will aid his declining reputation. Given that he was seen as the budget local choice when he was offered the role a year ago, it’s hard to know precisely how much pressure he is under from upon high, particularly as the FVF have recently elected a new president. Unfortunately, right now, one finds it difficult to envisage performances dramatically improving in the four remaining qualifiers later this year. If this transpires to be the case then, regardless of the consequences for Dudamel, it will be a huge blow to the international careers of this pool of players, many of whom possess the capabilities to achieve so much more.

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): W. Fariñez; A. González (V. García, 61′), W. Ángel, M. Villanueva, R. Feltscher; R. Zambrano, T. Rincón (A. Figuera, 84′); J. Murillo, R. Otero, D. Machís (A. Peñaranda, 68′); S. Rondón.

Chile (4-3-3): C. Bravo; M. Isla (P. Díaz, 89′), G. Medel, G. Jara, J. Beausejour; P. Hernández (C. Carmona, 88′), A. Vidal, C. Aránguiz; E. Vargas, E. Paredes, A. Sánchez.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical