Possibly against his better judgement, @DarrenSpherical is preparing to watch and report back on the leading talents in all 35 games of the upcoming Under-20 South American Youth Championship. If you are seeking information on the teams and players participating, click one of the links at the bottom of this article (or alternatively, here). Otherwise, featuring some reflections on the last tournament two years ago, provided below is a loose idea of what is in store over these 25 days…
Estadio Olímpico Atahualpa, Quito, Ecuador (capacity: 35,724). The venue for the 15 games of the Final Phase.
2017 Under-20 South American Youth Championship – A Look Ahead
It faces stiff competition in the football-watching itineraries of even the most caffeine-addled obsessives, but within the next several years, many of its headline-grabbers are likely to invade the elite leagues of world football. From 18 January until 11 February witnesses the return of the biennial, raw talent-loaded South American Youth Championship (Campeonato Sudamericano Sub-20 Juventud de América).
Between them, the Under-20 sides of the 10 CONMEBOL nations shall make use of four different stadiums in the north and centre of Ecuador and duke it out in the latest edition of this prestigious competition. Such is the draw that it possesses that a staggering 65,235 turned up at Montevideo’s historic Estadio Centenario for 2015’s deciding match between hosts Uruguay and eventual-winners Argentina. Yet, though both of those sides certainly cared about winning, the competition is as much a qualification stage for the Under-20 World Cup.
Indeed, the tournament is structured as follows: the 10 CONMEBOL nations are split into two groups of five teams, in which they all play each other once. After these four games, the top three teams from each group go through to the final league of six sides, all of whom play each other once. Although following these five games whichever selección has the most points in this table shall momentarily bask in the glory of winning the trophy, all of the top four will nevertheless be travelling to South Korea in May for the World Cup. Thus, as one should be able to deduce, there is no actual knock-out final; it just so happened that last time around the top two played each other in what was the last match.
Cramming nine games into 24-25 days for each of the final six nations may not sound entirely conducive to the development of their players; however, intentionally or otherwise, it serves well the biggest attraction of this tournament: talent-spotting. Indeed, as the youngsters will be fully aware, professional scouts and agents from all over the world shall be present at the games, with many more of varying qualifications watching on from afar. To get an idea of the calibre of players who may be displaying their wares in the upcoming weeks, a perusal of past squad lists yields many household names. Lionel Messi? He banged in five goals in 2005 in an Argentina team featuring Pablo Zabaleta, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Lucas Biglia and Ezequiel Garay. Alexis Sánchez? He was there with Chile in 2007 alongside a six-goal Arturo Vidal, as well as Gary Medel and Mauricio Isla. Neymar? He led Brazil to victory in 2011 with nine goals in a squad that included Danilo, Casemiro, Oscar, Alex Sandro, Lucas Moura and Juan Jesus.
They have much to live up to and it is too early to judge the class of ’15; they are, after all, still between just 19 and 21 years of age. Nevertheless, it seems noteworthy that the final, decisive clash from that tournament featured some of the players who have since enjoyed the greatest prominence at club level. Indeed, the opener was scored by Uruguay’s Gastón Pereiro, one of the players of the tournament with five goals, who in July 2015 was snapped up by PSV Eindhoven for a handsome fee; in October of that year he also scored both goals in an away win against Ajax and now has over 20 goals to his name. Argentina’s first-half equaliser came courtesy of Sebastián Driussi who, in the last several months has emerged as a River Plate regular, netting 10 times in 14 league games; he has attracted interest from, amongst others, Tottenham Hotspur. Fittingly, La Albiceleste‘s 81st-minute winner was struck home by four-goal Ángel Correa, widely considered to be the championship’s standout player. Eyes were on the stocky rampager from the off as he had already signed for Atlético Madrid following some impressive displays at San Lorenzo. He has since been in and out of Diego Simeone’s side, though has scored some important goals, including the equaliser in September’s away draw with Barcelona. Speaking of Cholo, his son Giovanni Simeone was in fact the top-scorer in 2015 with nine goals. Derided by some at the time as being largely the beneficiary of the playmaking of Correa and co. as well as, less charitably, a goalhanger, he has answered such critics this season by making his mark on the European game, becoming a regular name on the Genoa scoresheet in Serie A.
Many more who featured in 2015 are playing regularly for top-level clubs in South America. Also, a considerable number of others have made the leap and are currently at teams in major European leagues, some of the most notable being: Gerson (Roma/Brazil), Mauricio Lemos (Las Palmas/Uruguay), Cristian Espinoza (Alavés, on loan from Villarreal/Argentina), Emmanuel Mammana (Lyon/Argentina), Mauro Arambarri (Bordeaux/Uruguay), Malcolm (Bordeaux/Brazil), Antonio Sanabria (Real Betis/Paraguay), Davinson Sánchez (Ajax/Colombia), Kenedy (Chelsea/Brazil), Rafael Santos Borré (Villarreal, on loan from Atlético Madrid/Colombia), Adalberto Peñaranda (Málaga, on loan from Watford/Venezuela), Sergio Díaz (Real Madrid/Paraguay) and Marlon (Barcelona/Brazil).
Some of these impressed two years ago more than others. Another player of note, the much-hyped ‘new Neymar’ Gabriel ‘Gabigol’ Barbosa, had a mixed tournament in a patchy Brazil side but has since won Olympic gold, played and scored for the senior side and moved from Santos to Inter Milan for an eye-watering €29.5m. Whether he and the others live up to expectations remains to be seen. By contrast, Colombia’s nippy attacker Jeison Lucumí was widely picked out as one of the stars of Uruguay 2015 yet, in the two years since, has been languishing with fallen giants América de Cali in his country’s second-flight. He may still be only 21 and his team have just been promoted back to the big league but such tales do both cause one to ponder the power and influence of certain agents as well as caution against getting carried away with tournament form.
Indeed, a prime case in point comes from 2005 when Hugo Rodallega ended up the top-scorer, netting a staggering 11 goals. Though he has since distanced himself from the comments, he was reported as claiming that this meant that he is ‘undoubtedly better than Messi‘, who bagged a mere five. In fairness, while he may not have subsequently met some people’s expectations (least of all his own), a career that has included six seasons in the English Premier League can not be glibly dismissed. Quite, for most youth internationals from any part of the world, it would constitute a rip-roaring success.
Nevertheless, roll on Ecuador 2017, false promises, surprise gems and all. As one person could not possibly claim to be an authority on all 10 sides, there will be no overview on this website, but if that is what one seeks then some links at the bottom of this article should come in handy. Having scoured through all the squad lists, it can at least be said that those who regularly watch any of these nations’ domestic leagues should spot several familiar names. Overall, however, very few players have already been snapped up by teams outside of their respective homelands – expect that to change. Also, those who watched two years may recognise a few names, such as Jesús Medina (Paraguay), Adrián Ugarriza (Peru) and Rodrigo Amaral (Uruguay). Each of these players put in good showings and one can not help but wonder if their slight age-advantages will benefit them here. The likes of Gerson, Sergio Díaz and Adalberto Peñaranda would also be eligible for a second throw of the dice but, alas, none of these Europe-based players have been released. Lastly, 19-year-old Gabriel Jesus, Manchester City’s £27m signing from Palmeiras, did not appear for his country in 2015 yet did at that year’s Under-20 World Cup and has since scored five times for the senior side in qualifiers for Russia 2018; needless to say, he hasn’t made the trip to Ecuador.
Thus, yours truly plans to go into this tournament with open eyes and shall report back after each matchday with observations on the standout players, providing video highlights, brief summaries and maybe the opinions of others as well. With two games per day for the first ten days, followed by a well-earned two-day break before, gulp, three matches per day every three days which cover the final five matchdays, one hopes to maintain one’s sanity.
The opening day is 18 January 2017 and the two matches will be Colombia vs Paraguay and Ecuador vs Brazil. Daily updates should appear on this website following each matchday but for more up-to-the-minute coverage, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter.
The two groups: the teams play each other once, then from 30 January-11 February, the three top teams from each group play each other once in the final phase of six teams, with the top four qualifying for the Under-20 World Cup).
La Pizarra Del DT: Tournament Preview – Perhaps the most detailed overview in Spanish, though these translations should help decode the key information on each page: Estrella – Star, Otro jugador clave – Other key player, Entrenador – Manager, Baja importante – Important loss/absence. You’re welcome.
Argentina Team Preview – The most thorough look at these perennial contenders, courtesy of Peter Coates of Golazo Argentino. Here is another of his articles, which highlights five key players for La Albiceleste.
ESPN Tournament Preview Article – Tim Vickery with another article again looking both back and forward, this time with a more general outlook.