On the tenth day of the 2017 edition of the prestigious U-20 South American Youth Championship, attention turned to the final matches from Group B, which concluded the entire group stage: Uruguay took on Bolivia, then holders Argentina faced Venezuela. Below are video highlights, brief summaries of each game and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-spotting…
Uruguay 3-0 Bolivia
CONMEBOL U-20 South American Youth Championship 2017, Group B, 27 January 2017 (YouTube)
Uruguay secured their place in the Hexagonal with this comfortable win over Bolivia, who had to await the outcome of the subsequent game to see if they would still be joining them. After 18 minutes, defender Agustín Rogel opened the scoring by knocking in Nicolás De La Cruz’s free-kick from the left. Later, just before half time, Rodrigo Bentancur doubled the lead with a golazo, as he teed himself up for a fantastic strike from just outside the area which swiftly bypassed the goalkeeper’s gloves. Bolivia did make some forward forays but it was mainly Uruguay who created the best chances; they wrapped things up with the third goal in the 83rd minute when Rodrigo Amaral was slid into a one-on-one position in the area – he thus controlled and placed his shot just inside the near post.
Though the resting of a few notable players as well as the relative ease with which La Celeste‘s youths undertook their task perhaps meant superheroic feats were not required, some players nevertheless had their moments.
Captain Nicolás De La Cruz (No. 11, Liverpool, Uruguay) was responsible for the 18th-minute free-kick crossed into the area with his right boot from the left which found Agustín Rogel (No. 18, Nacional) in a crowd; from this, the centre-back instinctively converted for the opening goal. Aside from this assist, though De La Cruz took some more set-pieces and got into some decent positions, the closest he came to having any role in another goal was his 77th-minute shot; here, from approximately 25 yards, he picked up the ball and quickly struck a good cross-goal effort that the goalkeeper did well to parry wide.
Perhaps more so than during his previous two tournament games, Rodrigo Bentancur (No. 20, Boca Juniors, Argentina) – here, returning from suspension – was more of an attacking threat. From the halfway-line in the 12th minute, the highly-rated holding midfielder came roaming fotward to the edge of area, where he struck low and wide. Ten minutes later, he again gained much space for himself, this time with a nice first touch on the right, though his low ball into the area caused no harm. However, he certainly did some damage in the 44th minute when a corner was eventually knocked towards him just outside the area, somewhat right-of-centre. From here, he took a couple of touches with his right to tee himself up in a standing position that was virtually parallel to the goal-line; subsequently, he unleashed a brilliant left-footed strike that flew past the goalkeeper at the near post to double the lead.
Given the scoreline, 65th-minute substitute Rodrigo Amaral (No. 10, Nacional, Uruguay) did not really need to be a driving force, terrorising opposition players. Nevertheless, though he otherwise managed a minor charge or two as well as a late unremarkable shot, he did also get himself a goal. This came in the 83rd minute when Diego Rossi (No. 16, Peñarol) neatly made his way past a player before playing Amaral into space on the left inside the area; the latter took just one touch before squeezing the ball in at the near post for the third.
One man who made a nuisance of himself throughout the game without, ultimately, making it count was Joaquín Ardaiz (No. 7, Danubio), starting here his first game after two brief substitute appearances. He actually almost scored, not once, but twice: firstly, in the 24th minute when he beat a defender to a through-ball on the inside left; from the edge of the area, he poked a low bobbling shot past the goalkeeper but it came back off the far post. Later on in the 75th minute, he arguably had a better opportunity when he was found in much space, one-on-one; however, despite waiting for the ample moment to lift the ball over the goalkeeper, his effort was too low and easily blocked for a corner. Otherwise, though there’s a fair chance he will hit the back of the net at some point over the next fortnight, the several additional shots and crosses he attempted either missed their targets or were of little serious threat.
Though, as it turned out, a draw would have kept Bolivia in, they were unable to match their opponents and, barring a couple of minor moments, put in a fairly forgettable performance. Indeed, the likes of Limberg Gutiérrez (No. 20, Nacional, Uruguay), Moisés Villarroel (No. 8, Bolívar), Bruno Miranda (No. 11, Universidad de Chile, Chile), Ronaldo Monteiro (No. 9, Bolívar) and Rubén Cordano (No. 1, Blooming) may have suggested potential in their opening day win against Peru. However, there was little from them to get excited about in their subsequent three games; goalkeeper Cordano, for one, has largely discredited himself in the last two matches with some poor fumbles, though he was nevertheless notable here against Uruguay for taking a 53rd-minute free-kick from 25 yards, which went through to his opposite number. The free-kick taking goalkeeper – a fine South American tradition.
However, one man who it may be worth keeping an eye out for in future is 17-year-old Ramiro Vaca (No. 10, Quebracho). He scored a great free-kick against Argentina and also got another one on target as well as nearly setting up a goal against Venezuela; here against Uruguay just before half time, he curled a great right-footed free-kick from around 35 yards, requiring the goalkeeper to parry out wide.
Argentina 0-0 Venezuela
CONMEBOL U-20 South American Youth Championship 2017, Group B, 27 January 2017 (YouTube)
Not a game to dwell on for too long. Given the result of the preceding encounter, Argentina knew they were already through and did not seem too fussed about nabbing first place off Uruguay; Venezuela, on the other hand, merely required a draw. Thus, neither goalkeeper was seriously tested with instead the closest thing to a goal being one or two blasted efforts off-target and some through balls that just needed a touch of two. Owing to their precarious position, Venezuela could never really relax, though when Argentina had Cristian Romero sent off in the 85th minute, seeing out the draw did become somewhat easier. When the full-time whistle blew, their players understandably rejoiced.
There are many talented players in the Argentine ranks, though this did not really prove to be the occasion to showcase their abilities.
Although he had less success than in previous games, Tomás Conechny (No. 20, San Lorenzo) was perhaps his side’s liveliest attacking player. The closest he came to scoring occurred in the 63rd minute when he did well to chest a cross from the left, before blasting a left-footed effort from 15 yards that went just over, giving the goalkeeper an almightly fright along the way.
Otherwise, he sometimes won space on the flanks, put in some half-decent balls and generally tried to tee up team-mates. All Argentine moments of semi-interest seemed to involve him and these included: a 10th-minute cross from the left that Tomás Belmonte (No. 17, Lanús) headed straight over; a 12th-minute short ball to Lautaro Martínez (No. 9, Racing Club) who, in turn, passed to Belmonte centrally 25 yards out and whose shot, though well-hit, went wide; a 42nd-minute Conechy left-sided corner that was headed over to the right to be put back into the area by Brian Mansilla (No. 11, Racing Club), from whom somehow the ball fell to top-scorer Marcelo Torres (No. 21, Boca Juniors) at an acute angle, though his cross-shot was parried out and cleared; lastly, a 49th-minute Conechny free-kick from 30 yards that dipped low and caused the goalkeeper to awkwardly spill out.
Nevertheless, despite these slim pickings, expect to see much more of these players and some of their team-mates in the Hexagonal stage; as ever, Argentina look to be one of the favourites to claim the trophy.
Similarly, Rafael Dudamel’s men did not come out all guns blazing seeking a goal, though they did nevertheless cause some trouble in the final third:
In the 23rd minute, goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez (No. 1, Caracas FC) – who would later cause concern when Conechny’s free-kick bounced off him – pumped a ball upfield that the returning Yangel Herrera (No. 8, Atlético Venezuela) jumped to knock on; subsequently, the ball whistled just past Antonio Romero (No. 19, Deportivo Lara) in the area and wide. Four minutes later, Ronaldo Lucena (No. 16, Zamora FC) – who may well be his side’s most useful set-piece taker – curled in a dangerous free-kick from the left which begged for a knock goalwards, but was instead deflected off for a corner. Eight minutes later, right-back Ronald Hernández (No. 20, Zamora FC) surprised many by taking on a couple of players on his flank before working his way into the area; ultimately, he attempted to get a shot away but was blocked off.
In the second half, Yeferson Soteldo (No. 10, Huachipato, Chile) continued being a sporadic nuisance and the closest he came to having a hand in a goal was his 77th-minute free-kick from the left; this was knocked low through the wall and caused the goalkeeper to block it out, with the ball then being hesitantly cleared for a corner. However, probably the closest Venezuela came to a goal occurred from the free-kick on the left that followed Cristian Romero’s dismissal. Indeed, Ronaldo Lucena dipped this in towards the back post where Williams Velásquez (No. 2, Estudiantes de Caracas) was standing, but alas, the ball was just a little too high for the defender.
Nevertheless, for the first time since the Salomón Rondón-led generation of 2009, Venezuela have made it to the final stage of the tournament. Curiously and somewhat impressively, they currently have the best defensive record of the final six teams (one goal conceded in four games) as well as the worst attacking stats (one goal scored in four games). Many eyes will be interested to see whether the likes of Fariñez and Herrera can maintain the former and, on the other hand, whether Soteldo, in particular, can make his dribbles and playmaking count more by playing a role in at least a few additional goals.
To keep up-to-date with the latest from Ecuador 2017, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter. The next games will be on 30 January 2017 when the Hexagonal phase, featuring the six qualified teams, gets under way. The matches will be Colombia vs Venezuela, Uruguay vs Argentina and Ecuador vs Brazil – expect to see another bout of talent-spotting from these encounters on Hispanospherical.com.