With six teams having qualified from the initial group stage, the Final Phase – also known as the Hexagonal – of the 2017 edition of the U-20 South American Youth Championship is now under way. The second of the three games which took place on Matchday 1 saw Uruguay face Argentina, in a rapid rematch of the two sides’ 3-3 draw nine days prior. Below are video highlights, a brief summary of the game and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-spotting…
Uruguay 3-0 Argentina
CONMEBOL U-20 South American Youth Championship 2017, Hexagonal Group Stage, 30 January 2017 (YouTube)
Following a 32nd-minute straight red card awarded to Argentina’s Tomás Belmonte, Uruguay went on to comfortably win on what was, in the first half in particular, a rather puddle-laden pitch. Before this game-changing moment, Los Pibes had actually been the more threatening, but just six minutes after the dismissal, Uruguay went ahead following a sensational low, long-range effort from Nicolás De La Cruz. Barely two minutes later, their lead was doubled as left-back Mathías Olivera was played into some space on the left of the area and struck home at the near post. The game was all but over at the break and La Celeste‘s youths effectively killed off any slim hopes of a miraculous fightback when, in the 62nd minute, Rodrigo Amaral ghosted in to head home a cross to make it 3-0. The remaining half-hour was thus the dampest of damp squibs, with the final whistle coming as blessed relief for Argentina, who will surely need a rather strong recovery in order to be within a shout of retaining their title. Uruguay, on the other hand, have put themselves in a commanding position.
In the 17th minute, Nicolás De La Cruz (No. 11, Liverpool, Uruguay) curled in a free-kick that Carlos Benavidez (No. 8, Defensor Sporting) at the back post directed goalwards but which the goalkeeper saved. De La Cruz did also look to play in some of his other team-mates but his one outstanding contribution to the game was the opening goal after 38 minutes. Indeed, seemingly out of nowhere, he picked up the ball some 35 yards out, put it onto his right, then unleashed a brilliant, swerving strike, that curled slightly away from the far post before ultimately creeping low and inside of it.
Though perhaps less notable than some of his compatriots in previous games, Facundo Waller (No. 15, Plaza Colonia) has quietly impressed in this tournament and actually played a role in the two subsequent Uruguayan goals. In the 40th minute, he was the target of a pinpoint, diagonal ball from Benavidez which he nodded on from the left flank into the path of left-back Mathías Olivera (No. 5, Club Atlético Atenas). He, in turn, took advantage of some very slack tracking followed by some poor goalkeeping before, from the left inside the area, managing to squeeze a shot in at the near post to double his side’s lead. Later in the 62nd minute, Waller was on the right flank and adjusted to put in a bouncing cross with his left which Rodrigo Amaral (No. 10, Nacional, Uruguay) sneaked in to head low to make it 3-0. Regarding the goalscorer, whilst this goal made him joint top-scorer in the tournament with four goals, it must be said that other than this moment, he didn’t do a great deal else of note during the match. Furthermore, as he hasn’t yet lasted a full 90 minutes of any game and appears to be carrying some extra weight (or is it just a case of ‘big bones’?), one wonders if this potential star is fully fit.
Otherwise, goalkeeper Santiago Mele (No. 1, Fénix) made at least a few decent saves, with a particularly notable one occurring in the 28th minute, when he just about got his gloves on a low drive from Torres.
Lastly, a quick mention for Rodrigo Bentancur (No. 20, Boca Juniors), who was on the receiving end of a horrific late studding from Belmonte and, quite probably as a consequence, was later withdrawn, limping off in the process. No word yet on the condition of the Juventus target, though given the quality he has occasionally displayed during the tournament, one hopes that he makes a speedy recovery.
Given that, owing to the recklessness of Tomás Belmonte (No. 17, Lanús), Argentina did not have many opportunities to go forward, they can’t really be said to have had any standout players. They did, nevertheless, have some chances in the opening half-hour when they had eleven men on the pitch.
First of all, in the 6th minute, Brian Mansilla (No. 11, Racing Club) did well to roam from the left flank into the area before dinking a ball towards the back post for Lucas Rodríguez (No. 7, Estudiantes de La Plata). However, his header looked as if it bounced against the arm of Olivera, yet it was a corner not a penalty that was awarded. Five minutes later, from a free-kick 30 yards out on the inside-right channel, Nicolás Zalazar (No. 14, San Lorenzo) drove a powerful shot that arrowed just a yard or so over. Perhaps the closest Argentina came to a goal occurred in the 27th minute when a cut-back was deflected into the path of Marcelo Torres (No. 21, Boca Juniors); the prolific striker thus shaped to place his left-footed effort low into the corner but was denied by a good Mele save. The subsequent corner was then headed towards Torres at the edge of the six-yard-box, yet by the time that he got his footing sorted out, his attempt was rapidly blocked by Mele.
Otherwise, left-back Milton Valenzuela (No. 3, Newell’s Old Boys) put in several decent crosses throughout the game, even if none of his colleagues made a telling connection.
Finally, the only real chance Argentina had after the sending off came late in the day when Uruguay were about to pack up. Indeed, this occurred three minutes from time when Zalazar put in a fine cross from the inside-right which found substitute Ramón Mierez (No. 22, Tigre), though his header was well-parried by goalkeeper Mele.
Ultimately, after this write-off, Argentina will hope to bounce back and, with eleven men, display more of their attacking abilities; however, Colombia, like virtually all the other teams left in the competition, should prove to be stiff opposition.
Otherwise, Matchday 2 of the Hexagonal will be on 2 February 2017 and the games shall be Colombia vs Argentina, Uruguay vs Brazil and Ecuador vs Venezuela – expect to see another bout of talent-spotting from these encounters on Hispanospherical.com.
To keep up-to-date with the latest from Ecuador 2017, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter.