The final game which took place on the last Hexagonal Matchday of the 2017 U-20 South American Youth Championship saw hosts Ecuador face Uruguay in a battle for the title. Below are video highlights, a brief summary of the game and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-spotting…
Ecuador 1-2 Uruguay
CONMEBOL U-20 South American Youth Championship 2017, Hexagonal Group Stage, 11 February 2017 (YouTube)
In this title-deciding encounter, Uruguay were out the traps early and with relative comfort ultimately went on to clinch the championship by an impressive five points. They were gifted the lead after a mere five minutes when Ecuador defender Luis Segovia suicidally passed the ball inside his own area to Joaquín Ardaiz who gratefully tucked it away. Twenty minutes later Ardaiz virtually sealed the competition for Uruguay when he received a long ball and clinically struck it home. Now requiring three goals, though Ecuador did get forward they never really looked like realistically pulling off the comeback; they did nevertheless halve the deficit in the 66th minute when Herlin Lino managed to knock a forward ball past the goalkeeper. Ultimately however, it was Uruguay’s day and tournament; though it was a topsy-turvy 25 days and even Uruguay gave observers reasons to doubt them, they came through and can deservedly be called the best Under-20 nation in South America.
They were outsiders to win the title and any game plan they had went out the window as soon as Luis Segovia (No. 21, El Nacional) gifted Uruguay their opening goal within five minutes. Going two behind after 26 minutes all but ensured the destination of the trophy though, to their minor credit, Ecuador did at least try to threaten the opposition defence throughout the game.
Indeed, unsurprisingly top-scorer Bryan Cabezas (No. 10, Atalanta, Italy) could be a threat, particularly early on. In the 13th minute he managed to gain some space and get a shot away from the edge of the area, which the Uruguayan goalkeeper uncomfortably spilt. Ecuador have several quality attack-minded players and so some have been afforded more opportunities than others in this tournament but here Wilter Ayoví (No. 8, Independiente Del Valle) caught the eye, coming close to scoring twice. Indeed, in the 19th minute he swung in a free-kick with his right boot from the left near the byline which had to be blocked out at the near post. Then, more notably three minutes later, he did well to capitalise on an error then twist and turn his way past two players before firing a shot from inside the area that was deflected just over for a corner. Into the second half, Ecuador did manage to provide a glimmer of hope for their fans when in the 66th minute a long ball from right-back Kevin Minda (No. 4, L.D.U. Quito) was deftly touched by Herlin Lino (No. 9, Barcelona SC, Ecuador) through the legs of the onrushing goalkeeper to make it 2-1. However, despite this, they struggled to put Uruguay under much more pressure, with an 82nd-minute free-kick from substitute Joao Rojas (No. 17, Emelec) that went hopelessly over being the closest they came to another goal.
Alas, the scoreline remained the same and Uruguay were crowned champions. Nevertheless, Ecuadorians can come away with much pride that they not only hosted an often exciting tournament but that their team was often the most entertaining side on show, managing to finish a very credible second and will be going to South Korea in May.
Though Ecuador never entirely gave up, Uruguay had effectively killed off the game within the opening half-hour. Indeed, they showed strength in depth by dropping at least a couple of their most impressive players and it was one of the stand-ins who was to score both of their goals. Indeed, Joaquín Ardaiz (No. 7, Danubio) took advantage of a hopeless defensive error in the fifth minute, before shielding the ball from another defender and then sliding home from inside the area. His second came in the 26th minute when Nicolás De La Cruz (No. 11, Liverpool, Uruguay), arguably the most consistent top performer in the tournament, dinked a ball over a defender which Ardaiz confidently finished off.
Otherwise, Uruguay had a couple of other minor chances in the first half but it was after Ecuador pulled a goal back in the second period that they really further tested the opposition goalkeeper. Indeed, in the 69th minute, perhaps the most naturally talented player in the competition, Rodrigo Amaral (No. 10, Nacional, Uruguay), came off the bench and two minutes later had an opportunity to win the golden boot outright. Alas, though he curled this centrally placed free-kick well with his left peg, it ultimately went slightly wide; thus, after the game he had to share the top-scorer’s trophy with three other players who also scored five goals: Ecuador’s Bryan Cabezas and Argentina’s Marcelo Torres and Lautaro Martínez. Five minutes after Amaral’s free-kick, another set-piece was well-struck from the middle of the park; this time it was De La Cruz over the ball and he did well to curl a right-footed effort which had to be parried out.
Nevertheless, though they didn’t build on their early lead, they didn’t really need to, with the likes of Agustín Rogel (No. 18, Nacional) at the back instead largely effectively frustrating and hassling opponents off the ball.
When the final whistle blew, the Uruguayan joy was palpable as they won their first South American Under-20 tournament since 1981 (their eighth overall) and kept up a very impressive recent youth record. For many fans, this will have gone some way to making up for the narrow defeat suffered in the decisive final game by a similarly outstanding side to Argentina on home soil two years ago in front of over 65,000 people. Now, this generation of players from this small over-achieving nation shall go with Ecuador, Venezuela and Argentina to the Under-20 World Cup in South Korea in May with a spring in their collective step, no doubt believing that they can yet again upset the odds – and this time on a much grander scale.
Otherwise, to keep track with the careers of these and many other talented South Americans, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter.