The 2017 Under-20 South American Youth Championship took place in Ecuador from 18 January until 11 February. @DarrenSpherical watched all 35 games, writing reports for each encounter that detailed all the significant moments by the most talented players that were spotted. This article focuses on the most notable starlets found in the ranks of Under-20 World Cup qualifiers Venezuela, who ultimately finished 3rd in the final group stage (also known as the Hexagonal), having also initially progressed from Group B in 3rd. Before browsing below, it may be advisable to have a look at the final standings, results and goalscorers here and/or read the main reference guide published on this website, which features details on dozens of players, with every one of the ten participating nations represented.
(All photographs are credited to GettyImages)
Rafael Dudamel’s men put in an exceptional showing, qualifying for the Under-20 World Cup for the first time since 2009 and giving their compatriots much hope for the future. Yet, though always solid at the back – they would finish with the least goals conceded over nine games – they struggled for goals in the opening stage and looked like they could be heading home early, before just about scraping through with four straight draws (one goal for, one goal against). Thankfully for fans and neutrals alike, the floodgates opened in the Hexagonal when, in the second game, they thumped hosts Ecuador 4-2 and later inflicted Uruguay’s only defeat upon them (3-0), ultimately finishing a hugely commendable third.
To view highlights as well as read more about how Venezuela got on and who stood out in each game, click here.
Top Two Talents
Yeferson Soteldo (Attacking-midfielder/Forward, No. 10, Huachipato, Chile)
Undoubtedly the most eye-catching individual on the field for Venezuela was diminutive left-sided dribbler Yeferson Soteldo. Indeed, at 5 feet 3 inches tall, he must have had the lowest centre of gravity in the competition yet was a conspicuous presence as he repeatedly slalomed his way past opponents with the ball seemingly glued to his boots.
This jinking playmaker also took set-pieces and frequently appeared to be running the show yet was criticised early on for his alleged poor decision-making and lack of end-product. Some perceived his relegation to the bench for the third game against Bolivia as a punishment though Dudamel may have been thinking long-term and instead saving his energy. However, after he came on in the 52nd minute, Venezuela noticeably stepped things up several gears and were it not for the hapless wastefulness of several team-mates, Soteldo would have been credited with key contributions for at least three goals. Nevertheless, after Venezuela squeaked through to the final stage on goal difference after a 0-0 draw against Argentina, the stats that matter did not look good for Soteldo.
However, shortly after the Hexagonal began, this would all be largely forgotten, as he hit the ground running in the opening game with Colombia, scoring a sensational curling free-kick. Subsequently, he was to be integral in their two breathtaking thrashings. In the 4-2 win against Ecuador, if one generously notes his pass to Yangel Herrera for the stunning opener, then he had some role to play in all four goals: for the second, he scored this himself from the penalty spot, for the third, it was his shot that deflected kindly into the path of goalscorer Ronaldo Chacón and lastly, for the fourth, he was credited with an actual assist after he followed up some good work on the left with a pass across to Sergio Córdova, who finished off. Two matches later in the 3-0 win over Uruguay if, even more generously, his free-kick which was headed onto the bar is counted as a contribution towards the first goal which came barely ten seconds later, then he had some part to play in all the goals here as well. Indeed, he scored the second himself from the penalty spot and soon afterwards, he drew the foul to win another spot-kick, which Chacón converted to make it 3-0.
Thus, overall, of Venezuela’s nine tournament goals, he scored three and had a key role to play in at least another three (five, if you ask his agent); furthermore, had his team-mates displayed greater shooting accuracy, he could well have registered contributions for several more. Whilst there may still be justifiable concerns over whether or not he can be a bit of a tunnel-visioned ball-hogger and his size does make one ponder how far he can go in the global game, the raw ingredients of a potential star are surely already there. Having staggeringly played almost exactly 100 games for domestic champions Zamora, he has now joined up with Chile’s Huachipato, a side that compatriot Rómulo Otero impressed at last year before earning a move to Brazil’s Atlético Mineiro. Otero is one of a host of other attacking-midfielders Soteldo shall face competition from in this rather unsettled line in Venezuela’s senior team, though with three caps already to his name, the future nevertheless looks radiant for the Under-20’s leading man.
Yangel Herrera (Defensive-midfielder, No. 8, New York City FC, on loan from Manchester City)
Venezuela’s captain, the holding midfielder who deserves much credit for helping to organise those around him and snuff out danger so that his side emerged with the best defensive record over the course of nine games. Primarily for these contributions, Yangel Herrera was crucial to his side’s success though, whilst he may not be as much of an attacking threat as the likes of Uruguay’s Nicolás De La Cruz, he also played his part going forward.
Indeed, in the opening 0-0 draw with Uruguay, he nearly won the match with his late goalwards nudge, but this was overhead-kicked off the line by his counterpart Rodrigo Bentancur. Subsequently, he was impossible to ignore in the following game against Peru, as he first won a penalty which he took yet failed to convert and then hit the bar with the rebound; he did not let this setback devour his drive, however, as he went on to head home an important last-minute equaliser before, barely a minute later, receiving a second yellow card and thus his marching orders. Into the Hexagonal phase, he got the ball rolling in the second game against Ecuador with a fine strike from the edge of the area for the opening goal, though it’s unclear how many of his compatriots watching at home are willing to admit it took a significant deflection. In the subsequent match against Brazil, he was unlucky not to get another goal when he struck a fine low effort from 30 yards that beat the goalkeeper but hit the base of the post before rolling across the goalmouth. Lastly, it’s also worth noting that he helped kick-start many Venezuelan attacks and often looked to play some incisive balls from a deep position.
He has already played for the senior national side and seems almost tailor-made to enjoy a formidable partnership with captain and Juventus new-boy Tomás Rincón. Signed by Manchester City during the tournament, he is perhaps the best-placed of this Under-20 team to become a regular at full international level. However, despite his importance to this campaign it can not go unremarked upon that he wasn’t on the pitch when his team-mates pulled off their most impressive victory, the 3-0 win against Uruguay. He also wasn’t present when his team-mates kept their second clean sheet against Bolivia and had seven gilt-edged chances to score. However, whilst it is worth bearing in mind, this is not intended as criticism of the man, but more praise for the system implemented by Dudamel. That said, one thing he may need to improve upon is the reason behind him missing both of those matches: his discipline. Indeed, he picked up four yellow cards and one red during the tournament, which came off the back of a season where he received 14 yellow cards and one red card for Atlético Venezuela. Given the demands of his position and with Manchester City having already loaned him out to MLS allies New York City FC, it is questionable whether he will be told to ‘Follow what I say, not what I’ve done‘ by manager Patrick Vieira.
More Venezuelan Talents
Venezuela came into the tournament with three individuals already capped at senior level and, quelle surprise, they turned out to be their most important players. Wuilker Fariñez (No. 1, Caracas FC) is the third of these starlets and has deservedly been proclaimed by virtually all observers as the indisputable top goalkeeper of the competition. He conceded just seven goals in nine games (three of which were penalties), looking remarkably assured and pulling off several notable saves. From the very first game, he gained widespread attention when he kept his cool to embarrass Uruguay’s Nicolás De La Cruz by not being fooled by his Panenka chipped penalty, instead standing upright to swat it away. Other impressive saves include a last-gasp stop at close range against Peru in the subsequent game as well as two in quick succession against Argentina in the final match, which helped to quell the feared opposition onslaught.
Many would have selected him as one of Venezuela’s top two players, but with an eye towards his potential long-term future, there’s just one glaring barrier stopping this writer from doing so: he’s 5 feet 9 inches tall. During the competition, while his sprightliness and alertness ensured it wasn’t a huge issue, he did get out-jumped a couple of times and one can imagine it happening with greater frequency elsewhere. Indeed, unsurprisingly, recent history and present reality are somewhat against him attaining a regular starting position in a major European league. Given that the current senior international goalkeeper Dani Hernández (incidentally, a colossal 6 feet 5 inches) plays for promotion-chasing Tenerife in the Spanish second division, one wonders if Fariñez can possibly go any higher than this. At the moment, though speculation exists regarding a potential move this year, he has said that he plans to remain at Caracas FC – where he has chalked up over 50 league appearances – at least until when his contract expires in 2018.
Other than his height, it can’t be ignored that he did clumsily give away two penalties in the tournament (the Ecuador one was difficult to argue with, though the one against Colombia was fiercely disputed by Venezuelan onlookers, including Salomón Rondón). Furthermore, in the opening match, his arguably unnecessary parry back into the danger zone, which led to a Uruguayan penalty as well as a red card for team-mate Eduin Quero who made a last-ditch effort to prevent a goal, didn’t exactly help either.
All that being said, he is definitely a top talent and there is little doubt in this writer’s mind that he will one day enjoy a run as the senior side’s first-choice goalkeeper. Despite one’s reservations about him when confronted by more physical opponents and a greater-paced game, his career is definitely one to keep an eye on and could constitute an inspiring victory for little gloved chaps the world over.
If it doesn’t work out, he can always try to rekindle his early teenage success as a striker.
Moving on somewhat, though Fariñez deserves huge credit for the stops he made and the way he patrolled his area with a confidence belying his age, he was also greatly assisted in achieving his four clean sheets by an exceptionally well-drilled defence. Indeed, they ensured that, a few scares aside, he was never put under relentless concerted pressure comparable to, say, Tim Howard for USA against Belgium, World Cup 2014. As already noted, given that they even managed to keep two clean sheets when Herrera was suspended from protecting the back four, it was very much a genuine squad effort and thus perhaps more of a triumph for Dudamel’s system rather than any one individual. This, coupled with Venezuela’s somewhat unremarkable record of producing top-level defenders (Roberto Rosales and Oswaldo Vizcarrondo being perhaps the best in recent years), renders one hesitant to predict untold success and riches for any one of these men at club level – after all, what will happen when they are broken up and have to abide by different tactics as well as work with other players at their respective clubs?
Nevertheless, if any of these shall enhance Venezuela’s defensive reputation in the upcoming decade or so, one’s money is on the following: Firstly, right-back Ronald Hernández (No. 20, Zamora FC) who thwarted virtually all the attacks on his flank, can’t be held culpable for any of the goals conceded and also managed to go on several notable dribbles upfield in at least a few games. Secondly, the two centre-backs Josua Mejías (No. 17, Carabobo FC) and Williams Velásquez (No. 2, Estudiantes de Caracas, soon-to-be Udinese, Italy, on loan from Watford, England). The former, who has allegedly received interest from abroad, made some crucial blocks as well as got on the scoresheet by sliding in the opener in the Hexagonal win over Uruguay. The latter, who actually looked a likelier scorer with his headers from set-pieces, impressed and has reportedly signed for Watford, who shall loan him to Udinese, though some details remain unclear at this point.
Otherwise, further upfield, midfielder Ronaldo Lucena (No. 16, Zamora FC) – younger brother of the highly-capped international, Franklin – quietly impressed, particularly from set-pieces. Indeed, while he only officially registered one assist – the free-kick cross headed in by Herrera against Peru – had a couple of team-mates kept their cool against Bolivia, he could have easily had at least two more. Furthermore, in other games, he very nearly played a role in at least two other goals which makes one wonder: had he been able to see more action (four starts, three subs) and somehow nab set-piece duties from Soteldo more often, would he have proven himself as a superior provider? Time may tell on that one.
From a somewhat more attacking perspective, out largely on the right was Sergio Córdova (No. 23, Caracas FC). He didn’t entirely convince that a full international career beckons but he nevertheless made some useful contributions. Indeed, though he possesses less physicality and bustle than some of the Ecuadorian flank-men, he was still able to take on opponents from time to time and cause problems. Following one such moment against Bolivia which culminated with him putting a ball into the goalmouth, Ronaldo Peña’s ineptitude caused them to miss an open goal. Somewhat more successfuly, he played in a low ball from the right in the Hexagonal clash with Uruguay, which led to Ronaldo Chacón being fouled and, subsequently, the lead was doubled from the spot. Throughout the tournament, Soteldo set up at least four notable chances for Córdova, though only one of the three he failed to convert – against Bolivia – could be deemed close to gilt-edged. He did, however, score from one of Soteldo’s passes, this coming in from the left flank against Ecuador, which he struck home low in the fog from inside the area.
Up top, Ronaldo Chacón (No. 11, Caracas FC) arguably had the best tournament of those nominally fielded as strikers, though he had to wait until the Hexagonal stage to make four of his five starts. This was a slight surprise to those who were aware of his three goals in four games at the 2015 Under-17 Sudamericano, though he at least picked the most memorable games to get on the scoresheet here. Indeed, in the 4-2 win over Ecuador, he scored the third goal, receiving a deflected shot from Soteldo and striking home himself. Then, in the 3-0 win over Uruguay, he not only doubled his tally, but also had a hand in all three goals: for the first, not long after he had hit the crossbar with a header, he played in Mejías to slide home; for the second, he received Córdova’s pass and was fouled in the area, with Soteldo converting the subsequent penalty; for the third, he himself scored from the spot after the roles were reversed and Soteldo had been upended. Both Chacón and Soteldo worked rather well together in this match, which may have been just the time he caught the eye of the latter’s new club, Huachipato of Chile; rumours suggest they may link up there later this year.
Lastly, the name of Ronaldo Peña (No. 9, Las Palmas, Spain) went down in most fans’ little black books after he squandered a glaring hat-trick of golden opportunities against Bolivia which seemingly jeopardised the team’s chances of progressing to the Hexagonal. There were at least a couple more decent chances in other games that he could have done better with but overall, his play had its merits and suggested that he may be more suited to a support role, holding up the ball, linking up more dynamic players, chasing loose balls, running down the clock etc. Nevertheless, his most effective attacking contributions were an early flick-on against Bolivia from which a team-mate should have scored and the penalty for which he was fouled against Ecuador, ultimately converted by Soteldo.
If you would like to read about the best talents from the other nations, then click on the following links: Uruguay, Ecuador, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia & The Best of the Early Departees (Paraguay, Chile, Bolivia & Peru). All of this information is also contained in this mammoth Reference Guide.