Uruguay’s opening Group D game of the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup saw them eventually overcome Italy, courtesy of some set-piece magic. Below are video highlights, a brief summary of the match and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-tracking…
(Source: Wikipedia – Check here for all other results, fixtures and standings)
Italy 0-1 Uruguay
2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Group D, 21 May 2017 (YouTube)
CONMEBOL champions Uruguay must have been wondering if their chance to win had slipped from their grasp but ultimately they left the stadium in Suwon happy, courtesy of a fantastic free-kick strike. Though their European opponents, who finished runners-up in qualifying, had at least one promising first-half chance – an Andrea Favilli header in a central position, which he couldn’t quite direct on target – it was the South Americans who had the better of the opening proceedings. Indeed, Fabián Coito’s men looked sharper on the ball and had at least a few good efforts, though really should have taken the lead at the end of the half. However, captain Nicolás De La Cruz failed to convert his 44th-minute spot-kick, with the impressive Italian goalkeeper Andrea Zaccagno comfortably stopping his rather poor effort.
After the break, Italy began to enjoy more possession and caused a few scares amongst the Uruguayan back-line. The La Celeste youths appeared to be less of an attacking force, playing with less fluidity and when Nicolás Schiappacasse squandered a surprise 72nd-minute opportunity, it looked like as if it may not be their day. However, four minutes later, with what must have been his first meaningful touch of the game despite having been on the pitch for 20 minutes, Rodrigo Amaral struck. From just outside of the right corner of the area, Uruguay’s top-scorer in qualifying hit an unstoppable, pinpoint belter with his left into the opposite corner. He and his team-mates subsequently regained some confidence and saw out the remainder of the encounter to record an opening-day win that confirms that they are rather serious title contenders indeed.
Possibly due to a minor knock, though perhaps more likely owing to the kind of on-going fitness concerns which led to him never once completing 90 minutes during qualifying, forward Rodrigo Amaral (No. 10, Nacional) started on the bench. Emerging onto the pitch in the 56th minute, it is difficult to recall one single touch from him in his first 20 minutes after joining the fray. However, he more than made up for this with his phenomenal 76th-minute winner, a left-footed free-kick from the right angle just outside the area, which was hit with such pinpoint accuracy into the opposite corner that goalkeeper Andrea Zaccagno didn’t even move. What a way for this prodigy to assert himself at the tournament which left him heartbroken two years ago. Subsequently, he was more involved in proceedings, yet at the final whistle appeared to be struggling with some kind of injury. No update has yet been released, but it should go without saying that his compatriots could undoubtedly do with Amaral at their disposal, even if it is to be only in cameo form.
Otherwise, though he really should have done better with his penalty, which was struck far too close to the goalkeeper, Nicolás De La Cruz (No. 11, Liverpool, Uruguay) nevertheless showed more than enough to suggest that he’s going to continue to be a crucial asset to the cause. Indeed, the attacking-midfielder, who was often out on the right, displayed a decent understanding with right-back José Luis Rodríguez (No. 4, Danubio), who himself had a good game, putting in at least a couple of notable crosses. De La Cruz largely looked a class act on the ball, seeking to make things happen as well as having a few chances of his own. Indeed, in the sixth minute, he bent a free-kick little more than a couple of yards the wrong side of the woodwork and in the 21st minute he managed to get a slight touch on a loose ball, but his close-range effort from an angle at the back post was instinctively blocked by Zaccagno. Also, five minutes after the restart, Carlos Sánchez’s younger brother drove forward with intent but his low shot from the edge of the area caused little alarm as it was misdirected wide. Here, he was seeking to make up for missing the 44th-minute penalty, something he was also guilty of in his side’s opening game at the CONMEBOL qualifiers in January. He has since spoke of the pain he felt following that misguided Panenka, yet as he showed immense character to go on to lead his country to ultimately triumph in that tournament, one wouldn’t bet against a similar outcome on this grander scale.
Earlier on in the 16th minute, De La Cruz also did well running infield from the right flank to pass to striker Nicolás Schiappacasse (No. 9, Atlético Madrid Under-19s), who hit a fine first-time strike with his right, which forced a spectacular one-handed save from Zaccagno. Much later on in the 72nd minute, Schiappacasse really should have done better when Rodríguez’s long ball from his own half was dummied by De La Cruz, falling to the Atleti youngster. However, from just inside the area, one-on-one with Zaccagno, he placed his shot just wide of the far post. Otherwise, Schiappacasse showed glimpses of what he can do, as did his initial strike-partner Joaquín Ardaiz (No. 7, Danubio). Indeed, both men were involved in this penalty decision as Rodríguez’s 41st-minute cross narrowly evaded Schiappacasse but Ardaiz, who nevertheless managed an effort on target from a golden position, was adjudged – belatedly, after the referee was aided via the new video technology – to have been held back by a defender.
Finally, the defence – centre-backs, in particular – deserve credit for limiting the clear opportunities conceded to Italy and one other man in particular who caught the eye of many was Federico Valverde (No. 16, Real Madrid Castilla). The midfielder appeared to be playing a more deep-lying role and was often seen caressing the ball, taking pressure off the back-line behind him as well as linking up well with those ahead. He also took a couple of decent set-pieces, the most notable being a 28th-minute free-kick which sneaked low past the wall before being parried wide for a corner.
Uruguay have several other players capable of key contributions, not least midfielder Facundo Waller (No. 15, Plaza Colonia) who was unfortunately taken off with an injury after less than half an hour. It’s currently up in the air as to whether he will take further part in this tournament but, either way, given the likelihood of this side progressing to the latter stages, there should be plenty of future opportunities for other individuals not mentioned here to shine.
In the other Group D game played today, South Africa were defeated 2-1 by Japan, who will be Uruguay’s next opponents on Wednesday 24 May 2017.
To keep up-to-date with the latest news on the South American nations at South Korea 2017, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter and check back to Hispanospherical.com for match-by-match talent-tracking articles.