Tag Archives: Argentina

Argentina 1-1 Venezuela – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (5 September 2017)

The sixteenth jornada of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign saw Rafael Dudamel’s embryonic side make history on a monumental stage in Buenos Aires. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a full match report and some thoughts…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Tuesday 5 September 2017 – El Monumental, Buenos Aires

Argentina 1-1 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Argentina 1-1 Venezuela, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 5 September 2017 (YouTube)

Venezuela Battle to Defy the Odds in Buenos Aires

A wholehearted and committed display garnered Venezuela a historical first-ever point in Argentina, as for the second time this international break Rafael Dudamel’s nascent rebuilding project provided another welcome dose of encouragement for Qatar 2022.

For the first 25 minutes or so, things felt markedly different. Indeed, Jorge Sampaoli’s men seemed determined to breach the considerable, if often stretched, Venezuelan rearguard as many times as possible, with 19-year-old goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez once again emerging as a bona fide prospect for the visitors.

The sprightly Caracas FC stopper impressed from the off. With less than four minutes on the clock, his trailing leg denied Mauro Icardi, whose low shot could have otherwise quite easily found a way through. Two minutes later, though play was ultimately called back for offside, the goalkeeper – as well as his ever-increasing band of admirers – was none-the-wiser when he pulled off an eye-catching close-range save. This came as an elevated ball was bustled into the direction of another Serie A forward, Paolo Dybala, who lashed a well-struck volley from barely six yards that the alert Fariñez did well to instinctively parry out with both gloves.

Also in this period, La Albiceleste, in particular Lionel Messi, regularly sought to exploit their opponents’ weaknesses on the flanks, with the Barcelona wizard often spraying balls out wide for team-mates to gain space and/or get in crosses. Ángel Di María was the most threatening wide man, giving right-back Victor García a torrid time. In the 10th minute, he bypassed a couple of burgundy shirts before whacking a ball into the centre; a tap-in looked on the cards, but the cluster of Venezuelans who congregrated there somehow averted this seeming inevitability. A few minutes later, García was again exposed when Messi chipped a fine ball to Di María inside the area; the PSG man volleyed a first-time cross into the centre yet, agonisingly for the majority inside River Plate’s home edifice, Icardi’s goalmouth lunge narrowly evaded the ball.

Although their defensive lines were breached, Venezuela survived that scare and in this early stage, the blank scoresheet was mostly attributable to the sheer number of bodies in the centre who blocked and thwarted attempts. If, however, even these were unequal to the tasks that kept coming their way, there was always, of course, Fariñez. In the 21st minute, he did well to stop Icardi’s shot which, once again, owed a debt to a left-sided cross from Di María.

Soon after this, however, Argentina’s early spell of goal-less dominance was brought to an abrupt end as Di María picked up an injury and had to be replaced after 25 minutes by Marcos Acuña. Things were never quite the same again.

As well as his right-sided counterpart Lautaro Acosta, the Portugal-based replacement did catch the eye on occasion, with his most notable contribution occurring after 32 minutes; here, he slid the ball back to Dybala, with the 20-yard left-footed shot of the Juventus man dragging wide of the far post. However, with their chances of qualification starting to feel as if they may be in jeopardy, the home crowd began voicing their disgruntlement, as the team who have averaged just one goal per qualifying game – a record worse than that of bottom-boys Venezuela – began to look low on ideas.

Messi, who was largely seen characteristically roaming in a vast deep zone, became visibly frustrated with this state of affairs, taking it upon himself to search for a way through with the minimum of assistance. Indeed, he had the three most notable remaining chances of the first half: in the 38th minute, he attempted to weave his way past several Venezuela players – a scenario reminiscent of the famous Maradona vs Belgium 1982 photograph – before striking low past the near post from inside the area. Four minutes later, he curled a much-anticipated free-kick wide, but clearly his best attempt occurred two minutes into stoppage time. Here, he picked up the ball 25 yards out on the inside-left and arrowed a well-hit shot that looked like it may creep inside the post, but which Fariñez did well to parry wide, thus allowing his side to enter into the break still on level terms.

If Sampaoli’s half-time team-talk involved elaborating upon a new approach to undo this annoyingly persistent opponent, there was to be little evidence of this. In fact, any second-half masterplan was tossed away just five minutes after the restart when Venezuela took a surprise lead. Despite having never seriously threatened Sergio Romero’s goal in the opening 45 minutes, Dudamel’s men were able to do what every fear-ridden, fulminating Argentine feared: hit them on the break. Immediately after a home move broke down, the visitors sought to proceed rapidly upfield. One pass was briefly intercepted but momentum was instantly regained as another found Bundesliga youngster Sergio Córdova. Further enhancing what has been a meteoric – and, to many, slightly unanticipated this time last year – ascension, he played a well-weighted through-ball to Jhon Murillo. Centre-back Javier Mascherano was never going to be in the race with the pacy ex-Zamora man – himself having recently done well to ensure he will be in the manager’s long-term thinking – and he, in turn, bore down on goal before deftly dinking it over the shoulder of the Manchester United goalkeeper.

Silence in the stands, pandemonium virtually everywhere else on the continent, this was exhilarating, monumental, game-redefining stuff – for all of four minutes.

That’s all it took for Sampaoli’s charges to momentarily lower the heat on them back down to a state of mere simmering. The equaliser came as García was beaten a little too easily in a speed battle by the purposeful Acuña, whose low cross from the left deflected off defender Rolf Feltscher and into the back of the net. 1-1. Was this to be the galvanising green light for carnage that the hosts needed?

Well, subsequently, some jitters were observable in the Venezuelan ranks, but for all the hosts’ renewed vigour and forays towards the edge of the area, they were only able to cause one further genuine scare in the game. This came on the hour-mark when the home fans were adamant that they should have been awarded a penalty when Icardi, the odds-on favourite to poke a strike goalwards, appeared to have been upended by centre-back Mikel Villanueva. However, replays suggest that, having managed to narrowly evade the challenge, the Inter Milan forward’s rapid adjustment of footing led to him tripping himself up.

Thus, though Argentina still saw more of the ball owing to their increasing desperation for a winner, there grew the genuine possibility that they could be undone by a second lethal break. Particularly in the final 25 minutes, the counter-attacking Venezuelans found themselves in space high up the park and on at least three occasions they won free-kicks in promising positions off a stretched Argentine defence. Just before and after the 70th minute, Salomón Róndon took the first two of these. Alas, the first curled past the wall but was comfortably saved by Romero and the much-anticipated second – which was won after the WBA striker was fouled following Arquímedes Figuera’s lofted ball into very dangerous territory – was fired straight at the ‘nads-grabbers.

Around the 90th-minute mark, having absorbed some more Argentine pressure, Venezuela made their last getaway – the hosts must have feared the worse. Once again, Jhon Murillo chased a ball, finding some space before passing to a team-mate who was fouled on the edge of the area. This time, substitute Josef Martínez stepped up, though to the relief of the majority, the only thing his dead-ball strike troubled was the fans behind the goal – as well as, perhaps, the phones being used to vent considerable spleen to a wider audience.

Such was the malevolent atmosphere whenever a home attack broke down that one suspects more than a few doomsayers secretly hoped Venezuela could nab a late winner solely in order to further amplify their apocalyptic post-match assessments.

Alas, it ended 1-1 and, though some of the dejected home fans may not wish to hear it right now and their nation’s performances have given cause for genuine concern, with two games left, their chances of World Cup qualification are in fact still very much in their own hands.

Conversely, Venezuela, of course, have long since been out of the running and are almost definitely going to finish bottom of the ten-nation pile. However, with a memorable, historical point to add to the one they gained last week against Colombia, Dudamel can feel cautiously optimistic about his nation’s footballing future. With the aid of several fresh faces, including a few plucked from his Under-20 World Cup finalists, his senior side has once again proved that when they are disciplined and able to follow through on instructions, they can be a tough nut to crack.

With their two remaining fixtures next month pitting them against Uruguay at home and Paraguay away, though it may prove a tall order, gaining from these a second victory of the campaign would certainly get many more believing that the road to Qatar 2022 will be a journey well worth hopping aboard for.

Team Selections

Argentina (3-4-2-1): S. Romero; J. Mascherano, F. Fazio, N. Otamendi; L. Acosta, G. Pizarro, É. Banega, Á. Di María (M. Acuña, 25′); L. Messi, P. Dybala (D. Benedetto, 63′); M. Icardi (J. Pastore 75′).

Venezuela (4-2-1-2-1): W. Fariñez; V. García, J. Chancellor, M. Villanueva, R. Feltscher; A. Figuera, J. Moreno; Y. Herrera (J. Colina, 77′); J. Murillo, S. Córdova (S. Velázquez, 89′); S. Rondón (J. Martínez, 82′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s CONMEBOL Qualifying Campaign for FIFA World Cup 2018 – August/September 2017 Preview

Jornadas 15 and 16 of the CONMEBOL World Cup 2018 Qualifying Campaign are upon us and, amidst a very bleak domestic backdrop, a new era for La Vinotinto is being sought. Here, @DarrenSpherical previews the state of play in the Venezuelan ranks ahead of the matches with Colombia and Argentina…

CONMEBOL Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 31 August 2017 – Estadio Polideportivo de Pueblo Nuevo, San Cristóbal, Táchira.

Venezuela vs Colombia

Tuesday 5 September 2017 – Estadio Monumental, Buenos Aires.

Argentina vs Venezuela

Aerial video of Pueblo Nuevo, venue for Venezuela’s encounter with Colombia (@SeleVinotinto)

The Search for a New Identity Stumbles on

Given the dire economic situation and galling political machinations in a country which has recently witnessed countless deaths and which is also experiencing ever-rising poverty levels, for many Venezuelans, these international fixtures feel even more meaningless than they already effectively are.

If his comments with Four Four Two earlier this month are anything to go by, forward Josef Martínez would certainly prefer not to board the flight back home: “We can’t play…it’s a celebration when the national team plays, and my country is not in the mood to celebrate right now. Venezuela is suffering a lot. People are dying.”

Particularly in the last several months, many other leading players – including captain Tomás Rincón and star striker Salomón Rondón – have expressed outrage on social media over perceived abuses – often fatal – perpetrated by government-controlled forces and/or sympathising militias. Of course, partisans on the other side of the considerable political divide would be quick to tell another story, though no such folk appear to exist within the current Venezuelan squad. If they do, then they certainly kept their views to themselves during the ceaseless and often bloody protests that were at their peak in the lead-up to, and aftermath of, the highly controversial National Constituent Assembly elections on 30 July 2017.

Civil unrest and everyday instability abounds, with supporters of the broad coalition of opposition parties (MUD) horrified at what they see as the shameless, undemocratic overriding of institutions by President Nicolás Maduro and his PSUV party. Perceived as economically inept authoritarians by many both inside and outside the country, the government instead have repeatedly claimed that they are victims of international – primarily U.S.-backed – interference and economic sabotage. Either way, without wishing to delve too far into this intractable dispute here, the tragic reality for Venezuelans sees them having to contend with the related unholy cocktail of frightening levels of crime, hyperinflation and chronic shortages of basic food and goods.

So dire are the straits that increasingly citizens try their luck in neighbouring Colombia, whether this be to search for cheaper goods, perhaps make some money selling petrol (still heavily subsidised) or even to seek refuge and start new lives. Smugglers sensing opportunities often journey in the opposite direction and thus such is the human traffic that tight border controls are often enforced, as they will be for the first of La Vinotinto‘s two upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

Indeed, the 31 August encounter with Los Cafeteros in the border state of Táchira could scarcely come at a worse time. Nevertheless, Venezuela manager Rafael Dudamel, who has himself spoken out about his nation’s turmoil and who even had to cancel a training module last month owing to disruptive protests, has voiced his determination. With his charges long since out of the running for Russia 2018, he has stated that qualification for Qatar 2022 has become his “obsession“. He is also especially delighted for the peripatetic national team to be playing for the first time in this cycle at San Cristóbal’s Pueblo Nuevo, a stadium which he has referred to as the “sacred temple of Venezuelan football“. This is the home of one of his ex-clubs Deportivo Táchira and, more pertinently, the site of some famous international scalps. He hopes it will become a fortress for his men, starting with the visit of the high-flying representatives of the country in which he spent much of his playing days. Though this Thursday’s encounter, which pits 10th against 2nd, may come at an inopportune time to inaugurate a revitalised fresh dawn, Dudamel must find some solace in the fact that Venezuela have not lost on home soil to Colombia in qualifying since 1996.

Though the coach’s 17-month tenure of La Vinotinto has been as similarly underwhelming as that of his predecessor Noel Sanvicente, the exploits of his Under-20 World Cup finalists have given him good reason to feel optimistic about the future. Indeed, it was he who steered this well-organised side to nationwide – and, in some knowing quarters, global – acclaim in June and he has included seven from their ranks in this rather experimental – when isn’t it? – and youthful 30-man squad.

These are goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez (Caracas FC), who appears to be the new first-choice, with former occupant between the sticks Dani Hernández not even in this group; left-back José Hernández (Caracas FC), surprisingly the only defender called up from what was a very effective defensive unit; right-sided attacking midfielder Sergio Córdova (Augsburg, Germany), Venezuela’s top scorer at the World Cup and who is already off the mark in the Bundesliga; versatile midfielder Yangel Herrera (New York City FC, USA, on loan from Manchester City, England), surely the most impressive U20 outfield player and who is already making waves in MLS; 17-year-old midfield starlet Samuel Sosa (Deportivo Táchira), scorer of memorable free-kicks, both at the World Cup and recently in domestic action; jinking dribbler Yeferson Soteldo (Huachipato, Chile), who has turned some heads at his new club – not least for his dubious alleged resemblance to Barney Rubble – scoring twice in all competitions; lastly, forward Ronaldo Chacón (Caracas FC) who, frankly, could probably have done better at the World Cup, though has been afforded an opportunity here to provide Dudamel with something different in attack.

(Incidentally, the absence of winger Adalberto Peñaranda – arguably the U20s’ leading attacker – is owing to an injury he sustained in the World Cup final against England which he has yet to recover from.)

With almost all of the starting positions seemingly up for grabs, one would expect to see at least a few of these youngsters feature over the upcoming pair of games. A new-look Venezuela shall gradually emerge in the next 2-3 years, though with experimentalism the order of the day, one is not anticipating many players to sew up starting berths any time soon. One man who definitely won’t be a part of the Qatar 2022 campaign is 32-year-old Alejandro Guerra, who announced his international retirement earlier this month. Also, regarding two of the most notable absentees, one wonders what roles, if any, Málaga’s Roberto Rosales and Juanpi will play in the future; for many observers, this pair are amongst their nation’s leading exports and their omissions from such a large squad only bemuse and baffle.

Once a stalwart, right-back Rosales appears to be out of favour with Dudamel despite still being a La Liga mainstay, whereas the younger Juanpi, a versatile midfielder, struggled with injuries earlier this year and has not featured for his country since last October. Dudamel seems to prefer players he has consistently worked with, so as well as the U20 contingent, some of the following may well feel optimistic about their immediate international careers: centre-back Jhon Chancellor (Delfín, Ecuador), right-back Alexander González (Huesca, Spain), midfielder Junior Moreno (Zulia FC – the standout player in June’s USA-based friendlies) as well as attacking midfielders Jhon Murillo (Kasımpaşa S.K., Turkey, on loan from Benfica, Portugal), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA, on loan from Zulia FC) and Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil).

Of the current crop, two attackers who seem particularly well-placed to spearhead the assault on Qatar 2022 are the pair of 24-year-olds, Otero (scorer of almost exclusively sensational golazos in Brazil) and Martínez (scorer of 9 goals in 11 MLS games). Still, few things feel certain with the Venezuela national team – even the talisman Rondón has been misfiring this year, so his target-man status can not be taken entirely for granted – and other players will no doubt emerge and compete for places all over the park.

Stability and consistency, largely absent in recent years from La Vinotinto, are what is needed, though with Dudamel concerned with long-term objectives one can’t help but be apprehensive of his side’s chances against two sides (2nd and 5th respectively) very much focused on the here-and-now. Given the domestic situation, this can all seem rather trivial but ultimately, at this stage with just four games left of the long-since-dead campaign, it is more performances than actual results which matter for Dudamel. Indeed, it may not currently feel like it and at either of the final whistles it may still seem imperceptible to most, but in so many ways, a new generation must surely feel they have everything – professional ambitions and, perhaps, a new life – to play for.

Venezuela Squad

venaugust2017

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

José Contreras (Deportivo Táchira), Wuilker Fariñez (Caracas FC) & Carlos Olses (Deportivo La Guaira).

Defenders

Pablo Camacho (Deportivo Táchira), Jhon Chancellor (Delfín, Ecuador), Rolf Feltscher (Free agent), Víctor García (Vitória Guimarães, Portugal), Alexander González (Huesca, Spain), José Hernández (Caracas FC), Edwin Peraza (Deportivo La Guaira), Rubert Quijada (Al Gharafa, Qatar, on loan from Caracas FC), José Manuel “Sema” Velázquez (Veracruz, Mexico) & Mikel Villanueva (Cádiz, on loan from Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Sergio Córdova (Augsburg, Germany), Arquímedes Figuera (Universitario, Peru), Francisco Flores (Mineros de Guayana), Yangel Herrera (New York City FC, USA, on loan from Manchester City, England), Darwin Machís (Granada, Spain), Junior Moreno (Zulia FC), Jhon Murillo (Kasımpaşa S.K., Turkey, on loan from Benfica, Portugal), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Tomás Rincón (Torino, on loan from Juventus, Italy), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA, on loan from Zulia FC), Samuel Sosa (Deportivo Táchira) & Yeferson Soteldo (Huachipato, Chile).

Forwards

Ronaldo Chacón (Caracas FC), Edder Farías (Once Caldas, Colombia), Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA), Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion, England) & Christian Santos (Alavés, Spain).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Argentina – Summary of Top Talents at the FIFA 2017 Under-20 World Cup

Following a brief tournament overview of Argentina’s performance at the FIFA 2017 Under-20 World Cup, below are some summaries of several players worth keeping an eye on. As this was far from a memorable campaign for Los Pibes, those seeking more information on these individuals may wish to also take a look at their respective exploits in qualification as well as, perhaps, this site’s preview for the Under-20 World Cup.

colombatto

Surprise inclusion Santiago Colombatto in action against South Korea (GettyImages)

argentinaflag

Argentina

Tournament Overview

Once again, Los Pibes fell short on the global stage. Having scraped through qualification, manager Claudio Úbeda made several changes to the line-up for the opening clash with England and, for 30 minutes at least, it seemed as if his new-look side may just run riot. Alas, despite dominating possession, they conceded against the run of play and ultimately contrived to go down 3-0 in a somewhat peculiar defeat. They followed this up with a 2-1 loss against hosts South Korea, leaving their hopes of progression hanging by a thread. For the crunch game against Guinea, Úbeda finally started with all of his best attackers from qualifiying and this paid off as they performed a 5-0 demolition job. However, owing to results in other groups over the subsequent two days, they were narrowly denied one of the four best third-placed team berths and thus departed at the first stage.

Overall, though their goalkeeper and defence left much to be desired, they do possess several more attack-minded players of note, though whether any of these can ascend to the level demanded by this illustrious footballing nation, is another matter entirely.

Argentinagroup

(Group A table and results courtesy of Wikipedia; to read about and view highlights of each game, click here and scroll down)

Top Talents

Lautaro Martínez (Striker, No. 9, Racing Club)

The star striker was hurt in the week leading up to the opening game against England, which likely explains why he only made it onto the field for 15 minutes of this encounter. However, given his contribution consisted mainly of an elbow which saw him red-carded and suspended for the South Korea match, he must have wished that he had sat that one out. Indeed, the man who has been banging them in at club level and linked with, amongst others, Real Madrid, was therefore to have little more than one game to demonstrate to the world why, were it not for him, his country wouldn’t even have made the trip. Nevertheless, when he returned against Guinea he would go some way towards bolstering his reputation as he bagged two goals. The first of these was a sensational top-corner golazo on the turn from the edge of the area and the second a well-worked move with a team-mate from a set-piece which he fired home.

Tomás Conechny (Attacking-midfielder, No. 10, San Lorenzo)

Coach Úbeda appears to not be entirely convinced by Conechny – or is unsure how to integrate him into his similarly rotating plans – because, as with qualifying, Argentina’s topscorer at the Sudamericano Sub-17 two years ago started the tournament on the bench. Yet, when he emerged after 60 minutes in the opener with England, he again proved himself to be one of the liveliest players in the squad; for this, he was rewarded with starts against South Korea as well as Guinea. Thus, from both open play as well as set-pieces, in these two games he also came across as one of the likeliest scorers and/or providers. Ultimately, the San Lorenzo attacker – who has so far only been a substitute at club level – had to settle with just the one assist, a quick pass from a free-kick which bamboozled the unsuspecting Guinea defence and was finished off by Martínez.

He may not have been able to put in a string of vintage performances but he was at least afforded more opportunities than another impressive attacker from the qualifiers, Brian Mansilla (Attacking-midfielder, No. 11, Racing Club). Indeed, following on from two substitute appearances, the man Ajax put a considerable bid in for earlier this year was granted a solitary start against Guinea and gained an assist from a cross.

Santiago Colombatto (Midfielder, No. 15, Trapani, on loan from Cagliari)

Perhaps the most positive aspect of Argentina’s campaign was the emergence of this deep-lying playmaker. He did not participate in the qualifying tournament but nevertheless possesses respectable club experience, having played consistently in Italy’s Serie B this past season. He stood out from the off against England, heading against the crossbar and teeing up team-mates. His most telling Group A contribution occurred in the South Korea game when, from near the halfway line, he played a delightful first-time ball which was rapidly finished off to halve the deficit. In the final encounter against Guinea, he was also responsible for another assist, this time a low ball into the area which Martínez dummied over before a team-mate struck home.

Marcelo Torres (Striker, No. 7, Boca Juniors)

The man Colombatto found with both of these passes was Torres who, with few headlines or hype, managed to maintain his goalscoring reputation, netting two to add to the five that he bagged in seven qualifying games. Having been subbed off on both of his starts as well as coming on from the bench against South Korea – with his goal arriving after being on the field for less than five minutes – he doesn’t appear to have as much backing as Martínez. Indeed, he also played, as well as had to contest a place, with Ezequiel Ponce (Striker, No. 18, Granada, on loan from Roma), who wasn’t part of the qualification team and also failed to get on the scoresheet, though did look particularly alert against England.

Santiago Ascacibar (Defensive-midfielder, No. 5, Estudiantes de La Plata)

Lastly, the captain Ascacibar merits comment more because of the admiration he receives from the likes of Diego Simeone than his actual performances in South Korea. That is not to say that they were bad but, owing to his easy-to-overlook role and, in particular, the porousness and poor positioning of those behind him in the rearguard, it seems a lot harder for him to stand out at national level than it has been in the domestic league where he is a regular. Indeed, the errors of the goalkeeper and back four in the first two games put Los Pibes at a severe disadvantage and there is only so much that their midfield-roamer with the armband can do to rally the troops. Still, plenty in the game more qualified than your humble observer will tell you he is going places so, like most Argentines, let’s just agree to forget about this collective tournament showing and wait and see.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Guinea 0-5 Argentina (Group A, 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, 26 May 2017)

Argentina’s third and final Group A game of the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup saw them inflict a heavy defeat upon the now-eliminated Guinea, though they will need to wait before discovering whether this was enough to progress. Below are video highlights, a brief summary of the match and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-tracking…

GroupA3

(Source: Wikipedia – Check here for all other results, fixtures and standings)

Guinea 0-5 Argentina

2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Group A, 26 May 2017 (YouTube)

Argentina at last found their shooting boots as they routed their African opponents in a game they needed to win by a large margin in order to boost their hopes of advancing out of their group.

With the strongest line-up Claudio Úbeda has fielded thus far in the tournament, Los Pibes dominated proceedings from the off and, following some close shaves, finally got off the mark in the 33rd minute when Marcelo Torres tapped home Santiago Colombatto’s low cross. Ten minutes later, it was 2-0 as Lautaro Martínez announced his return in sensational fashion, turning from the edge of the area to fire a belting strike into the top corner.

Five minutes after the restart, Federico Zaracho made it three, heading in Brian Mansilla’s cross from the left. The following goal on 74 minutes also required a bonce, this time that of Marcos Senesi, who powerfully nodded home a free-kick from Exequiel Palacios. Subsequently, the spanking was capped off five minutes later when Martínez notched his second after Tomás Conechny played a disguised quick free-kick to him and he rapidly struck home into the opposite corner.

Thus, Argentina finally got their tournament underway but, with four other groups yet to be decided, will this prove to be too late for them to salvage one of the four best third-placed team berths?

Talent Tracking

argentinaflag Argentina

Well, well, Claudio Úbeda finally selects in the line-up all four of the most eye-catching attackers from the qualifiers and quelle surprise, they admonish a beating.

He had Lautaro Martínez (No. 9, Racing Club) back from suspension and the widely-touted striker certainly made up for lost time. The first of his two strikes was a goal of the tournament contender which came as he received a pass on the edge of the area, took a touch, then rapidly turned to smash an unstoppable effort into the top right-hand corner. Before this, he had looked alert from the off, playing a role in the first goal for which he dummied over the ball in the centre; overall, he was also to have a few other shots of his own. One of these was the second goal, a rather neat set-piece move which he was attentive to, as he latched onto a short ball that surprised the unsuspecting defence; he thus quickly turned to blast a solid strike into the corner. If, as this writer suspects, Argentina are to scrape through to the next round, they really can’t do without their star man.

The man who played this free-kick pass – which drew comparisons to the exquisite Verón-Zanetti move against England at World Cup ’98 – was Tomás Conechny (No. 10, San Lorenzo), a man who, if he hasn’t finally convinced his manager that he deserves to start every single game, then something has gone awry. Indeed, he always appears to have bundles of energy and intent, regularly looking to either make things happen or force an opponent into an error. As well as his assist, early on in the first half he also combined a few times with Santiago Colombatto (No. 15, Trapani, on loan from Cagliari) – the one revelation from this campaign who wasn’t also part of the qualifying phase – such as when the former found the head of the latter from a corner which the Serie B man then flicked on at the near post, causing a hesitant clearance from the goalmouth.

Their most notable link-up, however, was on the opening goal when Conechny fed a pass to the left inside the area which found Colombatto who, in turn, hit a low ball across the goal which Martínez intelligently evaded, leaving Marcelo Torres (No. 7, Boca Juniors) to fire home for his second tournament goal. Previously, Torres was also not far off scoring on at least two occasions earlier in the match. First of all, when Martínez’s shot was parried and the Boca man nearly got to the rebound, as well as not long afterwards when he headed a cross against the underside of the crossbar, which was then put in by a mixture of his boot and Colombatto’s head. However, the play had already been called back for offside – not that this whistle could prevent Colombatto from requiring bandaging following the contact made by Torres’ boot.

Torres, like Martínez, also scored five goals in qualifying and it was encouraging to see the pair both on the scoresheet, as the experiment with Ezequiel Ponce (No. 18, Granada, on loan from Roma) – who came on here for the last 23 minutes – had fallen somewhat short in the two previous matches.

The fourth and final top attacker from qualifying who was granted a start here – having, in his case, had to settle for cameos from the bench in the last two encounters – was Brian Mansilla (No. 11, Racing Club). Here, he went some way towards getting himself into Úbeda’s future line-up plans as he crossed in from the left for club team-mate Federico Zaracho (No. 19, Racing Club) to head home for the third.

The other goal, the fourth, came from a free-kick by Exequiel Palacios (No. 8, River Plate) who dinked in a good ball for centre-back Marcos Senesi (No. 6, River Plate) to head home with force.

Regarding the action at the other end, there wasn’t a great deal for Argentina to be concerned about. Certainly, Guinea had a few attempts, particularly in the latter stages when the South Americans had the game well in the bag, but there was nothing Úbeda will be losing sleep over any time soon. That said, though it is difficult to say off the back of just this one performance, it was good that he made some changes at the back, namely playing a back three and dropping the woeful full-backs Gonzalo Montiel (No. 4, River Plate) and, especially, Milton Valenzuela (No. 3, Newell’s Old Boys).

Time will tell whether these changes will be maintained and reap future dividends. Or will it? After all, though the Argentines went some way to improving their goal difference, we still won’t know until Sunday whether or not they have qualified for the knock-out stage. The permutations are too innumerable to go into here but those who wish to contemplate every last one of them can do so here.

In the other Group A game played today, England beat hosts South Korea 1-0 and thus, with the Three Lions having topped the table, both nations shall participate in the next round.

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.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

South Korea 2-1 Argentina (Group A, 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, 23 May 2017)

Argentina’s second Group A game of the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup saw them once again fall short, this time losing to hosts South Korea and thus leaving their hopes of qualification hanging very much in the balance. Below are video highlights, a brief summary of the match and, most importantly, @DarrenSphericals armchair talent-tracking…

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(Source: Wikipedia – Check here for all other results, fixtures and standings)

South Korea 2-1 Argentina

2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Group A, 23 May 2017 (YouTube)

Claudio Úbeda’s men succumbed to their second consecutive defeat, as South Korea booked their place in the qualifying phase. The hosts took the lead after 18 minutes when, from the halfway line, Barcelona youngster Seung-Woo Lee brilliantly paced past an opponent or two before dinking the ball over the goalkeeper. Later on in the half, following a hoisted ball, Argentine goalkeeper Franco Petroli was adjudged to have clumsily impeded Young-Wook Cho inside the area. After a considerable delay owing to the collision, Seung-Ho Paik eventually stepped up in the 42nd minute to double his side’s lead.

Off the back of a half in which the South Americans struggled to get in behind their opponents, a couple of necessary changes were made at the break. One of these rapidly reaped dividends as striker Marcelo Torres pulled a goal back in the 50th minute, slotting home following a fine first-time pass from Santiago Colombatto. However, for the remainder of the game, though the boys in blue and white dominated possession, the opportunities they created were really either half-chances or moves which ended in penalty area skirmishes. Thus, they shall go into their final match against Guinea hoping not only for a win but that results in other games elsewhere in the competition go their way so that they can scrape one of the four berths allocated to the third-placed teams with the highest points totals.

Talent Tracking

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For the most part, South Korea defended doggedly, ensuring that many bodies were behind the ball and rarely allowing themselves to be carved up. Thus, most of the better opportunities Argentina conjured up involved the last man in the attacking chain being lucky to have just a half-sight of goal as they were usually confronted by a swarm of opponents.

Thus, nobody could really be said to have had a memorable game. Nevertheless, Tomás Conechny (No. 10, San Lorenzo), who was rewarded with a start after showing glimpses of what he can do as a substitute against England, was certainly amongst the most eager to get things moving. Indeed, he was often over set-piece duties, with his deliveries causing some confusion and scrambling, though rarely could any of his team-mates ever get a solid head or foot on one of these. He also had a few half-chances of his own, for example flinging himself to get on the end of a cross in the 35th minute, though it was difficult for him to direct this bouncing header goalwards. Later in the 55th minute he twisted and turned inside the area, but it was never a propitious angle and his unthreatening effort went straight into the goalkeeper’s hands. The shot-stopper’s gloves were tested more in the 84th minute when Conechny struck from a central position outside the area with his left, causing a nervous parry after the ball deflected off a team-mate.

This fellow Pibe was Marcelo Torres (No. 7, Boca Juniors) who, in the 63rd minute had one of his side’s other minor chances. This arrived following some encouraging movement from Santiago Ascacibar (No. 5, Estudiantes de La Plata) on the edge of the crowded area, who then passed to Torres towards the inside-right, but his strike was low at the goalkeeper. However, the Boca Juniors man did make one rather more significant contribution to the game when, just five minutes after coming off the bench, he scored his side’s only goal after clinically sliding home a fine first-time pass.

The man responsible for this exquisite assist from near the halfway line was Santiago Colombatto (No. 15, Trapani, on loan from Cagliari), who also impressed against England. Arguably, he should have also scored at the end of the first half when Conechny jumped for a testing cross from the left with the goalkeeper, causing the ball to fall into Colombatto’s path but, whether it was due to the bounce or a lack of composure, he nevertheless struck wide of a partially unguarded goal.

Otherwise, one more chance half-worth noting arrived just before the goal when the other half-time substitute Brian Mansilla (No. 11, Racing Club) passed to Ezequiel Ponce (No. 18, Granada, on loan from Roma). From the edge of the area, the striker hit a low left footed effort not too far wide of the post.

Still, overall it was fairly slim pickings for a side that has several talented attack-minded players in their ranks, yet little consistency in the way of their organisation and first-choice personnel. As for the defence and goalkeeper, the less said the better. Ultimately, whether or not they somehow manage to squeeze through in three days’ time with Lautaro Martínez back from suspension, with such an unreliable set of individuals there currently appears to be little hope of them progressing far in this tournament.

In the other Group A game played today, England drew 1-1 with Guinea, who will be Argentina’s final group opponents on Friday 26 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.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Argentina 0-3 England (Group A, 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, 20 May 2017)

Argentina’s opening Group A game of the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup saw them dominate play yet get emphatically beaten by England. Below are video highlights, a brief summary of the match and, most importantly, @DarrenSphericals armchair talent-tracking…

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(Source: Wikipedia – Check here for all other results, fixtures and standings)

Argentina 0-3 England

2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Group A, 20 May 2017 (YouTube)

Particularly in the early exchanges, Claudio Úbeda’s Argentina dominated possession and chances, yet ultimately found themselves on the receiving end of a hiding from their old rival, who picked up their nation’s first win at this tournament for twenty years.

In the first half, it often seemed to be a case not of “if” but “when” regarding Los Pibes attempts to convert their superior technique into at least one goal. Santiago Colombatto came closest with a 34th-minute header that glanced off the bar yet, just four minutes later, Argentina were to be taken aback by the opener scored very much against the run of play. This was a goal made on Merseyside as Everton’s Kieran Dowell crossed in from the right for his club team-mate Dominic Calvert-Lewin to head home.

After the break, though the boys in blue continued to see more of the ball, their control was to rapidly loosen. Indeed, things began to unravel further in the 52nd minute when the poor anticipation of at least two defenders led to Dowell’s ball upfield on the inside-right being taken into the area by Adam Armstrong. The forward, who this season has been scoring in the Championship for Barnsley on loan from Newcastle, hit a low shot past the near post of the out-of-sorts goalkeeper to double the lead. Upon the hour, Argentina made some attacking changes, yet 15 minutes later, any hope of a comeback was all-but-ended as one of these substitutes, star striker Lautaro Martínez, was red-carded for what appeared to be an elbow. At the death, three minutes into stoppage-time, the South Americans’ misery was completed as, after Calvert-Lewin was brought down by the goalkeeper, Chelsea’s Dominic Solanke stepped up to make it 3-0 from the spot.

Talent Tracking

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Coach Úbeda made several changes from the side that was barely ten seconds away from not qualifying for this tournament. Though it’s debatable whether he really needed to make as many alterations as he did in the attacking positions, some of the fresh individuals brought into this area nevertheless had their moments.

Indeed, none more so than the deep-lying midfielder Santiago Colombatto (No. 15, Trapani, on loan from Cagliari). Displaying often admirable poise on the ball, he also wasn’t far off the target in the 21st minute when a left-footed free-kick from just outside the right edge of the area curled into the side-netting. 13 minutes later he came much closer when his head greeted a corner from fellow new recruit, the attacking-midfielder Exequiel Palacios (No. 8, River Plate), glancing it across goal against the crossbar. Colombatto also showed himself to be a provider of some potential, such as two minutes after the restart when his corner found centre-back Marcos Senesi (No. 6, River Plate). However, the latter, who also did not feature earlier this year at Ecuador 2017, really should have done better than head comfortably over from 10 or so yards.

Otherwise, Colombatto, as well as, to a lesser extent, Palacios, also sometimes tried to play incisive balls towards yet another new call-up, forward Ezequiel Ponce (No. 18, Granada, on loan from Roma). Particularly in the first half, he was a lively presence, often making runs, attempting to latch onto passes and crosses as well as attempting to fashion opportunities of his own making. Two of his more notable half-chances were his 25th-minute turn-and-left-footed-strike from the edge of the area, which was saved low at the near post, followed later by a 34th-minute right-footed shot from around 25-30 yards out, which went a few yards wide. In the second half, like his fellow team-mates, Ponce was less visible, but had a decent strike that went wide of the post five minutes after the interval, before later at the very end managing a strong header at the goalkeeper.

This latter opportunity was set up by a fine lofted ball from the left boot of Tomás Conechny (No. 10, San Lorenzo) who, somewhat surprisingly, started on the bench along with another attacking-midfielder who impressed in qualifying, Brian Mansilla (No. 11, Racing Club). The latter came on with barely quarter-of-an-hour left and had little opportunity to change the game, but Conechny’s arrival occurred on the hour-mark and he made more than enough contributions to suggest that he should be in the next line-up on Tuesday. Indeed, upon his arrival he sought to inject some urgency, in the 70th minute chipping one of his typically well-weighted balls from a set-piece towards the back post, which Lucas Rodríguez (No. 16, Estudiantes de La Plata) headed into the goalmouth, though this was just about cleared from almost underneath the crossbar. Conechny also had some attempts of his own and in the 86th minute came the closest to scoring for his side in the second half. Here, following a Mansilla corner, he picked up the ball just outside the area, before having to agonisingly watch on as his low left-footed effort rolled an inch or two wide of the post.

Another man who started on the bench was striker Lautaro Martínez (No. 9, Racing Club), one of the hottest properties in the tournament and whose five goals in qualifying are largely the reason Los Pibes managed to qualify in the first place. In his case, however, his absence from the line-up was likely due to the knock he received in the past week. Yet, given that he was red-carded with the aid of video technology for what was adjudged to be an elbow barely 15 minutes after he entered the fray on the hour-mark, all Argentines must now wish he hadn’t been risked. He will now miss Tuesday’s encounter and it will be interesting to see whether his absence will ensure another start for Marcelo Torres (No. 7, Boca Juniors), a striker who also scored five times in qualifying but who in this game was largely ineffectual out wide before being substituted off on the hour-mark.

Úbeda is not lacking in attacking talent but he really does need to fast figure out a system that incorporates his best players. Yet, despite all this tampering up the top of the park, it’s really at the back where Argentina’s problems lie. Indeed, once again, as they did three times in qualifying, they conceded three goals in one match. Defensive-midfielder and captain Santiago Ascacibar (No. 5, Estudiantes de La Plata) can not be blamed for any of these but onlookers who have never seen him perform at club level must be wondering what all the fuss is about. He may have a duty to help shield, inspire and communicate with those behind him but some of these players need to be able to help themselves first. Thus instead, if culprits are to be pinpointed, then this would implicate the poor anticipation and positioning of virtually all of the defence – particularly left-back Milton Valenzuela (No. 3, Newell’s Old Boys) and centre-back Senesi – as well as goalkeeper Franco Petroli (No. 1, River Plate). Given the frequency of these defensive issues, it is hard to see them being rectified within this tournament, so instead a rather heavy burden – and, perhaps, some resentment – is likely to be carried into each game by the attackers – whomever they shall be.

In the other Group A game played today, Guinea were defeated 3-0 by hosts South Korea, who will be Argentina’s next opponents on Tuesday 23 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.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup – Preview of the Top South American Talents

2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup – Preview of the Top South American Talents

This Saturday, 20 May 2017, ushers in the 23-day 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, held in South Korea. Following an opening stage that shall see a generous 16 nations emerge from the six groups of four teams (the top two from each, plus the four best-performing runners-up), the knock-out phase will ultimately provide a winner on Sunday 11 June 2017. Throughout all of this, @DarrenSpherical will be keeping track of the four South American qualifiers – Uruguay, Ecuador, Venezuela and Argentina – providing match-by-match updates on their most eye-catching talents. Thus, what follows below is a concise guide to a handful (or so) of players from each country to look out for. Those after a little more information on the majority of these embryonic cracks could certainly do worse than also check out this talent-spotting round-up from January/February’s 2017 CONMEBOL Under-20 South American Youth Championship.


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Uruguay

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(Uruguay’s Group D fixtures via FIFA.com; central times are GMT)

Consistently impressive at youth level, Fabián Coito’s men emerged victorious at the Sudamericano Sub-20, delighting their fans after the disappointment of finishing runners-up in 2015. They are a well-organised unit, having conceded the second-fewest number of goals in the tournament and are not short of players from all over the pitch capable of ending up on the scoresheet.

Top Talents

Nicolás De La Cruz (Attacking-midfielder, No. 11, Liverpool, Uruguay)

Younger brother of full international Carlos Sánchez, who displayed admirable character, composure and leadership qualities in his country’s regional Under-20 triumph and was acclaimed as this site’s Player of the Tournament. A regular at club level, where he features on the scoresheet relatively often, he is not afraid to shoot – and, perhaps, score a swerving, spectacular golazo – from range. Along with this and his free-kick attempts, expect to also see him showcase his creativity via an eclectic array of forward balls and crosses, from both set-pieces as well as open play. A move abroad surely can’t be too far off the horizon.

Rodrigo Amaral (Attacking-midfielder/Forward, No. 10, Nacional, Uruguay)

Prodigious, potentially brilliant game-changer who often roams from deep, bustling his way forward to either play in team-mates with a deft touch or – like De La Cruz – score some long-range screamers. However, though he finished as the joint-top scorer with five goals in the title win earlier this year and was possibly the most naturally gifted player in the tournament, there are serious concerns regarding his weight. So much so that not only did he never once complete 90 minutes in qualifying but immediately after lifting the trophy, his powerful agent Daniel Fonseca engineered him away from his club side to train in isolation. Amaral has since said that he has no intention of returning to Nacional and so now, the man who has already played in one Under-20 World Cup – in 2015, he heartbreakingly missed the decisive shoot-out spot-kick against Brazil – finds himself very much in the shop window.

Rodrigo Bentancur (Midfielder, No. 20, Boca Juniors, transferring to Juventus in July)

A versatile, often commanding midfielder, who frequently seeks to dispossess opponents before initiating attacks with short, precise passes, but who can also occasionally make progress upfield to inflict damage. Having already played over 50 league games for Argentine giants Boca Juniors, which has led to a €9.5 million move to Juventus, all Uruguayans will be hoping that he can play a towering role, providing the essential organisation and composure. A roamer at the centre of the park, to his left is likely to be the nifty Facundo Waller (Midfielder, No. 15, Plaza Colonia), who is poised to make some more key, understated contributions going forward.

Federico Valverde (Midfielder, No. 16, Real Madrid Castilla)

Like all of his compatriots above, this 18-year-old regular in the Real Madrid B side can certainly be an asset shooting from distance. Furthermore, if need be, he can most definitely get on the scoresheet, having netted seven times for the Under-17s in 2015’s regional tournament. However, as he was not part of the squad that reigned supreme a few months ago, it will be curious to see where precisely the ex-Peñarol man fits into this attack-blessed team.

Nicolás Schiappacasse (Forward, No. 9, Atlético Madrid Under-19s)

Playing in a more conventional striker’s role, Schiappacasse scored three times in the CONMEBOL triumph, two of his goals being rather clinical strikes; he also drew many fouls, winning free-kicks in dangerous positions as well as penalties. Just 18, he could prove to be a crucial component of the Uruguayan attack, but may also face more competition this time around from the likes of Valverde, not to mention the man a mere day his senior, Joaquín Ardaiz (Forward, No. 7, Danubio).

For more information on all of the above players (except Federico Valverde), plus some other Uruguayan talents to watch out for, click here to see how they got on at the 2017 CONMEBOL Under-20 South American Youth Championship.


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Ecuador

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(Ecuador’s Group F fixtures via FIFA.com; central times are GMT)

Ultimately denied by Uruguay at the last hurdle, Javier Rodríguez’s charges nevertheless finished a highly commendable 2nd on home soil in February. Although La Mini Tri‘s defence could do with some work – 14 goals conceded in 9 Sudamericano Sub-20 games – their plethora of bustling, forceful attack-minded players should create many difficulties for upcoming opponents.

Top Talents

Bryan Cabezas (Attacking-midfielder/Forward, No. 10, Atalanta)

One of the four joint-top scorers earlier this year with five tournament goals, this direct left-sided attacker has the ability to be a rambunctious nuisance for defenders, regularly unsettling them when charging his way forward. Last year, he played in the Copa Libertadores final for inspiring over-achievers Independiente Del Valle, subsequently earning a move to Atalanta. Although he has thus far only featured once as a substitute in Serie A, he surely still has a spring in his step after making his senior Ecuador debut in February. Another set of eye-catching performances for the Under-20s can only aid his club cause.

Pervis Estupiñán (Left-back, No. 6, Granada, Spain)

Nominally a left-back, the irrepressible Estupiñán is as unforgettable as his name, regularly manfully bombing up his flank and looking to make things happen in the final third. Even if three of his goals at the Sudamericano Sub-20 were immaculately executed spot-kicks, his four-goal tally was nevertheless eyebrow-raising. A solid performer at previous youth international levels – including the 2015 Under-17 World Cup – his true calling may well prove to be further upfield. Having started his first two La Liga games for Granada in April, with their recent relegation, it is rumoured that his potential is set to be nurtured outside of Andalusia next season.

Joao Rojas (Midfielder, No. 17, Emelec)

Particularly in the first group stage of the qualifying tournament, this right-sided midfielder looked to be Ecuador’s most creative attacker, regularly putting in dangerous balls from open play and set-pieces as well as not being afraid to strike. Whether for technical reasons and/or due to the demanding schedule that necessitates rotation, he featured less in the latter stages. The 19-year-old will thus be seeking to regain favour as well as show local giants Emelec – who signed him after nearly two good seasons with S.D. Aucas – why they should field him more often.

Jordan Sierra (Midfielder, No. 15, Delfin)

Though he was fielded in a more central, deep-lying role, the tenacious Sierra ultimately came to overshadow Rojas in the CONMEBOL under-20 tournament. Keen to fire from range, as well as hold off and evade challenges he, like Cabezas, made his full international debut for Ecuador against Honduras in February. If rumours are to be believed, the suitors are lining up to nab him after his Korean adventure, with Manchester City, Ajax and some unnamed Liga MX sides amongst those leading the pack.

Jordy Caicedo (Forward, No. 19, Universidad Católica del Ecuador) (& Co.)

Otherwise, La Mini Tri are certainly not short of persistent, rampaging attackers capable of creating chances as well as confusion – that is, amongst spectators as much as opponents. Indeed, both of whom may struggle to keep track of who is who. Perhaps most likely to get on the scoresheet is Caicedo, who notched three goals at the Sudamericano Sub-20 tournament and also has a couple this season in the domestic league. Other players to watch out for include the following: Midfielder Wilter Ayoví (Midfielder, No. 8, Independiente Del Valle), who will hopefully receive more opportunities this time around and who strongly believes he and his compatriots shall lift the trophy; Herlín Lino (Forward, No. 9, Deportivo Cuenca), who scored twice in the CONMEBOL qualifiers and, remarkably, won three penalties; and 18-year-old Washington Corozo (Forward, No. 7, Independiente Del Valle), who was a regular threat back in January’s group stage, gaining both an assist and a goal – had he and his team-mates been a little sharper, he could well have had more of each.

For more information on all of the above players plus some other Ecuadorian talents to watch out for, click here to see how they got on at the 2017 CONMEBOL Under-20 South American Youth Championship.


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Venezuela

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(Venezuela’s Group B fixtures via FIFA.com; central times are GMT)

Rafael Dudamel, who is also La Vinotino‘s senior national coach, guided his men through an exceptional showing earlier this year, finishing third and travelling to their first Under-20 World Cup since 2009. Meticulously organised, with the best defence in qualifying – seven goals conceded in the nine tournament games – much hope has been placed in this hard-working crop, four of whom have already received full caps in World Cup Qualifying matches.

Top Talents

Yeferson Soteldo (Attacking-midfielder/Forward, No. 10, Huachipato, Chile)

Despite being just 5 feet 3 inches tall, undoubtedly the most conspicuous Venezuelan will be this diminutive left-sided dribbler. While there are concerns that he can be a bit of a tunnel-visioned ball-hogger, of La Vinotinto‘s nine tournament goals earlier this year, he scored three and had a key role in at least another three (possibly five, if you ask his agent). Thus, much rests on this playmaker’s slight shoulders. Having already played for the senior side and managed to rack up over 100 appearances at club level, this 19-year-old possesses considerable experience within his own continent. Against the likes of Germany, however, will his petite frame hinder or aid his quest for global recognition?

Yangel Herrera (Defensive-midfielder, No. 8, New York City FC, on loan from Manchester City)

With organisation paramount to Venezuela’s prosperity, their versatile captain will seek to continue to play a major role, helping to communicate effectively with those around him and snuffing out danger. Vigilant as well as proactive, he frequently kick-starts attacks as well as gets forward himself, hitting the back of the net twice in his seven qualifying games. Also already a full international, he has impressed in his first few months in the MLS, scoring once and dislodging Andrea Pirlo from the New York City FC line-up. A regular place alongside senior captain Tomás Rincón surely beckons.

Wuilker Fariñez (Goalkeeper, No. 1, Caracas FC)

Universally lauded as the best shot-stopper in CONMEBOL qualifying, this sprightly 5-feet-9-inch ex-striker possesses great reflexes as well as a fearlessness when confronting danger. The Caracas FC No. 1 also has a knack for saving penalties, most notably denying Alexis Sánchez. Indeed, just a month after he turned 19, owing to his impressive performances for the Under-20s, Dudamel made him first choice for both senior qualifiers in March. As with Soteldo, it is only natural to wonder if his height shall limit his potential, but many onlookers will be hoping that this highly likeable chap can defy some more odds in the upcoming days.

Adalberto Peñaranda (Attacking-midfielder, No. 7, Málaga, on loan from Watford)

The prodigious Peñaranda did not feature at this year’s Sudamericano Sub-20, instead playing in the 2015 edition. Though that particular side had a forgettable campaign, the then-Deportivo La Guaira man was later ensnared by the Pozzo Triangle and, by the end of the year, was scoring goals, making headlines and breaking records with La Liga outfit, Granada. However, despite the hype that followed, his trajectory has stalled after negligible loan spells at both Udinese and, currently, Málaga. Still, all hope is far from lost: this restless, pacy dribbler returned to the senior fray in March and doesn’t turn 20 until the end of May. How he and Soteldo operate within the same line-up will be of great interest to many aficionados.

Williams Velásquez (Centre-back, No. 2, Estudiantes de Caracas, soon-to-be Udinese, on loan from Watford) (& Co.)

Though goalkeeper Fariñez deserves enormous credit for conceding the fewest goals in qualifying, he was also greatly assisted in achieving his four clean sheets by an exceptionally well-drilled defence. Indeed, arguably the most prominent of the outfield rearguard was centre-back Velásquez, who reportedly reached an agreement in February to later be initiated into the Pozzo Experience, with his destination at this moment in time said to be Udinese, on loan from Watford. As he is also likely to be in South Korea, in qualifying he was admirably partnered by Josua Mejías (Centre-back, No. 17, Carabobo FC), who got on the scoresheet in the breathtaking 3-0 win over eventual champions Uruguay. Lastly, on the right-flank will be Ronald Hernández (Right-back, No. 20, Zamora FC), who thwarted virtually all of the attacks on his side and was picked out by many as one of the best right-backs of the competition. As always with Venezuela, discipline is likely to be issue, but if those at the back, plus the likes of Herrera can maintain their cool as well as their collective shape, a history-making performance is eminently possible.

For more information on all of the above players (except Adalberto Peñaranda), plus some other Venezuelan talents to watch out for, click here to see how they got on at the 2017 CONMEBOL Under-20 South American Youth Championship.


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Argentina

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(Argentina’s Group A fixtures via FIFA.com; central times are GMT)

In early February, Claudio Úbeda’s men somehow scraped through in the fourth qualifying berth at the expense of the similarly underwhelming Brazil. As usual, Los Pibes are not short of attackers worth keeping an eye on, though their defence and collective character may be concerns. Being record six-time champions, they will want to improve on last time around, when they won 2015’s Sudamericano Sub-20 tournament, yet were embarrassingly knocked out of the first round of that same year’s World Cup.

Top Talents

Lautaro Martínez (Striker, No. 9, Racing Club)

Quite simply, Argentina would not be in South Korea without this frontman of awe-inspiring stamina and drive. Joint-top scorer in qualification, virtually all of his five goals were astoundingly vital, with three of them earning crucial points at the death of a trio of different games and his other two ensuring victory in the important final match. A clinical finisher with the ball at his feet as well as in the air, he is also adept at using his refined technique to score a pearler as well as set up a team-mate with a well-weighted pass. Since returning to Racing in February, he has scored six goals in eight league games; small wonder then, that the side most strongly linked to signing him are Real Madrid. In the week leading up to his Korean bow, he suffered an injury blow though, fortunately for all except his opponents, now reportedly has the all-clear to play.

Tomás Conechny (Attacking-midfielder, No. 10, San Lorenzo)

A creative attacker who has been on the radar of top scouts since at least 2015 when he banged in five goals in seven Sudamericano Sub-17 games, he emerged in spells at 2017’s Under-20 tournament as an indispensible playmaker. Indeed, he scored a fine golazo, but more notably, played a role in four other goals, two of which were put on a plate for Martínez late on, with another also gaining a point at the death. Having started a mere four matches in qualifying (with four other appearances coming as a substitute) as well as only ever emerging from the bench for his club side, it will be curious to see how much he is used in the upcoming days. He must at least derive some optimism from being upgraded from the No. 20 to the hallowed No. 10 shirt.

Brian Mansilla (Attacking-midfielder, No. 11, Racing Club)

Another potentially key individual who can play either off or behind the front-line is the left-footed Mansilla. In the qualifying tournament, he was a regular threat pacing up the inside-channels past opponents, scoring two goals and gaining an assist from his nine consecutive starts. One team evidently impressed was Ajax, yet their considerable bid was rebuffed by Racing, who clearly believe that they have something very special indeed on their hands.

Marcelo Torres (Striker, No. 7, Boca Juniors)

Unlike Martínez, Torres went into the qualifying tournament with little hype yet, particularly in the opening group stage, looked to be his nation’s most significant prospect. Ultimately, his more widely-touted striker-partner may have overshadowed him in the heroics department, but Torres nevertheless also finished joint-top scorer with five goals (from just seven appearances), two of which were exquisite finishes. Serie A sides are reportedly interested though, perhaps to the surprise of those outside of La Bombonera’s orbit, he is still yet to play a senior game for Boca Juniors. Thus, the World Cup could provide a perfect platform to accelerate his club career progression, whether at home or abroad. That said, we are yet to see precisely where a certain Ezequiel Ponce (Forward, No. 18, Granada, on loan from Roma) shall fit in. Nominally a striker who was prolific at youth level with Newell’s Old Boys, the attacker’s professional record has thus far been somewhat less remarkable. Nevertheless, though he wasn’t part of the qualifying squad, he scored in a recent warm-up game, having been set up by none other than Torres. Perhaps they need not draw pistols at dawn, after all.

Santiago Ascacibar (Defensive-midfielder, No. 5, Estudiantes de La Plata)

Already a regular at club level and tracked by some of Europe’s top clubs, much of Los Pibes‘ success depends upon the midfield harrying and leadership skills of their captain. However, though in qualification he did display some of his passing abilities when playing a key role in two goals, defensively he and his colleagues were porous. Indeed, he was at the heart of the system that leaked three goals in three separate matches, leading him to claim that their preparation had been inadequate. Thus, personal pride and patriotism surely demands that he takes charge of ensuring that there will be no recurrence of either Ecuador 2017 or, indeed, New Zealand 2015.

For more information on all of the above players (except Ezequiel Ponce), plus some other Argentine talents to watch out for (excluding Ezequiel Barco and Nahuel Molina), click here to see how they got on at the 2017 CONMEBOL Under-20 South American Youth Championship.


To keep track of how all the South American talents get on at South Korea 2017, please follow yours truly on the Twitter account below and/or return to this website for match-by-match updates.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical