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 Colombia, who progressed in 2nd from Group A but finished 6th (last) in the final group stage (also known as the Hexagonal) and thus will not be going to the Under-20 World Cup. 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)
In Group A, Carlos Restrepo’s men stuttered to begin with and had a memorable setback in the second game when they gave away their lead to lose 4-3 to Ecuador, but they had nevertheless shown a lot of potential along the way and ultimately progressed after winning their last two games. However, they collapsed in the Hexagonal, frequently lacking in ambition or desire; perhaps the morale-sapping concession of a last-minute goal in the defeat against Argentina didn’t help as they followed this up by being swatted aside 3-0 by both Uruguay and Ecuador. Ultimately, they finished bottom with two points and, partly as a consequence of being so off the pace as much as there being no obvious second choice, have thus only been allocated one star man here. Complaints to the usual address, please.
To view highlights as well as read more about how Colombia got on and who stood out in each game, click here.
Juan Camilo Hernández (Attacking-midfielder, No. 10, América de Cali, on loan from Granada, Spain)
A 17-year-old creative attacker who made his debut at 15 and who has already played over 50 professional club games, scoring an outstanding 20 goals in 33 league games last season. That was all for second-tier Deportivo Pereira, where his exploits came to the attention of the intrepid scouting network of La Liga’s Granada, who have owned him since September and have ordained for him to now go on loan back home to newly-promoted giants América de Cali.
It’s because of his age, prodigious potential and drive that he has been highlighted as Colombia’s most noteworthy player. Indeed, particularly in the latter stages, it often seemed like he was his country’s main forward threat, being the most likely source of a through-ball, a pin-point cross or a sudden shot from range. Yet, with many of his team-mates faltering and putting in some rather limp performances in the Hexagonal, some observers did comment that it may be a bit much to place so much hope in someone so youthful.
Despite this, though his colleagues were sometimes not on the same page and, perhaps as a consequence, he would try to make things happen unaided, Hernández kept his head higher than most, seemingly unfazed by the role he largely fashioned for himself. In terms of concrete contributions, he drew the foul to win the penalty against Venezuela in the first Hexagonal match and then stepped up himself to convert for a draw. In the following encounter against Argentina he got his side on level terms from a knock-on that he beat the goalkeeper to in order to head home. He was also credited with an assist for the first goal against Ecuador in the opening stage, though the real praise goes to the goalscorer as this consisted merely of a chested pass before Damir Ceter struck a fine shot from 25 yards.
As noted, he could have had at least a couple more assists but it’s also true that there were perhaps two shooting opportunities he should have done better from. Nevertheless, there’s certainly a good chance of hearing more of ‘El Cucho‘, a nickname he’s had since a child as, with a shaved head, his appearance would be compared to ex-Argentina international, Esteban ‘Cuchu’ Cambiasso.
More Colombian Talents
For someone who only played in the opening two group games before succumbing to an injury, striker Damir Ceter (No. 9, Santa Fe) may be receiving undue prominence here. However, with no clear candidate to highlight after Hernández, his significance is owing to the intertwined facts that not only did he score twice in his short spell in the tournament, but without him or another decent target man, the work of Colombia’s roaming attacking-midfielders often petered out or was squandered. Indeed, with no goals in six outings, Michael Nike Gómez (No. 11, Envigado), also known as ‘Mike Nike’, struggled to convince and won’t be appearing in any globally transmitted sportswear adverts any time soon.
As if to further emphasise how different things may have been, Ceter actually came on as a substitute for Gómez in the opening game with Paraguay and though he did miss a clear opportunity, he also nudged home the last-minute equaliser. In the subsequent helter-skelter match against Ecuador, he scored a bona fide golazo as, early on, Hernández chested back to him and he struck brilliantly past the goalkeeper from 25 yards. Admittedly, he should probably have scored later on in the half when he again saw a one-on-one chance stopped, though a team-mate did at least slide home the rebound to double the lead. Perhaps, if he hadn’t got injured, he would’ve also frustrated and jaded those playing him in from behind. However, given his two goals in less than 120 minutes of play, plus his club record last season of 14 goals in 25 games for second-tier Deportes Quindío, one is keen to believe that his presence would’ve been a rather welcome asset. A promising top-flight season with new club Santa Fe hopefully awaits.
Aside from Hernández, perhaps the most promising other attacking-midfielder who could have benefited from having Ceter make runs was Ever Valencia (No. 13, Wisła Kraków, on loan from Independiente Medellín). He actually managed to score three goals himself, all in the opening group stage: the first against Ecuador was a somewhat fortuitous tap-in at the back post which involved two bites at the cherry; the second, a late winner against Brazil, was from a free-kick at an angle and probably wasn’t intended as a shot, but it surprised everyone as it took a slight deflection to bypass the goalkeeper; the third, against Chile, was more of his own doing, as he jinked forward, encroaching upon a reserved defence, before casually sliding his strike into the back of the net. In the Hexagonal, however, his main contribution was playing in the free-kick against Argentina which was knocked into Hernández’s path for the goal. Indeed, though he wasn’t afraid to get some shots away and put in some decent free-kicks, he and those positioned in the same line as him struggled to convert their nice interplay into goals. It was a pity, as some promise had been displayed by these players, such as Jorge Obregón (No. 19, Unión Magdalena), who chalked up a goal and an assist in the opening group stage.
Nevertheless, the competition has at least led to a move for Valencia: he played last season for Independiente Medellín, yet somewhat curiously was officially announced as a new signing by Atlético Bucaramanga just before the tournament began, though it’s debatable as to whether he was ever their player as he’s now been announced as a loanee for Poland’s Wisła Kraków.
Otherwise, even whilst taking into account the final-day thwarting of Brazil, given the side’s meek 3-0 capitulations to both Ecuador and Uruguay in the Hexagonal, not to mention the 4-3 defeat by Ecuador in the opening stage, one is reluctant to give much credit to their defence-minded players. Indeed, there was a bit of pre-tournament hype for captain and defensive-midfielder Kevin Balanta (No. 8, Deportivo Cali), who actually played for the senior team 18 months ago in a friendly featuring top overseas players and who has also started regularly at club level. However, whilst it shouldn’t be ignored that he could have had two decent assists had Hernández shown more composure and he could have had a goal himself had he not fluffed a header from a good position, with zero goals in over 45 club games, attacking clearly isn’t his main forte. That would instead be the ability to snuff out danger as well as protect the back four and thus, though he certainly looked like an impressive physical specimen, he could hardly be said to have patrolled the midfield well.
Balanta’s usual partner-in-crime (and captain when he wasn’t on the field), Eduard Atuesta (No. 20, Independiente Medellín), received some admiring glances in the opening stage and was able to get forward more, striking two shots from distance against the post. Defensively, it’s interesting to note that he was substituted off after Ecuador made it 2-2 in the initial defeat and he missed the 3-0 reversal against Uruguay altogether; however, though he sometimes impressed, he did also play with Balanta in the latter 3-0 defeat against Ecuador and managed to get sent off two minutes after coming off the bench against Argentina. The jury’s out on this pair; much more observation shall be required.
Lastly, a very quick word or two for the full-backs, who also had a mixed time defensively, but who displayed some promise early on and can’t be outright dismissed. Indeed, particularly in the opening game against Paraguay, left-back Anderson Arroyo (No. 5, Fortaleza), impressed with his frequent bustles up the flank, even hitting the post at one point. Given that he reportedly went on trial at Liverpool in July 2016, is 17 years old and appears to have been playing two years in advance of himself for a while now (he also featured in most of the games at the 2015 Under-17 Sudamericano), it may be worth remembering his name. His counterpart on the right, Leyser Chaverra (No. 15, Universitario Popayán), was spotted going forward a little more as the tournament wore on; domestically, he has played, in total, over 60 club games, albeit in the second-tier.
If you would like to read about the best talents from the other nations, then click on the following links: Uruguay, Ecuador, Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil & The Best of the Early Departees (Paraguay, Chile, Bolivia & Peru). All of this information is also contained in this mammoth Reference Guide.