Tag Archives: Ezequiel Ponce

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.

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

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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.

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(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…

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(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

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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