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

Following a brief tournament overview of Uruguay’s campaign at the FIFA 2017 Under-20 World Cup, below are some summaries of several players worth keeping an eye on. Those seeking further information on the majority of these individuals may wish to also take a look at their respective exploits in qualification.

Santiago Bueno with Federico Valverde (and his Silver Ball trophy) (@SantiBueno98)

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Uruguay

Tournament Overview

Such were the expectations of the CONMEBOL champions that their eventual fourth-place finish will have caused disappointment throughout their ranks as well as their nation of perennial overachievers. Perhaps things could have been different had Facundo Waller not got injured in the first game and if potential star man Rodrigo Amaral had been fully fit, but nevertheless, Fabián Coito’s men have much to feel positive about in what any neutral analysis would brand a successful campaign.

They kicked it off with an impressive 1-0 win against Italy, with Amaral coming off the bench to strike a phenomenal free-kick into the opposite top corner. Subsequently, they eventually saw off a talented Japan side 2-0, before drawing 0-0 with South Africa, a game in which they were surprisingly often on the back foot. Nevertheless, they had already qualified and were to do as Group D winners, keeping three straight clean sheets along the way.

In the Round of 16, they chalked up a fourth, as captain Nicolás De La Cruz’s penalty was just about enough to squeeze past Saudi Arabia. However, their defensive miserliness swiftly came to an end in the Quarter-final, as Portugal took a first-minute lead; Uruguay recovered, though soon after they levelled up the score for the second time in the 50th minute to make it 2-2, both teams seemed fairly content to settle for a penalty shootout. This was the first of three that the South Americans would face in the tournament, though the only one from which they would emerge victorious.

They thus went into a Semi-final clash with regional rivals Venezuela, the only side to defeat them in qualifying. Uruguay almost avenged this courtesy of Nicolás De La Cruz’s second converted penalty of the competition, yet owing to a sensational Samuel Sosa stoppage-time free-kick were forced into extra-time, after which penalties followed. Alas, De La Cruz was to be one of two in the sky blue shirts to have their spot-kicks saved as, once again, La Mini Vinotinto got the better of them. Subsequently, they strolled into the Third Place match with group foes Italy, yet though they had a decent second half, the 90 minutes finished as a 0-0 stalemate. The shootout, held immediately afterwards, was won relatively comfortably by the Europeans.

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

Top Talents

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

Starting all seven games, the solitary regular to have not also played a part in the qualifying process was adjudged to be the second best player of the tournament, winning the Silver Ball. Back in 2015, the ex-Peñarol man scored a remarkable seven goals in eight Under-17 qualifying games, but here he was fielded in a deeper midfield role, caressing the ball with great poise as he often sought to kick-start and galvanise attacks. He was regularly on set-piece duties and had a role in the first goal against Portugal when his corner was volleyed by Nicolás Schiappacasse onto the bar, before Santiago Bueno headed home the rebound. Later on, he made it 2-2 with his only goal of the tournament, which came from the penalty spot. Impressively, he also converted a further three penalties, albeit during shootouts. Given that Uruguay only netted seven goals in seven games, with four coming from dead ball situations, one could easily dispute FIFA’s high ranking of the playmaker Valverde, though it must be said that his side was often let down by a lack of options and finishing in the final third. Indeed, the Real Madrid youngster seemed to feel a little of these frustrations against Venezuela when he took matters into his own hands. He thus nearly scored directly from a corner, almost caught out the goalkeeper with a fine, curling free-kick as well as attempted a – rather less accurate – strike from near the halfway line.

The Defence

Though the front line provided relatively little to write home about, those fielded at the back certainly came away with well-earned plaudits. Indeed, having entered the tournament with a decent qualifying record of eight let in over nine games, they thus conceded just three goals in their seven World Cup games: one a free-kick, another a long range golazo and the other – the opener against Portugal – the result of Valverde, of all people, getting dispossessed within the first minute and the Europeans quickly capitalising.

For this goal, the ball was slid by Xadas to Xandre Silva, who finished off. Bypassed and split open along the way were centre-backs Santiago Bueno (No. 2, Barcelona Juvenil A) and Agustín Rogel (No. 18, Nacional). Given the circumstances, it is debatable how much blame can be apportioned to the pair, but they both otherwise had very impressive tournaments and can justifiably be considered amongst their country’s most promising prospects. Indeed, Bueno was more prominent than he was in qualifying, starting all the games except the Third Place decider, scoring with a close-range header against Portugal and often impressing with his ball-playing skills and passing – most notably when he hoisted a well-directed upfield ball which ultimately turned into a goal for Nicolás Schiappacasse against Japan. Rogel, on the other hand, was perhaps a little overshadowed at times due to the blossoming of the more nimble Barcelona youngster, but he nevertheless solidified his reputation as a persistent, intimidating brick wall, who will relentlessly harass and harry opponents. Though he did not score, he was still a nuisance at set-pieces, with his muscular frame and intent unsettling defenders.

The wing-backs also impressed, with right-back José Luis Rodríguez (No. 4, Danubio) winning much praise, not only for his defensive work but also his occasional forays up his flank. Indeed, this ever-present was particularly prominent in the Third Place game, cutting inside and nearly scoring at the end; his most telling contribution, however, was his pass to Schiappacasse for the striker’s goal against Japan. Left-back and fellow regular Mathías Olivera (No. 5, Club Atlético Atenas) had a similarly impressive tournament and, just as he did in qualifying, got on the scoresheet. Indeed, with one of several overlapping runs he embarked on, he received a pass from midfielder Marcelo Saracchi (No. 6, Danubio) – who was not used so much in the competition, but had his moments – and from inside the area squeezed a shot home, to seal the 2-0 win against Japan. Owing to the manoeuvrings of his agent Daniel Fonseca earlier this year which led to him being bought out of his Nacional contract and then registered with a second division side he has never played for, he is very much in the shop window.

Lastly, recognition is certainly in order for goalkeeper Santiago Mele (No. 1, Fénix), who made some fine stops, keeping a tournament-best five clean sheets, as well as remarkably saving three spot-kicks in a row against Portugal. Off the back of that particular feat, he will have been disappointed not to have saved any of the subsequent nine penalties he faced in his following two shootouts – Yeferson Soteldo’s hit the bar – but his credentials have nevertheless been bolstered. Indeed, though Venezuela’s Wuilker Faríñez was widely considered to be the best shot-stopper in qualifying, the favourite of the dissenters was Mele and here he also had admirers eager to put him forward for this tournament’s accolade.

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

In terms of consistency, certainly the best player in qualifying, yet while in South Korea the captain had his moments, he was less of a driving force and will surely come away feeling disappointed. Indeed, he was often an attacking presence and showed glimpses of what he can do, but his tournament got off on the wrong foot and never really consistently recovered to a plateau that this determined battler would be able to accept. In the opening game with Italy, just as did occur on the first day of qualifying, he had a penalty saved and then, in the following match with Japan, missed a golden one-on-one opportunity. In the knock-out phase, he went some way towards restoring internal equilibrium by scoring from the spot twice: first against Saudi Arabia (a penalty which he also won after forcing a handball) and then in the Semi-final with Venezuela. However, though there is certainly a lot of potential to be nurtured here, he was to leave the competition in a very dejected state, with his decisive shootout spot-kick being saved by Faríñez, which thus denied Uruguay a place in the Final.

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

Still, though De La Cruz did not exactly fire on all cylinders, he nevertheless had more to say for himself than Rodrigo Amaral. The scorer of five, largely breathtaking, qualifying goals and arguably his nation’s most natural talent, back in February his agent Daniel Fonseca spirited him away from Nacional in order to physically prepare for this tournament in isolation. Having been unable to complete 90 minutes at any point earlier this year due to being deemed unfit, this was supposed to be the platform on which he could showcase to the world his abilities and thus have countless salivating elite sides eagerly offering up their daughters and much more in order to sign him up. However, though in the first game against Italy, he came off the bench to score an absolutely sensational bullet of a free-kick to win the match, we saw very little of him in the remainder of the tournament. Indeed, he only made one further substitute appearance as well as – somewhat curiously – played for the entirety of the Third Place encounter. He did reportedly pick up a knock in the first game, but one suspects that his lack of subsequent game-time was more due to ongoing fitness issues which manager Coito has made clear that he is not impressed by (struggles with his weight, does Amaral). One wonders how different Uruguay’s campaign would have been had he arrived in peak condition with left-sided midfielder Facundo Waller (No. 15, Plaza Colonia) – who picked up an injury after thirty minutes of the opener and never featured again – also able to line up alongside him. Having also missed two shootout penalties – on top of the one the prodigy missed two years ago at the same tournament against Brazil which knocked his country out – this is not a competition that he will wish to recall in a hurry. Nevertheless, though Amaral has stated that he will not return to Nacional, he is still contracted there until December – will there be an unlikely reconciliation or will a bigger side be willing to take the risk?

Rodrigo Bentancur (Defensive-midfielder, No. 20, Boca Juniors, transferring to Juventus in July)

Possibly under-the-radar, possibly just a little under-par, the Boca Juniors regular who has already been snapped up for €9.5 million by Juventus had a decent, if unspectacular, tournament. Indeed, though not renowned for his goalscoring, he is nevertheless capable of kick-starting attacks and making inroads upfield, though in this competition he was a little more subdued in that department. Instead, he mainly deserves commendation for his work in tandem with the likes of Carlos Benavídez (Defensive-midfielder, No. 8, Defensor Sporting), Valverde and others in shielding the back four and often ensuring opponents had few options available to them in the final third. One minor concern for his new employers may be his tendency to collect cards as, having already been sent off in a qualifying game, here he received a one-match suspension owing to an accumulation of yellows. Still, he turns 20 later this month and given the money – and thus, confidence – invested in him, one expects to see him make his Serie A bow next season.

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

As noted, Uruguay sometimes struggled to create clear chances, yet when they did, they were often not taken by those up top. Perhaps more than anyone else, Schiappacasse was guilty of some notable misses, one in particular occurring in the opener against Italy; later in the final Group D game against South Africa, his squandering drew him a fair bit of unwanted attention. He could be wasteful and sometimes appeared disinterested, yet at the same time he also regularly found himself in good positions and was involved in many good moves. He could certainly be inconsistent, but he did at least show a sample of how clinical he can be when he struck home against Japan; he also had some indirect involvement in Bueno’s goal against Portugal when he volleyed a corner against the bar, which the defender then headed home.

Otherwise, Joaquín Ardaiz (Forward, No. 7, Danubio) had a less remarkable tournament, whereas Agustín Canobbio (Attacking-midfielder, No. 19, Fénix) often found himself in promising positions but was not able to get on the scoresheet – he did, however, win two penalties (against Portugal and Venezuela).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Italy 0-1 Uruguay (Group D, 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, 21 May 2017)

Uruguay’s opening Group D game of the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup saw them eventually overcome Italy, courtesy of some set-piece magic. Below are video highlights, a brief summary of the match and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-tracking…

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

 

Italy 0-1 Uruguay

2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Group D, 21 May 2017 (YouTube)

CONMEBOL champions Uruguay must have been wondering if their chance to win had slipped from their grasp but ultimately they left the stadium in Suwon happy, courtesy of a fantastic free-kick strike. Though their European opponents, who finished runners-up in qualifying, had at least one promising first-half chance – an Andrea Favilli header in a central position, which he couldn’t quite direct on target – it was the South Americans who had the better of the opening proceedings. Indeed, Fabián Coito’s men looked sharper on the ball and had at least a few good efforts, though really should have taken the lead at the end of the half. However, captain Nicolás De La Cruz failed to convert his 44th-minute spot-kick, with the impressive Italian goalkeeper Andrea Zaccagno comfortably stopping his rather poor effort.

After the break, Italy began to enjoy more possession and caused a few scares amongst the Uruguayan back-line. The La Celeste youths appeared to be less of an attacking force, playing with less fluidity and when Nicolás Schiappacasse squandered a surprise 72nd-minute opportunity, it looked like as if it may not be their day. However, four minutes later, with what must have been his first meaningful touch of the game despite having been on the pitch for 20 minutes, Rodrigo Amaral struck. From just outside of the right corner of the area, Uruguay’s top-scorer in qualifying hit an unstoppable, pinpoint belter with his left into the opposite corner. He and his team-mates subsequently regained some confidence and saw out the remainder of the encounter to record an opening-day win that confirms that they are rather serious title contenders indeed.

Talent Tracking

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Possibly due to a minor knock, though perhaps more likely owing to the kind of on-going fitness concerns which led to him never once completing 90 minutes during qualifying, forward Rodrigo Amaral (No. 10, Nacional) started on the bench. Emerging onto the pitch in the 56th minute, it is difficult to recall one single touch from him in his first 20 minutes after joining the fray. However, he more than made up for this with his phenomenal 76th-minute winner, a left-footed free-kick from the right angle just outside the area, which was hit with such pinpoint accuracy into the opposite corner that goalkeeper Andrea Zaccagno didn’t even move. What a way for this prodigy to assert himself at the tournament which left him heartbroken two years ago. Subsequently, he was more involved in proceedings, yet at the final whistle appeared to be struggling with some kind of injury. No update has yet been released, but it should go without saying that his compatriots could undoubtedly do with Amaral at their disposal, even if it is to be only in cameo form.

Otherwise, though he really should have done better with his penalty, which was struck far too close to the goalkeeper, Nicolás De La Cruz (No. 11, Liverpool, Uruguay) nevertheless showed more than enough to suggest that he’s going to continue to be a crucial asset to the cause. Indeed, the attacking-midfielder, who was often out on the right, displayed a decent understanding with right-back José Luis Rodríguez (No. 4, Danubio), who himself had a good game, putting in at least a couple of notable crosses. De La Cruz largely looked a class act on the ball, seeking to make things happen as well as having a few chances of his own. Indeed, in the sixth minute, he bent a free-kick little more than a couple of yards the wrong side of the woodwork and in the 21st minute he managed to get a slight touch on a loose ball, but his close-range effort from an angle at the back post was instinctively blocked by Zaccagno. Also, five minutes after the restart, Carlos Sánchez’s younger brother drove forward with intent but his low shot from the edge of the area caused little alarm as it was misdirected wide. Here, he was seeking to make up for missing the 44th-minute penalty, something he was also guilty of in his side’s opening game at the CONMEBOL qualifiers in January. He has since spoke of the pain he felt following that misguided Panenka, yet as he showed immense character to go on to lead his country to ultimately triumph in that tournament, one wouldn’t bet against a similar outcome on this grander scale.

Earlier on in the 16th minute, De La Cruz also did well running infield from the right flank to pass to striker Nicolás Schiappacasse (No. 9, Atlético Madrid Under-19s), who hit a fine first-time strike with his right, which forced a spectacular one-handed save from Zaccagno. Much later on in the 72nd minute, Schiappacasse really should have done better when Rodríguez’s long ball from his own half was dummied by De La Cruz, falling to the Atleti youngster. However, from just inside the area, one-on-one with Zaccagno, he placed his shot just wide of the far post. Otherwise, Schiappacasse showed glimpses of what he can do, as did his initial strike-partner Joaquín Ardaiz (No. 7, Danubio). Indeed, both men were involved in this penalty decision as Rodríguez’s 41st-minute cross narrowly evaded Schiappacasse but Ardaiz, who nevertheless managed an effort on target from a golden position, was adjudged – belatedly, after the referee was aided via the new video technology – to have been held back by a defender.

Finally, the defence – centre-backs, in particular – deserve credit for limiting the clear opportunities conceded to Italy and one other man in particular who caught the eye of many was Federico Valverde (No. 16, Real Madrid Castilla). The midfielder appeared to be playing a more deep-lying role and was often seen caressing the ball, taking pressure off the back-line behind him as well as linking up well with those ahead. He also took a couple of decent set-pieces, the most notable being a 28th-minute free-kick which sneaked low past the wall before being parried wide for a corner.

Uruguay have several other players capable of key contributions, not least midfielder Facundo Waller (No. 15, Plaza Colonia) who was unfortunately taken off with an injury after less than half an hour. It’s currently up in the air as to whether he will take further part in this tournament but, either way, given the likelihood of this side progressing to the latter stages, there should be plenty of future opportunities for other individuals not mentioned here to shine.

In the other Group D game played today, South Africa were defeated 2-1 by Japan, who will be Uruguay’s next opponents on Wednesday 24 May 2017.

To keep up-to-date with the latest news on the South American nations at South Korea 2017, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter and check back to Hispanospherical.com for match-by-match talent-tracking articles.

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

Top Talents at the 2017 Under-20 South American Youth Championship

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. Thus, what follows below is, firstly, a brief recap of the tournament, before drifting into an outlining of some of the considerations when judging the potential of these developing players. This is followed by the main focus, a selection of 11 individuals who stood out for their respective countries; this, in turn, is supplemented by details on many more talents worth making a note of. In all, it is hoped that this serves as a useful reference guide for those interested in the emerging prospects of South America. 

If this all looks a tad overwhelming, the information has also been broken up into shorter talent-spotting articles which have been published on this site. These are for the six teams that reached the final group stage (Uruguay, Ecuador, Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil & Colombia), as well as one which selects the Best of the Early Departees (Paraguay, Chile, Bolivia & Peru) from those sides who were eliminated after the initial group stage. 

(All photographs are credited to GettyImages)

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Tournament Recap

At the culmination of 25 days of talent-heavy, topsy-turvy entertainment, an impressive Uruguay side bolstered their remarkable youth record by lifting their eighth Under-20 South American Youth Championship. They initially made it out of Group B along with Venezuela and Argentina, who all met hosts Ecuador, Colombia and Brazil from Group A in the final Hexagonal group stage. After five games against these sides they emerged victorious from their nine-game journey with a five-point gap separating themselves from second-placed Ecuador. Along with Venezuela (3rd) and Argentina (4th), these nations will be heading to South Korea in May for the Under-20 World Cup, though Brazil and Colombia will be missing out.

Talent-Spotting: Nothing Set in Stone

Over the past three-and-a-half weeks, talent-spotters who were able to put both elite-level professional football as well as their own daily lives to one side in order to watch all 35 games became well-acquainted with many of the youngsters on show. Indeed, such folk tasked with listing the most eye-catching cracks would doubtless agree with at least two-thirds of each other’s choices, as many individuals effectively picked themselves. Thus, what can be found below is a fairly representative selection of the most outstanding starlets, though owing to the nature of such tournaments as well as the author’s kid-in-a-candy-shop mentality, some concessions have had to be made.

Indeed, while there are certain players who appear to be strong candidates to prosper at top clubs, one still hesitates before proclaiming any guarantees at this stage. This is not only due to their age but also partly because of the structure of the competition, which appears to be designed to cram a high number of opportunities in a short amount of time for scouts to see and be sure of their clubs’ potential acquisitions. Consequently, though a player may merely suffer from a run-of-the-mill dip in form, this schedule can cause and/or exacerbate inconsistency in their performances. Most coaches in this particular tournament took this into account as very few notable individuals started every single game, though such rotations also took some flourishing players out of their stride. Another more general barrier to players not giving their best accounts is simply the way in which some of them were deployed (or not) by their managers and/or the limitations of some of their team-mates. Conversely, some teams prospered as a unit but gave off the impression that, in some areas at least, the sum was much greater than the individual components. Indeed, one can not help but feel that the players in several, if not all, of these particular sides will, on average, enjoy less successful club careers than those found in the collectively unremarkable Brazilian squad.

Thus, though nothing is set in stone, rather than an overall top XI, highlighted below are instead 11 players who both made vital contributions to their nations as well as stand in good stead to make a name for themselves at club and/or international levels. A modicum of restraint has been exercised with the selection of just two players per team for five of the Hexagonal sides (and just one for the off-the-pace Colombian squad) who, were you to combine them (not recommended), make for a rather uneven, goalkeeper-less, attack-loaded side. However, partly as an act of appeasement and partly to cover one’s own back in the long run, details on many more talented players for each country – including those who went home early – are included underneath.

If that sounds just a tad excessive or you just want a few useful names to remember, here are this site’s top three players:

Rodrigo Amaral (Uruguay)

Nicolás De La Cruz (Uruguay)

Lautaro Martínez (Argentina)

However, for the aficionados, after taking a quick look at the final standings of the two groups and the Hexagonal (as well as, perhaps, browsing the results and goalscorers here), one hopes you enjoy poring over this feast of potential cracks.

Final Standings

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Top Talents at the 2017 Under-20 South American Youth Championship

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Tournament Summary

Fabián Coito’s men made a cautious start to the tournament with two draws, before a couple of wins saw them breeze their way to the top of Group B. Subsequently, three impressive consecutive wins in the Hexagonal led to them being viewed by all observers as overwhelming favourites for the title and though Venezuela emphatically delayed their crowning, they nevertheless clinched the trophy with a victory against Ecuador. Overall, they undoubtedly had the most reliable side which featured two of the tournament’s very best attacking players; they utilised their squad rather effectively and have several other players worth keeping an eye on.

To view highlights as well as read more about how Uruguay got on and who stood out in each game, click here

Top Two Uruguayan Talents

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

Based on the consistency of his performances, this versatile right-footed attacking-midfielder was arguably the player of the tournament, featuring in all nine Uruguay games and starting eight of them.

Taking on the role of captain when Rodrigo Amaral was not on the field, De La Cruz actually began the tournament in less than auspicious fashion, embarrassingly seeing his dinked Panenka-esque penalty against Venezuela easily stopped by one unfooled glove of the virtually upright goalkeeper. Some felt his spot-kick approach was that of a youngster absorbed in his own hype, but instead of mentally crumbling he showed great character to confidently dispatch another penalty in the following 3-3 draw with Argentina. In the Hexagonal phase, he would go on to showcase his considerable shooting abilities by scoring a phenomenal swerving long-range strike in a 3-0 win against Argentina as well as once more keeping his nerve with a spot-kick in another 3-0 victory, this time against Colombia.  Aside from these three goals, De La Cruz came close from more than one free-kick, hitting the post against Brazil and also regularly looked to set up his team-mates via an admirably eclectic range of forward balls and crosses, from both set-pieces as well as open play. Had some of his team-mates displayed greater composure he could well have bagged far more than just the two assists. Nevertheless, the first of these was a delivery from a left-sided free-kick that was knocked home against Bolivia and the other was a cleverly dinked ball over the top of the defence which led to the second goal in the title-clinching match with Ecuador.

Being the younger brother of Monterrey’s Carlos Sánchez, earner of over 25 Uruguay caps and formerly of Argentina’s River Plate, De La Cruz comes from promising stock. Though a rumour that Luis Suárez advised Barcelona to sign him up has since been dismissed by the Uruguayan all-time top-scorer himself, this 19-year-old nevertheless stands in good stead to have a solid club career and perhaps even emulate his hermano.

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

Perhaps serving as evidence of his prodigious talent, this rampaging left-footed attacker was one of several individuals to have also played at the 2015 Under-20 tournament, when he would have been just 17 years old. Given this solid experience in what was a very disciplined and exciting Uruguay side, it was a surprise when he started on the bench against Venezuela. However, he would go on put on the captain’s armband and convince that he may just be the most naturally gifted player in the competition.

In the subsequent match against Argentina, he received a start and announced himself early on to purring talent-spotters the world over by scoring an unstoppable golazo from over 25 yards out on the inside-left. Subsequently, he found the back of the net in his next four games, with one these goals being an even more impressive long-range belter, this time coming after a turn from 30 yards out in a 2-1 win against Brazil in the Hexagonal, licking the post on the way in. His other goals were a penalty in a 2-0 victory against Peru, a close-range finish squeezed in at the near post in a 3-0 win against Bolivia and, on the first day of the Hexagonal, a low header from a cross to complete the 3-0 rout against Argentina. Ultimately, he would finish as the tournament’s joint top-scorer with five goals.

He has been compared to Wayne Rooney and it’s not hard to see why as he has a tendency to come from deep then bustle his way forward, is not afraid to shoot and is also very much capable of playing in team-mates; he’s also not bad at set-pieces, firing in several testing shots and crosses in his nine games. However, despite featuring in every Uruguay match, he only started six of these and, no doubt raising the alarm bells of many scouts, did not complete the full 90 minutes once, instead typically being on the field between 55-70 minutes. Weight and fitness issues have been consistent problems for Amaral who, despite claiming more than once during the tournament to have silenced his critics, has himself conceded that he has a tendency to over-eat and could do with losing about 3kg. Indeed, somewhat uncharitably, over the past few weeks it was common for observers, including a Venezuelan commentator moments before Amaral was set to lift the trophy, to refer to him as ‘el gordo’ (the fat one).

This may partly explain why he barely played for Nacional last season (despite regularly doing so the year before) and also why no substantial transfer rumours have been doing the rounds. However, since the tournament ended he has professed a desire to play in Italy and, very recently, moves have been made by an agent to activate his surprisingly low release clause (reportedly US$3 million). Thus, with his reputation enhanced and several new eye-grabbing highlight clips added to his portfolio, it is hard to see why many Serie A sides wouldn’t wish to take the minor risk and help him maintain an elite physique. After all, the rewards could be bountiful.

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Tournament Summary 

The hosts, who were at their most threatening when playing a fast-paced, physical brand of football, were often the most exciting team to watch, a view best supported by their 4-3 victory against Colombia in the first group stage. They ended as the joint-highest scorers and pulled off some emphatic victories in the Hexagonal, including 3-0 wins against both Argentina and Colombia, before ultimately surrendering their outside title challenge against Uruguay in the final match.

To view highlights as well as read more about how Ecuador got on and who stood out in each game, click here

Top Two Ecuadorian Talents

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

With five goals from his nine starts, left-sided attacker Bryan Cabezas finished as one of the four joint top-scorers, impressively netting four times in the Hexagonal phase. Indeed, after having to come off with a possible concussion in the opener against Brazil, he returned to net a penalty in the 4-3 win over Colombia and converted another spot-kick as a consolation in the heavy Hexagonal loss to Venezuela. It was in the subsequent two games that he really made his mark as he scored three goals (once against Argentina and twice against Colombia  – both 3-0 spankings), all of which were well-placed finishes from a position inside the area on the left. Otherwise, he set up another goal against Argentina with a fine low ball across the area which found Jordy Caicedo and, generally, was a rambunctious nuisance for defenders, unsettling them when bustling his way forward.

Though his team-mates also deserve much credit for seeking Cabezas out, with such good finishing, his direct, unsubtle approach appears to work well for him and at club level, he’s already been mixing it with the big boys at an impressively high standard. Indeed, back in July, he played in the Copa Libertadores final for Ecuadorian Cinderella story Independiente Del Valle; the following month, he agreed a deal with Serie A’s Atalanta, where he has thus far sat on the bench nearly a dozen times this season. Though they may be hesitant to risk jeopardising their outstanding campaign, perhaps when their starlet returns – after first joining up with the senior squad for a friendly with Honduras – some on-field minutes are in order.

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

Though nominally a left-back, the man who may well come to be known as ‘Pervy Stupidname’ by morons everywhere (or perhaps just this writer) may well be better suited a little further upfield. Indeed, even though three were perfectly executed spot-kicks, it was nevertheless impressive of him to bag four goals and he was regularly a threat bombing up his flank, manfully striding past opponents. Not missing a single minute of the competition, he played a vital role for the hosts, beginning the comeback in the 4-3 win over Colombia with a low strike and putting away his three penalties in consecutive Hexagonal matches against Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina. As well as scoring, with well-weighted balls up the left he also played it forward for Herlin Lino to win the first penalty against Brazil and, after opening up some space, set up Cabezas’ second goal in the 3-0 Hexagonal win against Colombia.

Defensively, he is perhaps more of a mixed bag. Indeed, Ecuador’s record of 14 goals conceded in nine games was nothing to brag about and there were occasions when Estupiñán was clearly the culprit for defensive lapses – perhaps most notably twice from crosses against Chile, though only one resulted in a goal. However, he also thwarted many attackers with his fearsome tenacity and physicality on the left, as well cleared the ball off the line at least twice (both times in the Hexagonal clash with Brazil).

Perhaps there was little call for him to be pushed forward to the left of midfield as that position was occupied by Cabezas, but, in time, things may pan out differently at Granada, for whose B team he has been playing for since the beginning of the season. Before this move, he had been playing in the L.D.U. Quito first-team consistently since he was 17 years old. Furthermore, given that two years ago he also played (and scored) in both the Under-17 Sudamericano tournament as well as the World Cup – where Ecuador reached the quarter-final – and his uncle, Jorge Guagua, has over 60 caps for La Tri, he appears to be a man of solid pedigree. As Granada currently need all the help they can get in La Liga, they could surely do much worse than hand a first-team start to Estupiñán. Who knows, they may experience similarly exhilarating results to what occurred when their buy from 2015’s tournament, Venezuela’s Adalberto Peñaranda, was given a try later that year.

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Tournament Summary

Rafael Dudamel’s men put in an exceptional showing, qualifying for the Under-20 World Cup for the first time since 2009 and giving their compatriots much hope for the future. Yet, though always solid at the back – they would finish with the least goals conceded over nine games – they struggled for goals in the opening stage and looked like they could be heading home early, before just about scraping through with four straight draws (one goal for, one goal against). Thankfully for fans and neutrals alike, the floodgates opened in the Hexagonal when, in the second game, they thumped hosts Ecuador 4-2 and later inflicted Uruguay’s only defeat upon them (3-0), ultimately finishing a hugely commendable third.

To view highlights as well as read more about how Venezuela got on and who stood out in each game, click here

Top Two Venezuelan Talents

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

Undoubtedly the most eye-catching individual on the field for Venezuela was diminutive left-sided dribbler Yeferson Soteldo. Indeed, at 5 feet 3 inches tall, he must have had the lowest centre of gravity in the competition yet was a conspicuous presence as he repeatedly slalomed his way past opponents with the ball seemingly glued to his boots.

This jinking playmaker also took set-pieces and frequently appeared to be running the show yet was criticised early on for his alleged poor decision-making and lack of end-product. Some perceived his relegation to the bench for the third game against Bolivia as a punishment though Dudamel may have been thinking long-term and instead saving his energy. However, after he came on in the 52nd minute, Venezuela noticeably stepped things up several gears and were it not for the hapless wastefulness of several team-mates, Soteldo would have been credited with key contributions for at least three goals. Nevertheless, after Venezuela squeaked through to the final stage on goal difference after a 0-0 draw against Argentina, the stats that matter did not look good for Soteldo.

However, shortly after the Hexagonal began, this would all be largely forgotten, as he hit the ground running in the opening game with Colombia, scoring a sensational curling free-kick. Subsequently, he was to be integral in their two breathtaking thrashings. In the 4-2 win against Ecuador, if one generously notes his pass to Yangel Herrera for the stunning opener, then he had some role to play in all four goals: for the second, he scored this himself from the penalty spot, for the third, it was his shot that deflected kindly into the path of goalscorer Ronaldo Chacón and lastly, for the fourth, he was credited with an actual assist after he followed up some good work on the left with a pass across to Sergio Córdova, who finished off. Two matches later in the 3-0 win over Uruguay if, even more generously, his free-kick which was headed onto the bar is counted as a contribution towards the first goal which came barely ten seconds later, then he had some part to play in all the goals here as well. Indeed, he scored the second himself from the penalty spot and soon afterwards, he drew the foul to win another spot-kick, which Chacón converted to make it 3-0.

Thus, overall, of Venezuela’s nine tournament goals, he scored three and had a key role to play in at least another three (five, if you ask his agent); furthermore, had his team-mates displayed greater shooting accuracy, he could well have registered contributions for several more. Whilst there may still be justifiable concerns over whether or not he can be a bit of a tunnel-visioned ball-hogger and his size does make one ponder how far he can go in the global game, the raw ingredients of a potential star are surely already there. Having staggeringly played almost exactly 100 games for domestic champions Zamora, he has now joined up with Chile’s Huachipato, a side that compatriot Rómulo Otero impressed at last year before earning a move to Brazil’s Atlético Mineiro. Otero is one of a host of other attacking-midfielders Soteldo shall face competition from in this rather unsettled line in Venezuela’s senior team, though with three caps already to his name, the future nevertheless looks radiant for the Under-20’s leading man.

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

Venezuela’s captain, the holding midfielder who deserves much credit for helping to organise those around him and snuff out danger so that his side emerged with the best defensive record over the course of nine games. Primarily for these contributions, Yangel Herrera was crucial to his side’s success though, whilst he may not be as much of an attacking threat as the likes of Uruguay’s Nicolás De La Cruz, he also played his part going forward.

Indeed, in the opening 0-0 draw with Uruguay, he nearly won the match with his late goalwards nudge, but this was overhead-kicked off the line by his counterpart Rodrigo Bentancur. Subsequently, he was impossible to ignore in the following game against Peru, as he first won a penalty which he took yet failed to convert and then hit the bar with the rebound; he did not let this setback devour his drive, however, as he went on to head home an important last-minute equaliser before, barely a minute later, receiving a second yellow card and thus his marching orders. Into the Hexagonal phase, he got the ball rolling in the second game against Ecuador with a fine strike from the edge of the area for the opening goal, though it’s unclear how many of his compatriots watching at home are willing to admit it took a significant deflection. In the subsequent match against Brazil, he was unlucky not to get another goal when he struck a fine low effort from 30 yards that beat the goalkeeper but hit the base of the post before rolling across the goalmouth. Lastly, it’s also worth noting that he helped kick-start many Venezuelan attacks and often looked to play some incisive balls from a deep position.

He has already played for the senior national side and seems almost tailor-made to enjoy a formidable partnership with captain and Juventus new-boy Tomás Rincón. Signed by Manchester City during the tournament, he is perhaps the best-placed of this Under-20 team to become a regular at full international level. However, despite his importance to this campaign it can not go unremarked upon that he wasn’t on the pitch when his team-mates pulled off their most impressive victory, the 3-0 win against Uruguay. He also wasn’t present when his team-mates kept their second clean sheet against Bolivia and had seven gilt-edged chances to score. However, whilst it is worth bearing in mind, this is not intended as criticism of the man, but more praise for the system implemented by Dudamel. That said, one thing he may need to improve upon is the reason behind him missing both of those matches: his discipline. Indeed, he picked up four yellow cards and one red during the tournament, which came off the back of a season where he received 14 yellow cards and one red card for Atlético Venezuela. Given the demands of his position and with Manchester City having already loaned him out to MLS allies New York City FC, it is questionable whether he will be told to ‘Follow what I say, not what I’ve done‘ by manager Patrick Vieira.

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Tournament Summary

With just one win and three draws in the opening group stage, Claudio Úbeda’s men may not have entirely convinced, but given the attacking talent in their ranks (highest scorers at that point), fans held out hope that they were saving their best for the Hexagonal. However, three games in to the final stage, having endured two comprehensive 3-0 defeats – against first, Uruguay and then two games later, Ecuador – and possessing just three points, things looked bleak. In their following encounter with Brazil, they were ten seconds away from being eliminated before scoring their last-gasp equaliser; subsequently, they beat Venezuela and Brazil’s failure to beat Colombia meant that somehow they sneaked the last qualification spot.

To view highlights as well as read more about how Argentina got on and who stood out in each game, click here

Top Two Argentine Talents

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

Had he not scored twice in his final game, it’s debatable whether Lautaro Martínez would be selected in many observers’ Tournament Top Three, but taking into account his overall contribution to the cause, it’s difficult to deny him his spot.

Indeed, Argentina owe their World Cup qualification to him as not only did he end up as joint top-scorer with five in nine starts, but virtually all his goals were astoundingly vital. His first, in the opening game against Peru, was a fine last-minute strike into the corner to save Argentina’s blushes and salvage a point; subsequently however, his stature dropped as he went four games without finding the net and was somewhat overshadowed by his strike-partner Marcelo Torres. Yet, when it mattered most in the Hexagonal he displayed awe-inspiring stamina and drive to score four further goals that effectively won the points to inch Argentina through. As with the Peru goal, two of these came at the death: a cool tap-in to win the game against Colombia and, most significantly, a headed equaliser to make it 2-2 in the penultimate match against Brazil with only seconds remaining – without this, they would have gone out. Subsequently, a big win by at least five goals in the final game against Venezuela seemed the likeliest way for Argentina to progress and Martínez certainly played his part in giving his team-mates hope, as he scored twice in the opening 45 minutes: the first of these was a textbook finish following a Torres pass and the second was a surprise, looping header. Ultimately, the match may have only ended 2-0 but given Brazil’s 0-0 draw with Colombia, it proved to be enough; with the anxiety released, Martínez’s astonishing role could be fully appreciated.

Otherwise, the Racing striker set up the fifth goal against Bolivia with a cross and, several times throughout the tournament, also further displayed his eye for goal, forcing parries with testing strikes from the edge of the area. Having already featured at club level for Racing, he has been on the radar of European clubs since long before the tournament began: Valencia and Arsenal are reportedly interested, though Real Madrid appear to have come closest to acquiring his services, with a loan move having been discussed.

tomasconechny

Tomás Conechny (Attacking-midfielder, No. 20, San Lorenzo)

Five-goal Marcelo Torres lost out on being selected as one of Argentina’s top two prospects due to little more than a coin toss, but it’s difficult to deny that 18-year-old playmaker Tomás Conechny deserves some high recognition. Not only was he involved in five goals, but three of his four assists were absolutely crucial, coming towards the very end of matches and winning points for Los Pibes. Indeed, he came on as a 70th minute substitute in the second Group B game against Uruguay and superbly crossed in for two headed goals, the latter securing a 3-3 draw at the death. Later in the Hexagonal stage, he set up Martínez for two vital goals, the first a low ball into the goalmouth following some nice footwork which gave Argentina a 2-1 win over Colombia and the second was a fine cross for the header that nabbed a 2-2 draw against Brazil, heart-stoppingly keeping them in the competition.

Earlier on in the third Group B game against Bolivia, he also scored a goal, possibly Argentina’s best: he cut onto his left on the inside-right and struck home a fine effort from just outside the area. This was actually his first start of the tournament; overall, he began four matches and was subbed on a further four times, statistics which surely make the number of his contributions to goals all the more impressive.

Though he is billed by various sources as a striker, he was definitely playing behind the forward line here. However, he can certainly find the back of the net as indeed he did five times in seven games at 2015’s Sudamericano Sub-17 tournament, an achievement he celebrated on his birthday by falling 10 feet out of his hotel window whilst playing FIFA 15. Something of a child prodigy who has been on the radar of scouts at least since that particular competition, he has spoken of his desire to play in England, ideally for Liverpool or Arsenal – based on his consistent success at youth level, one would not bet against this. Currently attached to San Lorenzo, he has hardly played at club level, but expect that to change in the upcoming year.

brazilflag Brazil 

Tournament Summary

In the opening group stage, Brazil may not have emerged head and shoulders above their opponents but they did still manage to advance with a game to spare. However, those with doubts were vindicated in the Hexagonal as they were defeated by Uruguay and held to three draws – the last one against Colombia denying them a place at the Under-20 World Cup. Nevertheless, though Brazil may not have set the tournament alight, overall it can’t be ignored that they finished only one point behind three of the teams who did qualify. Collectively unremarkable maybe, but they are not without talented individuals – though whether they can help revive the reputation of the Seleção on the grandest stage is another matter.

To view highlights as well as read more about how Brazil got on and who stood out in each game, click here

Top Two Brazilian Talents

richarlison

Richarlison (Attacking-midfielder, No. 18, Fluminense)

Partly due to their unconvincing performances relative to the high standards expected of them rather than an abundance of talent complicating a final decision, there are at least several contenders for Brazil’s most notable individual. Nevertheless, owing as much to his displays as his perceived potential, attacking-midfielder/forward Richarlison has been chosen as their most impressive offence-minded player.

He was a frequent threat, particularly from the left as he showed off some neat footwork to set him free to either play in team-mates or try his luck at the target himself. Though a cold reading of his statistics will state that he only scored twice and assisted once, he did also hit the woodwork a couple of times, come close with at least one effort and provided opportunities for others who perhaps should have done better. Indeed, the lack of cohesion and consistent on-field team-mates possibly also hampered him. Still, excuses aside, with a fine first-time low cross he set up Felipe Vizeu’s goal in the opening 1-0 win against Ecuador. The 3-2 win against Paraguay yielded the first of his goals, as a route one move was headed on for him to slide home; his second came in the penultimate Hexagonal encounter with Argentina when, upon receiving a floated ball, he was able to direct home an effort – at the second bite of the cherry – to give his side an early lead.

During the competition, Ajax reportedly had a considerable bid of approximately €9 million turned down for Richarlison – his club Fluminense supposedly believe he’s worth more. Having already played over 50 professional club games and, just this weekend gone (18 February), returned from the competition to score twice in a 3-0 win, they may well be right.

lyanco

Lyanco (Centre-back, No. 4, São Paulo)

Lyanco Evangelista Silveira Neves Vojnović to give him his full name. Possessing some less common heritage from the Old Continent, this well-built centre-back was actually representing Serbia at Under-19 level less than a year ago and who can say for certain with whom – if anyone – his senior international career will be. Indeed, it’s not too late to revert back to his grandfather’s country but if the Seleção anticipate requiring more help to shore up their defensive line, it may be advisable to soon try nailing this man’s colours to the mast.

It’s debatable, but he didn’t seem to bear any glaring, direct responsibility for the nine goals his side conceded – only six of which occurred when he was on the pitch, two of these being penalties. In Brazil’s Hexagonal stage encounter with Uruguay, their opponents may have scored their winner soon after he was red-carded, but his second yellow was largely due to the strain of having to cover extra ground, what with his side already playing with ten men at that point. In all, he was the most prominent Brazilian defender and deserves credit for his role in his side’s relatively decent defensive record (just one more goal let in than winners Uruguay).

Doing so more often than the average centre-back, he was also notable for coming forward from time to time. Indeed, perhaps his most memorable contribution was a superb diagonal ball to Richarlison to then set up the winner in the opener against Ecuador; he also had the ball in the back of the net against Argentina but this was ruled out.

One of his defensive colleagues, Gabriel (No. 14, Lille), secured a move to Ligue 1 during the tournament but Lyanco’s prospects are anticipated to be grander. Indeed, amongst others, Atlético Madrid are reportedly interested but Juventus appear to be the front-runners for the São Paulo man, who possesses over 20 games of domestic experience.

colombia Colombia

Tournament Summary

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

Top Colombian Talent

juanhernandez

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 Talented Players From the Hexagonal Sides

uruguayflag Uruguay

It was very much a team effort from Uruguay, as they comfortably finished five points clear of their nearest rivals in the Hexagonal and, overall, scored the joint-highest number of goals as well as conceded the second-lowest amount. Thus, there are many candidates who could be put forward as their third most impressive player, though not a clear choice. Nevertheless, from their well-organised, sturdy defence, towering and tenacious centre-back Agustín Rogel (No. 18, Nacional) caught the eye, even managing to knock home De La Cruz’s free-kick against Bolivia, though the five yellow cards (and thus, two suspensions) he picked up in seven games may be an aspect of his game worth working on.


It’s debatable whether the man ahead of him in a holding midfield role, Rodrigo Bentancur (No. 20, Boca Juniors, Argentina), lived up to the pre-tournament hype that stemmed from his already considerable experience at a high club level. However, though he picked up a red card in the first group stage, he also often played his part helping out the back four, notably overhead-kicking a clearance off the line in the first game against Venezuela. He formed a strong partnership with the lesser-heralded Carlos Benavidez (No. 8, Defensor Sporting) and did gradually grow into the tournament; attack-wise, he scored a cracking goal from just outside the area against Bolivia and also had a minor hand in one of the goals against Colombia. At the time of writing, he has recently been undergoing medical checks in Turin for his suitors, Juventus.


Slightly further upfield, left-sided midfielder Facundo Waller (No. 15, Plaza Colonia) also impressed in a more low-key manner than the likes of Amaral and De La Cruz and could well prove to be a very rewarding investment for any team seeking a creative workhorse with a cultured left foot. After an opening group stage in which he often put in some useful balls, it was in the Hexagonal when he really made his mark. First, he set up the two latter goals in the 3-0 win against Argentina (the first with a pass up the left flank, the second with a cross for Amaral), then in the next game he launched the ball forward for Matías Viña (No. 17, Nacional) to score the last-gasp winner against Brazil. He even got on the scoresheet himself with the opener in the 3-0 win against Colombia, scooping an effort from the edge of the area into the back of the net.


Otherwise, striker Nicolás Schiappacasse (No. 9, Atlético Madrid) impressed, though was slightly overshadowed by at least a few other players in his position from other nations. Nevertheless, he sometimes looked sharp and often got into good positions, scoring three goals (including clinical strikes against both Peru and, later in the Hexagonal, Colombia) and winning two penalties (not to mention a fair few free-kicks), one of which he took himself in the first group stage against Argentina and had saved, but was able to knock in at the second attempt. This prospect only turned 18 in January and, though he started his career at Montevideo’s River Plate, has already moved on to Atlético Madrid’s Under-19 side, where this season he has featured in the UEFA Youth League.


He didn’t receive as much game-time as Schiappacasse (who he is a mere day older than), but another attacker who may nevertheless be worth keeping an eye on is Joaquín Ardaiz (No. 7, Danubio). He was conspicuous in the group stage win over Bolivia, one of two games he started; he made a nuisance of himself from the off and perhaps could have put away at least one of his chances, one of which hit the post. However, he certainly made his mark when he was trusted to make his second start (from six appearances) in the crucial title-decider against Ecuador. He scored both goals in a 2-1 win, the first a capitalisation on a defensive howler and the second a confident finish from De La Cruz’s pass. A host of clubs, including Sporting Clube de Portugal, are reportedly monitoring him.


Briefly, left-back Mathías Olivera (No. 5, Club Atlético Atenas) often appeared rather reliable on the ball, frequently coming forward and even got on the scoresheet in the 3-0 win against Argentina; as he has recently been bought from Nacional by an agent and held somewhat curiously at a second division halfway-house, it appears a bigger move can’t be too far away.


Lastly, a note to mention that defender Santiago Bueno (No. 2, Barcelona Juvenil A) has earned a move to Barcelona out of this tournament, though he can’t really be said to have significantly stood out; indeed, he played only four games and one of these was to cover the suspended Rogel for the 3-0 hiding dished out by Venezuela.

ecuadorflag Ecuador

Particularly in the first group stage, Joao Rojas (No. 17, Emelec) looked to be Ecuador’s most creative midfielder, regularly putting in dangerous balls from open play as well as set-pieces and also not being afraid to strike. He was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet, particularly against Chile when he had a goal incorrectly ruled out for offside. Also, though he had an important role in the build-up of at least four goals, for only one of these could he be credited with an assist: a slide across the area for Washington Corozo’s opener against Paraguay. However, though he appeared to be a frequent source of trouble for opponents, following the 4-2 hiding by Venezuela in the Hexagonal, he was replaced early and left out of the starting line-ups for the final three games. Hopefully, having already regularly played for nearly two seasons with domestic side S.D. Aucas, he will be able to prove himself as a consistent threat at his new club, giants Emelec.


Rojas was one of several talented supporting Ecuador midfielders who frequently helped to create chances and confusion, with opposition defenders often struggling to contend with several bustling threats at once. One of the most significant of these was Ajax-target Jordan Sierra (No. 15, Delfin), who appeared to play in a more central, deep-lying role to Rojas and gradually came to overshadow him. Indeed, in his first two outings he was notable for some testing long-range efforts but then early on in the third game against Chile he displayed great tenacity and desire to hold off and evade the challenges of two defenders before managing to sneak in a goal that went in off the far post. Otherwise, with his dinked forward ball to Rojas, he played a key role in the opener in the subsequent game against Paraguay and later, in the Hexagonal, set up Cabezas’ first goal against Colombia. As with Cabezas and Félix Torres (No. 23, Barcelona de Guayaquil) – who played in five games but never really caught this observer’s eye – Sierra has been called up for the senior squad’s friendly with Honduras on 22 February.


To a lesser extent as he was not afforded as many chances – three starts, plus four substitute appearances – fellow midfielder Wilter Ayoví (No. 8, Independiente Del Valle) could also be a handful. Indeed, he displayed a notable capacity for driving forward, bustling and making things happens. His most notable contribution was the last-gasp cross that was nodded in by Jordy Caicedo to claim an enthralling 4-3 victory over Colombia in the opening stage. Thirty seconds prior he had a gilt-edged opportunity to win the game himself and before this had also managed to get in a couple other attempts, as he did in two other matches he featured in.


Working in close tandem with these attacking-midfielders were a range of forwards, who also impressed. Indeed, along with Cabezas, there was three-goal Jordy Caicedo (No. 19, Universidad Católica del Ecuador), who played in all nine games, starting four. As noted, he dramatically began his tally by heading in Ayoví’s cross for the late 4-3 win against Colombia, with his other two coming in the pair of 3-0 wins in the Hexagonal, firstly a tap-in against Argentina and then a clinical strike against Colombia.


With perhaps more versatility in his game, Herlin Lino (No. 9, currently unattached, though ex-Barcelona de Guayaquil; El Nacional interested) made a nuisance of himself and managed to bag two goals. The first of these was a sensational 25-yard volley against Paraguay, certainly one of the goals of the tournament, whereas the second was the last of the competition, a deft touch following a long ball from right-back Kevin Minda (No. 4, L.D.U. Quito) that halved Uruguay’s lead. He was also notable for having a curious knack of forcing opponents into fouls and winning penalties; he was fouled for the one in the 4-3 win over Colombia and, remarkably, for both in the 2-2 Hexagonal draw against Brazil, with many fans feeling he was also narrowly denied another one late on.


Last but by no means least, though with one goal he was not as prolific as he was at U-17 level (goals in 8 games at 2015’s Sudamericano tournament, then 2 in 5 encounters later that year at the World Cup), Washington Corozo (No. 7, Independiente Del Valle) made his presence known. With his fast pace, he impressed running at opponents and though he only got one assist (a short pass to Estupiñán in the opening stage win against Colombia), had some of his team-mates been a little sharper, he could have had at least a few more. His solitary goal came against Paraguay; shortly beforehand he should’ve netted with a header in space which instead hit the post, but he made no mistake for the 20th-minute opener when Rojas slid the ball to him and, unmarked, he turned to convert. Like Rojas, he either fell out of favour and/or succumbed to fatigue as, despite also starting the first six games, he was a substitute for the last three.

venezuelaflag Venezuela

Venezuela came into the tournament with three individuals already capped at senior level and, quelle surprise, they turned out to be their most important players. Wuilker Fariñez (No. 1, Caracas FC) is the third of these starlets and has deservedly been proclaimed by virtually all observers as the indisputable top goalkeeper of the competition. He conceded just seven goals in nine games (three of which were penalties), looking remarkably assured and pulling off several notable saves. From the very first game, he gained widespread attention when he kept his cool to embarrass Uruguay’s Nicolás De La Cruz by not being fooled by his Panenka chipped penalty, instead standing upright to swat it away. Other impressive saves include a last-gasp stop at close range against Peru in the subsequent game as well as two in quick succession against Argentina in the final match, which helped to quell the feared opposition onslaught.

Many would have selected him as one of Venezuela’s top two players, but with an eye towards his potential long-term future, there’s just one glaring barrier stopping this writer from doing so: he’s 5 feet 9 inches tall. During the competition, while his sprightliness and alertness ensured it wasn’t a huge issue, he did get out-jumped a couple of times and one can imagine it happening with greater frequency elsewhere. Indeed, unsurprisingly, recent history and present reality are somewhat against him attaining a regular starting position in a major European league. Given that the current senior international goalkeeper Dani Hernández (incidentally, a colossal 6 feet 5 inches) plays for promotion-chasing Tenerife in the Spanish second division, one wonders if Fariñez can possibly go any higher than this. At the moment, though speculation exists regarding a potential move this year, he has said that he plans to remain at Caracas FC – where he has chalked up over 50 league appearances – at least until when his contract expires in 2018.

Other than his height, it can’t be ignored that he did clumsily give away two penalties in the tournament (the Ecuador one was difficult to argue with, though the one against Colombia was fiercely disputed by Venezuelan onlookers, including Salomón Rondón). Furthermore, in the opening match, his arguably unnecessary parry back into the danger zone, which led to a Uruguayan penalty as well as a red card for team-mate Eduin Quero who made a last-ditch effort to prevent a goal, didn’t exactly help either.

All that being said, he is definitely a top talent and there is little doubt in this writer’s mind that he will one day enjoy a run as the senior side’s first-choice goalkeeper. Despite one’s reservations about him when confronted by more physical opponents and a greater-paced game, his career is definitely one to keep an eye on and could constitute an inspiring victory for little gloved chaps the world over.

If it doesn’t work out, he can always try to rekindle his early teenage success as a striker.


Moving on somewhat, though Fariñez deserves huge credit for the stops he made and the way he patrolled his area with a confidence belying his age, he was also greatly assisted in achieving his four clean sheets by an exceptionally well-drilled defence. Indeed, they ensured that, a few scares aside, he was never put under relentless concerted pressure comparable to, say, Tim Howard for USA against Belgium, World Cup 2014. As already noted, given that they even managed to keep two clean sheets when Herrera was suspended from protecting the back four, it was very much a genuine squad effort and thus perhaps more of a triumph for Dudamel’s system rather than any one individual. This, coupled with Venezuela’s somewhat unremarkable record of producing top-level defenders (Roberto Rosales and Oswaldo Vizcarrondo being perhaps the best in recent years), renders one hesitant to predict untold success and riches for any one of these men at club level – after all, what will happen when they are broken up and have to abide by different tactics as well as work with other players at their respective clubs?

Nevertheless, if any of these shall enhance Venezuela’s defensive reputation in the upcoming decade or so, one’s money is on the following: Firstly, right-back Ronald Hernández (No. 20, Zamora FC) who thwarted virtually all the attacks on his flank, can’t be held culpable for any of the goals conceded and also managed to go on several notable dribbles upfield in at least a few games. Secondly, the two centre-backs  Josua Mejías (No. 17, Carabobo FC) and Williams Velásquez (No. 2, Estudiantes de Caracas, soon-to-be Udinese, Italy, on loan from Watford, England). The former, who has allegedly received interest from abroad, made some crucial blocks as well as got on the scoresheet by sliding in the opener in the Hexagonal win over Uruguay. The latter, who actually looked a likelier scorer with his headers from set-pieces, impressed and has reportedly signed for Watford, who shall loan him to Udinese, though some details remain unclear at this point.


Otherwise, further upfield, midfielder Ronaldo Lucena (No. 16, Zamora FC) – younger brother of the highly-capped international, Franklin – quietly impressed, particularly from set-pieces. Indeed, while he only officially registered one assist – the free-kick cross headed in by Herrera against Peruhad a couple of team-mates kept their cool against Bolivia, he could have easily had at least two more. Furthermore, in other games, he very nearly played a role in at least two other goals which makes one wonder: had he been able to see more action (four starts, three subs) and somehow nab set-piece duties from Soteldo more often, would he have proven himself as a superior provider? Time may tell on that one.


From a somewhat more attacking perspective, out largely on the right was Sergio Córdova (No. 23, Caracas FC). He didn’t entirely convince that a full international career beckons but he nevertheless made some useful contributions. Indeed, though he possesses less physicality and bustle than some of the Ecuadorian flank-men, he was still able to take on opponents from time to time and cause problems. Following one such moment against Bolivia which culminated with him putting a ball into the goalmouth, Ronaldo Peña’s ineptitude caused them to miss an open goal. Somewhat more successfuly, he played in a low ball from the right in the Hexagonal clash with Uruguay, which led to Ronaldo Chacón being fouled and, subsequently, the lead was doubled from the spot. Throughout the tournament, Soteldo set up at least four notable chances for Córdova, though only one of the three he failed to convert – against Bolivia – could be deemed close to gilt-edged. He did, however, score from one of Soteldo’s passes, this coming in from the left flank against Ecuador, which he struck home low in the fog from inside the area.


Up top, Ronaldo Chacón (No. 11, Caracas FC) arguably had the best tournament of those nominally fielded as strikers, though he had to wait until the Hexagonal stage to make four of his five starts. This was a slight surprise to those who were aware of his three goals in four games at the 2015 Under-17 Sudamericano, though he at least picked the most memorable games to get on the scoresheet here. Indeed, in the 4-2 win over Ecuador, he scored the third goal, receiving a deflected shot from Soteldo and striking home himself. Then, in the 3-0 win over Uruguay, he not only doubled his tally, but also had a hand in all three goals: for the first, not long after he had hit the crossbar with a header, he played in Mejías to slide home; for the second, he received Córdova’s pass and was fouled in the area, with Soteldo converting the subsequent penalty; for the third, he himself scored from the spot after the roles were reversed and Soteldo had been upended. Both Chacón and Soteldo worked rather well together in this match, which may have been just the time he caught the eye of the latter’s new club, Huachipato of Chile; rumours suggest they may link up there later this year.


Lastly, the name of Ronaldo Peña (No. 9, Las Palmas, Spain) went down in most fans’ little black books after he squandered a glaring hat-trick of golden opportunities against Bolivia which seemingly jeopardised the team’s chances of progressing to the Hexagonal. There were at least a couple more decent chances in other games that he could have done better with but overall, his play had its merits and suggested that he may be more suited to a support role, holding up the ball, linking up more dynamic players, chasing loose balls, running down the clock etc. Nevertheless, his most effective attacking contributions were an early flick-on against Bolivia from which a team-mate should have scored and the penalty for which he was fouled against Ecuador, ultimately converted by Soteldo.

argentinaflag Argentina

Fans of Marcelo Torres (No. 21, Boca Juniors) can rightly feel aggrieved that he has not been chosen as one of the two stand-out Argentines; given his nation’s recent embarrassment of riches in the striker department, his performances sometimes suggested that he may be another crack off the assembly line. Indeed, for much of the tournament, the previously little-known striker turned many heads and actually looked to be on course to be Los Pibes’ stand-out player. Like the greater-hyped Martínez, he scored five goals, though these came within the first six games (and four were in the first phase), before his strike-partner returned to prominence with four goals in the final four matches. However, overall, Torres played two fewer games so can at least claim a superior goals-per-minute ratio and, given the calibre of some of his finishes, his tally can not be casually overlooked.

Indeed, he opened his account with two goals in a 3-3 draw against eventual winners Uruguay in Group B, with the first comparable to Martínez’s against Peru: he exquisitely controlled a ball on the left inside the area, before nudging it past a defender and brilliantly striking home. His second in the subsequent half came as he rose in exemplary fashion to power home a bullet-header. The following game against an admittedly poor Bolivia yielded another brace: the first a no-frills header and the second a tap-in following a goalkeeping spill. If they were not as eye-grabbing, he certainly got viewers’ attention in the second Hexagonal game when, after a mere 19 seconds against Colombia, he scored his fifth and final tournament goal; this too was a fine finish, as he received a pass and took a couple of touches before superbly curling home.

Thus, he can be rather deadly and, following that game, he didn’t entirely drift out of focus, as he also managed to gain an assist for Martínez’s opener against Venezuela (note: he was also officially given another assist for Conechny’s goal against Bolivia but those who saw that strjke know that it was all the work of the playmaker). That said, though he often appeared committed to causing trouble for defenders, aside from only scoring once in the Hexagonal, perhaps the main criticism of him is that he did go a little quiet in some games.

Nevertheless, five goals and an assist in just seven games certainly can’t be dismissed. He may have never made a first-team appearance for Boca Juniors but after this tournament it shouldn’t be long before he sees some competitive club action, whether at La Bombonera or elsewhere.


Playing in a similar position as Conechny and also impressing, albeit to a somewhat lesser degree, Brian Mansilla (No. 11, Racing Club) found himself on the radar of a European club, who must have appreciated his two goals and an assist from nine straight starts. Indeed, he was the subject of a considerable bid from Ajax during the tournament which his club turned down. Particularly in the first game with Peru, they may well have also enjoyed his ability to pace his way past opponents and move play into dangerous areas, especially when he drove through two players before setting up Martínez for the equaliser. The following game against Uruguay showcased his tendency to shoot no matter how unpromising the position may be, clipping the bar with one effort. Subsequently in the rout against Bolivia, he capitalised on a defensive error to score with a textbook left-footed strike into the corner and then saw another shot of his spilled to Torres, who tapped home. His second goal of the tournament came in the Hexagonal draw with Brazil as he instinctively knocked home a flick-on from a corner to equalise in the first half. Thus far, most of his league appearances have come in a loan spell at Quilmes (3 goals in 14 games, only 5 of which were starts), but given Racing clearly consider him an asset, perhaps he’ll soon be appearing more regularly at El Cilindro.


Sticking briefly with the attacking-midfielders, from his seven appearances (four starts), Lucas Rodríguez (No. 7, Estudiantes de La Plata) showed glimpses of his potential. He powerfully headed home to score from a Martínez cross against Bolivia and was also responsible for the corner that was knocked on and then in by Mansilla for the first goal against Brazil; at the end of the first half in that game, he was also close to registering an official assist with his fine cross on a breakaway, but Mansilla narrowly missed the target. Ultimately, he perhaps suffered from playing in a rather competitive area, but given that he has already featured in over 40 games for an impressive Estudiantes de La Plata side, he can feel more confident than most regarding his club future.


A quick mention for Ezequiel Barco (No. 10, Independiente), a 17-year-old attacking-midfielder who was adorned with a rather coveted shirt number. Like Rodríguez, he had a reduced role, with his two starts (from eight appearances) actually coming in the opening two games. It’s quite possible that his limited game-time was due to the emergence of his replacement in the second Group B match against Uruguay: Conechny. Nevertheless, though he may have not scored or assisted in this tournament, given his age and his occasional determination to drive forward and strike from both open play as well as set-pieces, he could be one worth keeping an eye on. He’s already made nearly 20 appearances in all competitions for Independiente and could well turn up again at this tournament in 2019.


Briefly moving further back on the field, defensive-midfielder and captain Santiago Ascacibar (No. 5, Estudiantes de La Plata) came into the tournament with some fanfare, already being a regular at club level and having received praise from some notable ex-pros. Comparisons to Javier Mascherano are unsurprising but this tournament can’t really be said to have done much for the profile of Ascacibar. After all, he was at the heart of a defensive system that turned out to be the joint-leakiest in the competition (14 goals conceded), with particular lowlights including letting in three against Uruguay (twice, 3-3 and 3-0) as well as once against Ecuador (3-0). Having also played last year in the Olympic side that was knocked out in the group stage, he said ahead of the final game against Venezuela that preparation for both tournaments had been inadequate a widespread opinion that his fans at club level would doubtless agree with. Nevertheless, several times, he was at least able to display some attacking ability, taking some shots from distance; mostly notably, he played a superbly well-weighted diagonal ball to set up Torres’ lightning-quick goal against Colombia and also found Conechny late on with a similar ball, from which the San Lorenzo youngster slid to Martínez for the winner.


Given the defensive shortcomings, one hesitates to offer any praise to those involved in the back four. From an attacking perspective at least, left-back  Milton Valenzuela (No. 3, Newell’s Old Boys) regularly put in some good crosses but no team-mate ever made the right connection. Right-back Nahuel Molina (No. 4, Boca Juniors) perhaps emerged with more credit and can at least buck-passingly point out that he was not involved with the 3-0 hiding from Uruguay and, furthermore, was only substituted on against Ecuador when Los Pibes were already 3-0 down. Up the other end, he also gained two assists, first with a fine long range ball which found Torres who scored in the first half of the 3-3 draw with Uruguay and, in the subsequent 5-1 win over Bolivia, when his ball again reached Torres, who nodded home for the opener.

brazilflag Brazil

If Felipe Vizeu (No. 9, Flamengo) lodges a complaint for not being listed as one of this site’s top two Brazilians, his grievances will receive some sympathy from the writer who omitted him and who will also struggle to give him an adequate explanation. Basically, he’s guilty of not being the Second Coming of Pelé – nor Ronaldo or Romário for that matter. Harsh criteria, certainly, but with Brazil’s history and, Neymar aside, less-than-remarkable recent production of goalscorers (compared with those of Argentina, at least), one can not help but be wary.

Being over six feet tall as well as more physical and less versatile in his approach than the aforementioned Barcelona striker and new-kid-on-the-block Gabriel Jesus, he is, in any case, a rather different type of attacker. Perhaps the memory of Fred is just much too fresh and Vizeu is instead precisely the kind of complementary forward figure the senior side could do with. Who knows at this stage, though to give him his due he did have many noteworthy moments in this tournament.

Indeed, he was his side’s top-scorer with four goals. His first was a clinical finish from Richarlison’s cross to win the opening game against Ecuador; his second, a tap-in against Paraguay, was less to write home about but he did also get an assist in this game by heading on a goalkeeper’s clearance for Richarlison’s goal. His third, the last-minute Hexagonal stage winner against Venezuela, was a fantastically powerful 25-yard drive from outside the area that whistled past Wuilker Faríñez; his last, in the following game against Argentina, was a penalty.

With a ratio of one goal in every two games he played, combined with his Flamengo club record of one in three (albeit with his inexperienced legs not lasting the full 90 minutes in nearly half the games), he is certainly one to keep an eye on. Despite some wariness, one would not bet against him gradually making a name for himself, whether that it be in the relatively strong Brasileirão or in a superior league.


For slightly different reasons, one wouldn’t be surprised to receive some mockery from some – probably Dutch – fans of jinking attacker David Neres (No. 11, Ajax) for not naming him as one of Brazil’s top two. However, his omission is not due to a lack of perceived talent but instead because, in terms of goals and assists – zero of the former, one (maybe two at a stretch) of the latter from seven starts and two sub appearances – his contribution wasn’t as substantial as his reported value would lead non-observers to imagine. Indeed, during the tournament he was bought from São Paulo by Ajax for comfortably the highest fee any player in the competition has moved for: €12 million, which could rise to €15 million.

That said, this writer wouldn’t be surprised if he were to become the most prominent Brazilian of the crop as, despite his key statistics, he was often his side’s most eye-catching player. Indeed, in at least a couple of the Group A games, his propensity to dribble and force keepers into parries with strikes from distance often added some much needed urgency, pressure and excitement. His best game was undoubtedly the first Hexagonal stage match against Ecuador, which occurred on the day that it was announced that his move to Ajax would be going through; no doubt emboldened by this, he was impossible to ignore, jinking with the ball, displaying some trickery and coming close with at least four impressive efforts: one of these was parried by the goalkeeper with a team-mate netting the rebound. His official assist came in the following game against Uruguay when, from a central position, he showed some brilliant vision to exquisitely find a colleague in the area, who finished off for the opening goal.

There was, however, one sour note, which came towards the end of the subsequent match against Venezuela when he clearly struck an opponent, causing him to bleed; somehow, he went unpunished for this moment of petulance. One wonders what his new owners made of this. Nevertheless, despite not really playing an integral role for Brazil here, he did display ample raw talent to suggest that, if he adapts to the right system, he could well become a quality top-level player.


The two goals Neres had a role in were both scored by the same man: left-back Guilherme Arana (No. 6, Corinthians). The first against Ecuador was a rebound but the second against Uruguay involved the defender making a fine run into the area before receiving an incisive ball, controlling and finishing off the job. Given that four of his six appearances occurred in the Hexagonal stage it’s not too much of a surprise that was when he first came to attention, not only with his goals but several testing crosses and shots from the flank. Although one perhaps shouldn’t read too much into this he nevertheless appeared solid at the back and, perhaps more so than Lyanco, can’t really be faulted for any of the goals conceded. He currently plays regularly for Corinthians and while he may not be Roberto Carlos, he was nevertheless one of the better left-backs in the competition.


One player who potentially has a big future but who may have gone under the radar a little during this tournament is holding midfielder and captain Caio Henrique (No. 7, Atlético Madrid). Without any particularly successful results, he was often on set-piece duties, but it was more his defensive role for which he was employed. Indeed, he occupied perhaps not the most conspicuous of positions, but he nevertheless carried it off with a certain confidence and class, often appearing to drift back alongside the defenders to clean up as well as start attacks. A year ago, he left Santos without playing a first-team game to sign for Atlético Madrid and has featured once in a Copa Del Rey match in November. He has clearly impressed Diego Simeone as just this Saturday gone (18 February), he was called into a first-team squad for first ever time for the league match with Sporting Gijón, where he watched on from the bench.


Otherwise, one recalls two years ago when Brazil were roundly criticised after scraping through in fourth place but then went on – admittedly with some personnel changes – to finish runners-up at the 2015 Under-20 World Cup. Thus, one can not help but feel that some individuals in this Brazil side may be capable of more than they were able to display during this tournament. The above-mentioned players were the best performers, but if anyone else is to prosper to a notable degree, it may be worth keeping an eye out for the following: right-back Dodô (No. 2, Coritiba), attacker Matheus Sávio (No. 20, Flamengo) and central midfielder Maycon (No. 17, Corinthians). Finally, though he barely did anything of note owing to his solitary start and three brief substitute appearances, Allan (No. 5, Hertha BSC, Germany, on loan from Liverpool, England) has actually made eight Bundesliga appearances this season, so can not be completely discounted.

colombia Colombia

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.



Best of the Early Departees

Although their individual presences now feel like a lifetime ago, what follows are some details on the most talented players from the four sides who were knocked out in the opening group stage of the 2017 Under-20 South American Youth Championship. Whilst one firmly believes that the six best teams qualified for the Hexagonal, there are nevertheless a dozen or so players from nations that went home early who may still be worth keeping in mind.

Group A

paraguay Paraguay

Tournament Summary

Certainly the side featuring the best players who did not make it to the Hexagonal stage, they were ultimately one goal away from finishing exactly level with Ecuador and requiring lots to be drawn.

To view highlights as well as read more about how Paraguay got on and who stood out in each game, click here.

Paraguayan Talents

Having featured in 2015 as a 17-year-old, left-footed attacking midfielder Jesús Medina (No. 11, Libertad) was playing in his second Sudamericano Sub-20 tournament and he further bolstered his reputation in his four games in January. Indeed, a regular at a high domestic level, he was often seen taking set-pieces and looking to play in team-mates; most notably, he managed score twice late on against Brazil. He also received an assist against Chile for a forward pass to Pedro Báez (No. 9, Cerro Porteño), but it’s the striker who deserves most credit for fooling a cluster of defenders before firing home. Furthermore with regard to Báez, he would go on to score an audacious lob at the very beginning of the second half of the decisive final clash against Ecuador – as he only received two starts and a substitute appearance, two goals was a respectable haul.

Otherwise, the two full-backs are prospects whose names are worth remembering by fans of La Albirroja. Both played in all four games and were particularly notable for their attacking, with right-back Rodi Ferreira (No. 2, Olimpia) frequently seen pumping testing balls upfield as well as knocking in dangerous free-kicks. At just 18 years of age, he looks to be well on the right path, possessing an impressive youth career which includes featuring at 2015’s U-17 World Cup. He is also a regular starter at domestic giants Olimpia and can count a former team-mate of his in left-back Blás Riveros (No. 4, Basel, Switzerland), who has in the past several months already made four starts in the Swiss Super League. In this tournament, like Ferreira, he regularly played diagonal balls upfield and, with one against Colombia, was actually credited with an assist. At times, he also displayed an impressive capacity to beat opponents and get forward, most eye-catchingly so against Ecuador, when he nearly scored after blazing a trail through the centre of the pitch, finally striking narrowly wide.

chileflag Chile

Tournament Summary

Less can be said for La Rojita, particularly from an attacking perspective, as even though they were still fighting for a Hexagonal place on the final Group A matchday, they did only manage to pick up two points, scoring just two goals.

To view highlights as well as read more about how Chile got on and who stood out in each game, click here.

Chilean Talents

Coming into the tournament, Jeisson Vargas (No. 10, Estudiantes de La Plata, Argentina, on loan from Bologna, Italy) had some admirers, yet was recklessly sent off in the opening half of the first match against Brazil. He had looked like a potential threat and when he returned in the third game against Paraguay, he clearly wished to make it up to his team-mates; here, he struck numerous attempts from range and tested defenders and the goalkeeper alike with set-pieces, one of which rattled the crossbar. To a lesser extent, he was also one of the leading forward players in the crunch game with Colombia. In this match, Ignacio Jara (No. 15, Cobreloa) missed a glaring opportunity to equalise, though as he did also score against Paraguay and gained an assist in the preceding encounter with Ecuador, he perhaps shouldn’t be completely dismissed.

As their record of four goals conceded was the second best in the group, their defence – which kept a clean sheet against Brazil whilst playing with ten men for an hour – received some favourable comments. Arguably the cream of the crop was centre-back Francisco Sierralta (No. 13, Palestino, on loan from Granada, Spain), 6 feet 3 and captain of the side. He particularly showed his leadership qualities in the final match with Colombia when, somewhat curiously given his position, he regularly forced his way forward and even struck the crossbar with 15 minutes remaining. Like Paraguay’s Riveros in the last-day match with Ecuador, Sierralta picked up a second yellow card towards the end of the final encounter with Colombia, though both of these fouls can be put down to an overspill of passion and drive as these men played prominent roles in their respective countries’ struggles.

Group B

boliviaflag Bolivia

Tournament Summary

Coming into the tournament in organisational disarray, lower-than-usual expectations were defied when they beat Peru 2-0. However, a 5-1 thrashing by Argentina seemed to restore balance in the universe of footballing certainties, yet after fortunately gaining a point off Venezuela, they were in a promising position to progress, but alas it wasn’t to be.

To view highlights as well as read more about how Bolivia got on and who stood out in each game, click here

Bolivian Talents

Following the 2-0 win over Peru, it looked as if they may have a handful of players worth keeping an eye on but none of these could be said to have made any valuable contributions afterwards. Indeed, man-of-the-match Limberg Gutiérrez (No. 20, Nacional, Uruguay) – who also played in the 2015 tournament and is the son of a highly-capped international – was virtually anonymous in subsequent games, despite having displayed some skill and drive, particularly when setting up the second goal against Peru. This was scored by Bruno Miranda (No. 11, Universidad de Chile, Chile), who had another shot of note in the game; subsequently, he had two more opportunities against Venezuela and perhaps should have done better with at least one of these.

Instead, however, quite possibly the one to look out for from this crop was the youngest member of the squad, the man who came on as a substitute in the Peru win and would later earn two starts from his three subsequent appearances. Indeed, 17-year-old Ramiro Vaca (No. 10, Quebracho) emerged off the bench for a second time against Argentina and scored a brilliant free-kick; this is clearly a specialty of his as he also struck a fine 35-yard set-piece against Uruguay that required a parry in Bolivia’s final match. Had Miranda buried the first of his chances against Venezuela, he would have also had an admirable assist to his name.

peruflag Peru

Tournament Summary

Finishing with just two points and embarrassed by Bolivia in their second game, an unremarkable Peru were nevertheless somewhat unlucky not to progress to the Hexagonal, having been denied wins against both Argentina and Venezuela due to last-minute equalisers.

To view highlights as well as read more about how Peru got on and who stood out in each game, click here

Peruvian Talents

They did well defensively to largely frustrate Argentina though it can’t really be said that any defenders were able to build upon this in subsequent games. Instead, it’s perhaps towards the attackers that one must look to if anyone is to be highlighted, though even here there aren’t really any clear candidates. Perhaps midfielder Roberto Siucho (No. 11, Universitario) – who also played in 2015’s competition – deserves a mention, largely for scoring his side’s two tournament goals, despite only ever once finding the net at club level in over 50 games (in all competitions). The first against Argentina was a strike from outside the area that would never have gone in were it not for a wicked deflection and the second against Venezuela involved a defensive mix-up, though he nevertheless did well to barge in and slide home.

Otherwise, there is a striker and at least a few attacking midfielders who showed glimpses of ability, though to name all of them would be somewhat disproportionate to their contributions. Thus, just a quick mention for 17-year-old Gerald Távara (No. 7, Sporting Cristal), who, particularly against Venezuela, stood out with his crosses and shots, such as the 4th-minute attempt at a gol olímpico (from a direct corner), which had to be palmed back out. Having featured at the Under-17 Sudamericano tournament in 2015, he appears to be playing two years in advance of his age; perhaps he can get some good club experience under his belt before his potential return at Chile 2019.


Remarkably, this is the end of the article. As one does not wish to end on such a low note, here is a video of all of Rodrigo Amaral’s five goals: 

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Uruguay – Top Talents at the 2017 Under-20 South American Youth Championship

The 2017 Under-20 South American Youth Championship took place in Ecuador from 18 January until 11 February. @DarrenSpherical watched all 35 games, writing reports for each encounter that detailed all the significant moments by the most talented players that were spotted. This article focuses on the most notable starlets found in the ranks of Under-20 World Cup qualifiers Uruguay, who finished top of both the initial Group B as well as the final group stage (also known as the Hexagonal), thus winning their eighth championship. 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)

uruguayflag Uruguay

Tournament Summary

Fabián Coito’s men made a cautious start to the tournament with two draws, before a couple of wins saw them breeze their way to the top of Group B. Subsequently, three impressive consecutive wins in the Hexagonal led to them being viewed by all observers as overwhelming favourites for the title and though Venezuela emphatically delayed their crowning, they nevertheless clinched the trophy with a victory against Ecuador. Overall, they undoubtedly had the most reliable side which featured two of the tournament’s very best attacking players; they utilised their squad rather effectively and have several other players worth keeping an eye on.

To view highlights as well as read more about how Uruguay got on and who stood out in each game, click here

Top Two Talents

nicolasdelacruz

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

Based on the consistency of his performances, this versatile right-footed attacking-midfielder was arguably the player of the tournament, featuring in all nine Uruguay games and starting eight of them.

Taking on the role of captain when Rodrigo Amaral was not on the field, De La Cruz actually began the tournament in less than auspicious fashion, embarrassingly seeing his dinked Panenka-esque penalty against Venezuela easily stopped by one unfooled glove of the virtually upright goalkeeper. Some felt his spot-kick approach was that of a youngster absorbed in his own hype, but instead of mentally crumbling he showed great character to confidently dispatch another penalty in the following 3-3 draw with Argentina. In the Hexagonal phase, he would go on to showcase his considerable shooting abilities by scoring a phenomenal swerving long-range strike in a 3-0 win against Argentina as well as once more keeping his nerve with a spot-kick in another 3-0 victory, this time against Colombia.  Aside from these three goals, De La Cruz came close from more than one free-kick, hitting the post against Brazil and also regularly looked to set up his team-mates via an admirably eclectic range of forward balls and crosses, from both set-pieces as well as open play. Had some of his team-mates displayed greater composure he could well have bagged far more than just the two assists. Nevertheless, the first of these was a delivery from a left-sided free-kick that was knocked home against Bolivia and the other was a cleverly dinked ball over the top of the defence which led to the second goal in the title-clinching match with Ecuador.

Being the younger brother of Monterrey’s Carlos Sánchez, earner of over 25 Uruguay caps and formerly of Argentina’s River Plate, De La Cruz comes from promising stock. Though a rumour that Luis Suárez advised Barcelona to sign him up has since been dismissed by the Uruguayan all-time top-scorer himself, this 19-year-old nevertheless stands in good stead to have a solid club career and perhaps even emulate his hermano.

rodrigoamaral2

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

Perhaps serving as evidence of his prodigious talent, this rampaging left-footed attacker was one of several individuals to have also played at the 2015 Under-20 tournament, when he would have been just 17 years old. Given this solid experience in what was a very disciplined and exciting Uruguay side, it was a surprise when he started on the bench against Venezuela. However, he would go on put on the captain’s armband and convince that he may just be the most naturally gifted player in the competition.

In the subsequent match against Argentina, he received a start and announced himself early on to purring talent-spotters the world over by scoring an unstoppable golazo from over 25 yards out on the inside-left. Subsequently, he found the back of the net in his next four games, with one these goals being an even more impressive long-range belter, this time coming after a turn from 30 yards out in a 2-1 win against Brazil in the Hexagonal, licking the post on the way in. His other goals were a penalty in a 2-0 victory against Peru, a close-range finish squeezed in at the near post in a 3-0 win against Bolivia and, on the first day of the Hexagonal, a low header from a cross to complete the 3-0 rout against Argentina. Ultimately, he would finish as the tournament’s joint top-scorer with five goals.

He has been compared to Wayne Rooney and it’s not hard to see why as he has a tendency to come from deep then bustle his way forward, is not afraid to shoot and is also very much capable of playing in team-mates; he’s also not bad at set-pieces, firing in several testing shots and crosses in his nine games. However, despite featuring in every Uruguay match, he only started six of these and, no doubt raising the alarm bells of many scouts, did not complete the full 90 minutes once, instead typically being on the field between 55-70 minutes. Weight and fitness issues have been consistent problems for Amaral who, despite claiming more than once during the tournament to have silenced his critics, has himself conceded that he has a tendency to over-eat and could do with losing about 3kg. Indeed, somewhat uncharitably, over the past few weeks it was common for observers, including a Venezuelan commentator moments before Amaral was set to lift the trophy, to refer to him as ‘el gordo’ (the fat one).

This may partly explain why he barely played for Nacional last season (despite regularly doing so the year before) and also why no substantial transfer rumours have been doing the rounds. However, since the tournament ended he has professed a desire to play in Italy and, very recently, moves have been made by an agent to activate his surprisingly low release clause (reportedly US$3 million). Thus, with his reputation enhanced and several new eye-grabbing highlight clips added to his portfolio, it is hard to see why many Serie A sides wouldn’t wish to take the minor risk and help him maintain an elite physique. After all, the rewards could be bountiful.

uruguayflag More Uruguayan Talents

It was very much a team effort from Uruguay, as they comfortably finished five points clear of their nearest rivals in the Hexagonal and, overall, scored the joint-highest number of goals as well as conceded the second-lowest amount. Thus, there are many candidates who could be put forward as their third most impressive player, though not a clear choice. Nevertheless, from their well-organised, sturdy defence, towering and tenacious centre-back Agustín Rogel (No. 18, Nacional) caught the eye, even managing to knock home De La Cruz’s free-kick against Bolivia, though the five yellow cards (and thus, two suspensions) he picked up in seven games may be an aspect of his game worth working on.


It’s debatable whether the man ahead of him in a holding midfield role, Rodrigo Bentancur (No. 20, Boca Juniors, Argentina), lived up to the pre-tournament hype that stemmed from his already considerable experience at a high club level. However, though he picked up a red card in the first group stage, he also often played his part helping out the back four, notably overhead-kicking a clearance off the line in the first game against Venezuela. He formed a strong partnership with the lesser-heralded Carlos Benavidez (No. 8, Defensor Sporting) and did gradually grow into the tournament; attack-wise, he scored a cracking goal from just outside the area against Bolivia and also had a minor hand in one of the goals against Colombia. At the time of writing, he has recently been undergoing medical checks in Turin for his suitors, Juventus.


Slightly further upfield, left-sided midfielder Facundo Waller (No. 15, Plaza Colonia) also impressed in a more low-key manner than the likes of Amaral and De La Cruz and could well prove to be a very rewarding investment for any team seeking a creative workhorse with a cultured left foot. After an opening group stage in which he often put in some useful balls, it was in the Hexagonal when he really made his mark. First, he set up the two latter goals in the 3-0 win against Argentina (the first with a pass up the left flank, the second with a cross for Amaral), then in the next game he launched the ball forward for Matías Viña (No. 17, Nacional) to score the last-gasp winner against Brazil. He even got on the scoresheet himself with the opener in the 3-0 win against Colombia, scooping an effort from the edge of the area into the back of the net.


Otherwise, striker Nicolás Schiappacasse (No. 9, Atlético Madrid) impressed, though was slightly overshadowed by at least a few other players in his position from other nations. Nevertheless, he sometimes looked sharp and often got into good positions, scoring three goals (including clinical strikes against both Peru and, later in the Hexagonal, Colombia) and winning two penalties (not to mention a fair few free-kicks), one of which he took himself in the first group stage against Argentina and had saved, but was able to knock in at the second attempt. This prospect only turned 18 in January and, though he started his career at Montevideo’s River Plate, has already moved on to Atlético Madrid’s Under-19 side, where this season he has featured in the UEFA Youth League.


He didn’t receive as much game-time as Schiappacasse (who he is a mere day older than), but another attacker who may nevertheless be worth keeping an eye on is Joaquín Ardaiz (No. 7, Danubio). He was conspicuous in the group stage win over Bolivia, one of two games he started; he made a nuisance of himself from the off and perhaps could have put away at least one of his chances, one of which hit the post. However, he certainly made his mark when he was trusted to make his second start (from six appearances) in the crucial title-decider against Ecuador. He scored both goals in a 2-1 win, the first a capitalisation on a defensive howler and the second a confident finish from De La Cruz’s pass. A host of clubs, including Sporting Clube de Portugal, are reportedly monitoring him.


Briefly, left-back Mathías Olivera (No. 5, Club Atlético Atenas) often appeared rather reliable on the ball, frequently coming forward and even got on the scoresheet in the 3-0 win against Argentina; as he has recently been bought from Nacional by an agent and held somewhat curiously at a second division halfway-house, it appears a bigger move can’t be too far away.


Lastly, a note to mention that defender Santiago Bueno (No. 2, Barcelona Juvenil A) has earned a move to Barcelona out of this tournament, though he can’t really be said to have significantly stood out; indeed, he played only four games and one of these was to cover the suspended Rogel for the 3-0 hiding dished out by Venezuela.


If you would like to read about the best talents from the other nations, then click on the following links: Ecuador, Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia The Best of the Early Departees (Paraguay, Chile, Bolivia & Peru). All of this information is also contained in this mammoth Reference Guide

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Uruguay 3-0 Colombia (Hexagonal Group Stage, Matchday 3, 2017 Sudamericano Sub-20, 5 February 2017)

The second game which took place on Hexagonal Matchday 3 of the 2017 U-20 South American Youth Championship saw Uruguay face Colombia. Below are video highlights, a brief summary of the game and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-spotting… 

group5217

(Source: Wikipedia)

Uruguay 3-0 Colombia

CONMEBOL U-20 South American Youth Championship 2017, Hexagonal Group Stage, 5 February 2017 (YouTube)

Uruguay booked their place at the U-20 World Cup with a comfortable victory against Colombia. They had the bulk of the chances and first took advantage of one in the 41st minute when Facundo Waller dinked an effort over the goalkeeper from outside the area. The second goal came in the 65th minute when striker Nicolás Schiappacasse clinically finished off a fine move. Colombia’s best chance of note came just over five minutes afterwards but this was squandered and thus, five minutes after a red card was awarded to Cafeteros’ Jhon Balanta, Uruguay put the result beyond doubt in the 83rd minute. Indeed, Nicolás De La Cruz was fouled in the area and then picked himself up to make it 3-0 with his spot-kick. Thus, Uruguay will be off to South Korea in May and currently lead this competition handsomely with a 100 per cent record after three Hexagonal games.

Talent Spotting

uruguayflag Uruguay

Nicolás De La Cruz (No. 11, Liverpool, Uruguay) again shone and the rumours of Barcelona watching him appear entirely plausible to anyone who has seen him during this tournament. He scored his third goal of the competition with an 83rd-minute penalty which sneaked in off the post and he also had at least a couple of other attacking moments of note in the game. For example, in the 33rd minute, from a second opportunity to do so, he put in a perfect cross for Carlos Benavidez (No. 8, Defensor Sporting), yet from barely four yards out the latter headed over. Later on in the 59th minute, De La Cruz set up another great chance, this time from the right as he slid the ball to Agustín Canobbio (No. 19, Fénix) who struck from an angle inside the area, though saw his shot parried.

Subsequently, the ball fell to Facundo Waller (No. 15, Plaza Colonia) who perhaps should have scored, but instead sliced his shot over. However, he had at least already managed to get on the scoresheet when he got the opening goal after 41 minutes; here, Rodrigo Bentancur (No. 20, Boca Juniors, Argentina) slid Waller the ball on the edge of the area and, benefiting from a slight bobble, he scooped a strike over the opposition goalkeeper to make it 1-0.

The second goal after 65 minutes was a fine team move involving many of the players mentioned so far. Indeed, on the halfway line, De La Cruz helped the ball on to Bentancur who, in turn, gave it to Canobbio some 30 yards out. He played in Nicolás Schiappacasse (No. 9, Atlético Madrid) on the left side of the area who did well to first control with his left, then clinically strike home with his right boot to make it 2-0.

Schiappacasse also had a role in Uruguay’s first opportunity of the game in the third minute, dinking back a pass to Rodrigo Amaral (No. 10, Nacional, Uruguay) into the area, but the latter’s effort from an angle ended up in the side-netting. However, not too long afterwards, Amaral did create a couple of opportunities for team-mates, first of all Agustín Rogel (No. 18, Nacional) from a fine 11th-minute free-kick, though the latter didn’t make a proper connection with his header and it went over. Then, in the 19th minute, Amaral slid forward a nice pass for Bentancur, yet despite being around the edge of the area and managing to gain space from his marker, his shot was fired over the bar.

colombia Colombia

Perhaps it was the deflation of losing in the last minute against Argentina that affected their performance here but Colombia never really got going and hardly created any chances of note.

17-year-old golden boy Juan ‘El Cucho’ Hernández (No. 10, América de Cali, on loan from Granada, Spain) perhaps had his side’s best chance, though this didn’t occur until the 71th minute. Previously, he had managed one of very few other attempts when, in the 51st minute, he controlled the ball inside the area before striking comfortably wide. The effort with 19 minutes was somewhat more substantial, with Kevin Balanta (No. 8, Deportivo Cali) dancing past some opponents before sliding the ball to Hernández on the left inside the area, but alas, he struck his shot hard into the side-netting when the circumstances demanded a goal.

The low possibility of Colombia getting back into the game wasn’t helped by the red card awarded to Jhon Balanta (No. 18, Universitario Popayán) with 12 minutes remaining. They did, however, have one last shot in stoppage-time when Ever Valencia (No. 13, Atlético Bucaramanga) took aim from 25 yards out but alas, the Uruguayan goalkeeper did well to parry wide.

Thus, Colombia must regroup, though with just one point from three games, their World Cup qualification prospects are not looking promising.

The two other games played on Hexagonal Matchday 3 were Brazil vs Venezuela and Ecuador vs Argentina – talent-spotting articles have now been published for both of these matches.

Otherwise, Matchday 4 of the Hexagonal will be on 8 February 2017 and the games shall be Ecuador vs Colombia, Uruguay vs Venezuela and Brazil vs Argentina – expect to see another bout of talent-spotting from these encounters on Hispanospherical.com. 

To keep up-to-date with the latest from Ecuador 2017, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Uruguay 3-0 Argentina (Hexagonal Group Stage, Matchday 1, 2017 Sudamericano Sub-20, 30 January 2017)

With six teams having qualified from the initial group stage, the Final Phase – also known as the Hexagonal – of the 2017 edition of the U-20 South American Youth Championship is now under way. The second of the three games which took place on Matchday 1 saw Uruguay face Argentina, in a rapid rematch of the two sides’ 3-3 draw nine days prior. Below are video highlights, a brief summary of the game and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-spotting… 

30117grouo

(Source: Wikipedia)

Uruguay 3-0 Argentina

CONMEBOL U-20 South American Youth Championship 2017, Hexagonal Group Stage, 30 January 2017 (YouTube)

Following a 32nd-minute straight red card awarded to Argentina’s Tomás Belmonte, Uruguay went on to comfortably win on what was, in the first half in particular, a rather puddle-laden pitch. Before this game-changing moment, Los Pibes had actually been the more threatening, but just six minutes after the dismissal, Uruguay went ahead following a sensational low, long-range effort from Nicolás De La Cruz. Barely two minutes later, their lead was doubled as left-back Mathías Olivera was played into some space on the left of the area and struck home at the near post. The game was all but over at the break and La Celeste‘s youths effectively killed off any slim hopes of a miraculous fightback when, in the 62nd minute, Rodrigo Amaral ghosted in to head home a cross to make it 3-0. The remaining half-hour was thus the dampest of damp squibs, with the final whistle coming as blessed relief for Argentina, who will surely need a rather strong recovery in order to be within a shout of retaining their title. Uruguay, on the other hand, have put themselves in a commanding position.

Talent Spotting

uruguayflag Uruguay

In the 17th minute, Nicolás De La Cruz (No. 11, Liverpool, Uruguay) curled in a free-kick that Carlos Benavidez (No. 8, Defensor Sporting) at the back post directed goalwards but which the goalkeeper saved. De La Cruz did also look to play in some of his other team-mates but his one outstanding contribution to the game was the opening goal after 38 minutes. Indeed, seemingly out of nowhere, he picked up the ball some 35 yards out, put it onto his right, then unleashed a brilliant, swerving strike, that curled slightly away from the far post before ultimately creeping low and inside of it.

Though perhaps less notable than some of his compatriots in previous games, Facundo Waller (No. 15, Plaza Colonia) has quietly impressed in this tournament and actually played a role in the two subsequent Uruguayan goals. In the 40th minute, he was the target of a pinpoint, diagonal ball from Benavidez which he nodded on from the left flank into the path of left-back Mathías Olivera (No. 5, Club Atlético Atenas). He, in turn, took advantage of some very slack tracking followed by some poor goalkeeping before, from the left inside the area, managing to squeeze a shot in at the near post to double his side’s lead. Later in the 62nd minute, Waller was on the right flank and adjusted to put in a bouncing cross with his left which Rodrigo Amaral (No. 10, Nacional, Uruguay) sneaked in to head low to make it 3-0. Regarding the goalscorer, whilst this goal made him joint top-scorer in the tournament with four goals, it must be said that other than this moment, he didn’t do a great deal else of note during the match. Furthermore, as he hasn’t yet lasted a full 90 minutes of any game and appears to be carrying some extra weight (or is it just a case of ‘big bones’?), one wonders if this potential star is fully fit.

Otherwise, goalkeeper Santiago Mele (No. 1, Fénix) made at least a few decent saves, with a particularly notable one occurring in the 28th minute, when he just about got his gloves on a low drive from Torres.

Lastly, a quick mention for Rodrigo Bentancur (No. 20, Boca Juniors), who was on the receiving end of a horrific late studding from Belmonte and, quite probably as a consequence, was later withdrawn, limping off in the process. No word yet on the condition of the Juventus target, though given the quality he has occasionally displayed during the tournament, one hopes that he makes a speedy recovery.

argentinaflag Argentina

Given that, owing to the recklessness of Tomás Belmonte (No. 17, Lanús), Argentina did not have many opportunities to go forward, they can’t really be said to have had any standout players. They did, nevertheless, have some chances in the opening half-hour when they had eleven men on the pitch.

First of all, in the 6th minute, Brian Mansilla (No. 11, Racing Club) did well to roam from the left flank into the area before dinking a ball towards the back post for Lucas Rodríguez (No. 7, Estudiantes de La Plata). However, his header looked as if it bounced against the arm of Olivera, yet it was a corner not a penalty that was awarded. Five minutes later, from a free-kick 30 yards out on the inside-right channel, Nicolás Zalazar (No. 14, San Lorenzo) drove a powerful shot that arrowed just a yard or so over. Perhaps the closest Argentina came to a goal occurred in the 27th minute when a cut-back was deflected into the path of Marcelo Torres (No. 21, Boca Juniors); the prolific striker thus shaped to place his left-footed effort low into the corner but was denied by a good Mele save. The subsequent corner was then headed towards Torres at the edge of the six-yard-box, yet by the time that he got his footing sorted out, his attempt was rapidly blocked by Mele.

Otherwise, left-back Milton Valenzuela (No. 3, Newell’s Old Boys) put in several decent crosses throughout the game, even if none of his colleagues made a telling connection.

Finally, the only real chance Argentina had after the sending off came late in the day when Uruguay were about to pack up. Indeed, this occurred three minutes from time when Zalazar put in a fine cross from the inside-right which found substitute Ramón Mierez (No. 22, Tigre), though his header was well-parried by goalkeeper Mele.

Ultimately, after this write-off, Argentina will hope to bounce back and, with eleven men, display more of their attacking abilities; however, Colombia, like virtually all the other teams left in the competition, should prove to be stiff opposition.

The two other games played on Hexagonal Matchday 1 were Colombia vs Venezuela and Ecuador vs Brazil – please click to read talent-spotting articles for these encounters. 

Otherwise, Matchday 2 of the Hexagonal will be on 2 February 2017 and the games shall be Colombia vs Argentina, Uruguay vs Brazil and Ecuador vs Venezuela – expect to see another bout of talent-spotting from these encounters on Hispanospherical.com. 

To keep up-to-date with the latest from Ecuador 2017, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical