On the ninth day of the 2017 edition of the prestigious U-20 South American Youth Championship, attention turned to the final matches from Group A, with Colombia taking on Chile and hosts Ecuador facing Paraguay. Below are video highlights, brief summaries of each game and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-spotting…
Colombia 1-0 Chile
CONMEBOL U-20 South American Youth Championship 2017, Group A, 26 January 2017 (YouTube)
Chile certainly exhibited more attacking initiative than in previous games, but unfortunately for them, they were unable to find the back of the Colombian net and thus it is instead their opponents who are through to the Hexagonal. Indeed, La Rojita were put on the back foot early on when a few of their defenders stood off Ever Valencia, who waltzed through centrally before placing a low shot home for the lead. Chile nevertheless responded and were to come forward with increasing levels of urgency, with Jeisson Vargas and Francisco Sierralta in particular driving their side on. It was the latter who actually hit the crossbar with 15 minutes remaining and shortly after, team-mate Ignacio Jara was to miss what was Chile’s best opportunity: virtually an open goal in front of which he squandered a low header. All that being said, they needed to win not draw and Colombia never lost the ability to get forward, nearly getting the game’s second goal themselves in the 56th minute when Eduard Atuesta struck the post with a low drive. When the final whistle blew, they had done enough to progress and thus shall hopefully prove to be another welcome attack-minded addition to the final group stage.
Colombia had at least a couple of noteworthy players absent from the line-up but, fortunately, a 5th-minute goal from Ever Valencia (No. 13, Atlético Bucaramanga) was able to settle any nerves early on. He latched onto a short central pass from Jorge Obregón (No. 19, Unión Magdalena), then benefited from some Chilean reserve as he was able to make his through a little too easily before striking a low shot into the corner for his third tournament goal. He and Obregón often linked up well alongside their attacking team-mates and made for a formidably powerful and pacy spectacle when roaming forward with quick interplay. Indeed, in the 13th minute, Obregón again came upfield to slide a pass to Valencia, this time on the inside-right edge of the area; from here, the latter struck a low left foot effort that was saved. Later on in the 51st minute, Valencia managed to get another shot away following good work from Obregón and another compatriot; this time, his effort was from outside the area and comfortably gathered by the goalkeeper.
Though they connected well, aside from the goal these individuals playing behind the striker didn’t really create an eye-catching chance. One man who did, however, was the striker they were often seeking to play in. Indeed, in the 25th minute, Michael Nike Gómez (No. 11, Envigado) came the closest he has all tournament to doing something befitting his advertiser’s dream of a name. Back-to-goal somewhat right-of-centre in the area, he did a great piece of improvisational skill to tee himself up, swivel and strike a fine volley that wenr just wide of the far post.
Otherwise, the closest Colombia came to extending the lead was a 55th-minute effort from captain Eduard Atuesta (No. 20, Independiente Medellín). Just a few minutes before this, the holding midfielder had headed a half-decent chance over but here, following good work from Luis Fernando Díaz (No. 17, Barranquilla) and a lay-off from Obregón, he hit the far post from just inside the area on the right.
One man surprisingly absent from the line-up was hitherto star man, Juan ‘El Cucho’ Hernández (No. 10, América de Cali, on loan from Granada, Spain). He entered the fray in the 73rd minute and got away a couple of late efforts when Chile had committed a few too many players up the other end: striking wide with a snap-shot as well as shooting at the goalkeeper. Whilst these were not the ideal circumstances to shine, one expects to see far more of him in the Hexagonal stage.
Although they probably won’t find much solace in the fact, La Rojita did nevertheless put in a spirited response to going behind so early, even if ultimately they fell short. Jeisson Vargas (No. 10, Estudiantes de La Plata, Argentina, on loan from Bologna, Italy), their most potent attacking threat in the tournament – even if he did only play less than two-and-a-half games – was again here often involved with the search for a goal. Indeed, he hoisted and curled many balls into the area, some admittedly much better than others, though at least one should have had a better outcome than a soft header wide. Later in the 59th minute, he managed to fashion a chance for himself almost out of nothing when Richard Paredes (No. 9, Palestino) slightly overhit a diagonal ball from the edge of the area over towards the left; it was almost on the byline and looked set to go out before Vargas wrapped his left foot around it and struck a well-hit half-volley that the goalkeeper had to parry out.
Possibly the most visible man on the pitch was captain Francisco Sierralta (No. 13, Palestino, on loan from Granada, Spain), nominally a centre-back but who increasingly seemed to be given licence to roam. He was the one who greeted Vargas’ best free-kick delivery which came in from a deep position on the right in the 30th minute; however, though he rose high, he got a weak connection on the ball and his header went comfortably past the far post. Yet, he came much closer later on in the 75th minute when he bustled forward to the edge of the area and managed to poke, with some considerable power, a strike that rattled off the crossbar. Perhaps in part due to his determination to stay in the competition, his eagerness saw him pick up a second yellow in stoppage-time; yet, with so many other players who, pre-tournament, were earmarked for future prosperity also having been sent off, he can perhaps consider this a rite of passage. Indeed, he evidently has leadership qualities and is capable of providing an attacking threat as well as keeping forwards largely at bay (Chile’s record of four goals conceded in four games was their group’s second best). Thus, it is little wonder that the talent-hunters of Granada have already reached a deal for this irrepressible man.
Nevertheless, Sierralta may have hit the woodwork but it was another of Chile’s notable prospects who had their best chance to score. Indeed, Ignacio Jara (No. 15, Cobreloa) really should have equalised in the 80th minute when a free-kick lofted in by Gabriel Suazo (No. 8, Colo Colo) was headed invitingly across the goalmouth; however, though Jara got down to his knees in front of a gaping hole at the back post, he somehow nodded wide.
Lastly, a quick mention for an early 22nd-minute chance merely because it involved two Chileans who, during this tournament, always hinted that they had extra in their arsenal without ever really doing anything remarkable. Indeed, the tricky, if slight, Victor Dávila (No. 7, Huachipato) set up this opportunity on the inside-right when his hopeful ball found Iván Morales (No. 19, Colo Colo) in the area, though the latter struck into the side-netting.
Individuals such as these may become decent domestic players but if one had to bet on who will be receiving regular call-ups to the national side in the upcoming years, one would have to go with the following: Vargas, Sierralta (and possibly some other defence-minded players) and, with somewhat greater reservations, Jara.
Ecuador 2-1 Paraguay
CONMEBOL U-20 South American Youth Championship 2017, Group A, 26 January 2017 (YouTube)
In a game that would have led to the drawing of lots had it ended level, hosts Ecuador just about held on to progress, pipping Colombia and Brazil to the top of Group A on goals scored. They looked the better side early on and with two goals in two minutes momentarily seemed to send Paraguay into a spin. The first of these came in the 20th minute after their defence was caught out by a chipped ball which, in space, was then slid to Washington Corozo to knock home. Shortly afterwards, the home fans were sent into raptures when a hoisted ball towards the area was headed out only to Herlin Lino, who volleyed a spectacular golazo from 25 yards. By half time, Paraguay seemed out, though their coach hadn’t given up, even sending his players back out onto the pitch a few minutes before their opponents. He got an instant response as within 25 seconds of the restart, a hopeful ball knocked towards the right edge of the area was cheekily, yet wonderfully, lobbed over the goalkeeper by Pedro Báez. With the deficit halved, Paraguay threw virtually everything they had at the Ecuador goal, coming very close on more than one occasion. They caused home jitters with every forward foray as the hosts were frequently put very much on the back foot, surviving scare after scare. Alas, they clung on and should provide some much-needed atmosphere and bustling play in the Hexagonal; Paraguay, on the other hand, may feel a little unlucky to be leaving, though ultimately they didn’t quite do enough.
Possibly Ecuador’s most consistent threat in the tournament, Joao Rojas (No. 17, Emelec), had a hand in both of the goals as well as threatened to get on the scoresheet himself. Indeed, early on in the 9th minute he whipped in a free-kick from the left that dipped and had to be parried out. Shortly afterwards, he created a gilt-edged opportunity for another player of note, Washington Corozo (No. 7, Independiente Del Valle), when his perfectly weighted cross from the right found the latter in acres of space, yet he directed his header straight against the post. However, in the 20th minute, Corozo made up for this when he scored the opener. This arrived when Rojas did brilliantly to beat the offside trap and control a fine chipped ball from Jordan Sierra (No. 15, Delfin) and then slide it in space across the area to Corozo, who turned and struck home. For the second goal, Rojas dinked a ball forward to the edge of the area where it was headed out unconvincingly to Herlin Lino (No. 9, Barcelona SC, Ecuador), who deserves all the credit for his sensational swerving volley from 25 yards, which caught the goalkeeper out of position and ripped the back of the net.
Otherwise, Rojas and Corozo did provide some more notable contributions to the game: the former tested the goalkeeper and his defence from set-pieces and the latter ran at opponents, getting in a shot or two from open play and almost played a part in sealing the win late on. This occurred in the 82nd minute when he marched on a breakaway down the left, but a defender caught up with him as he was set to play the ball through for a one-on-one opportunity; his pass was thus blocked.
Two minutes after this, with Paraguay largely stationed in opposition territory, another ball was played into space in their half, this time on the right. With possibly his first touch of the match, Corozo’s replacement Jordy Caicedo (No. 19, Universidad Católica, Ecuador), struck a fearsome effort from the right of the area, which caused concern even if it went wide.
However, chances like these last two were rather isolated moments in the second half as Ecuador were largely preoccupied with repelling the Paraguayan onslaught. Indeed, in perhaps a portent of things to come, just before half time, Bryan Cabezas (No. 10, Atalanta, Italy) did rather well to stop a cross from reaching its target at the back post, as he headed away from what was almost the underside of the bar. After the break, the services of attackers such as he would be required more at their own end; in the Hexagonal, however, Ecuador have thus far shown more than enough to convince that they will be a significant threat to opponents, whomever they may be.
Jesús Medina (No. 11, Libertad) has probably been his country’s most significant player in this tournament and, though he could not find a way through here, much anticipation nevertheless greeted many of his touches. Indeed, he actually had his side’s first notable chance of the match when, in the 12th minute, he took the ball past a player and then, from the inside-left of the area with a clear sight of goal, took aim; alas, his shot was straight at the goalkeeper and was blocked out. Later in the 30th minute, he exhibited some wherewithal and technique to skilfully keep in at the left byline an overhit free-kick; from here, he hooked the ball into the area where it bounced before a team-mate who, unfortunately, blazed well over. In the second half, he continued to be a potential threat from set-pieces, his most notable attempt from one coming in the 66th minute 22 yards out on the inside-right; yet, despite the huge delay and build-up, he curled this a yard or two over the near post.
The man who did manage to find the back of the net – and who was also the player who whacked over Medina’s first-half cut-back – was Pedro Báez (No. 9, Real Salt Lake, USA, on loan from Cerro Porteño). His first goal of the tournament against Chile had been quietly impressive but this audacious lob from a Marcelo Arce (No. 3, Olimpia) hoist down the right side of the area immediately earned widespread praise. Though there was an element of hit-and-hope about it, one must credit him for rapidly eyeing the opportunity and then seizing the moment. Otherwise, though he certainly bustled, the closest he later came to helping his side get a second occurred in the 67th minute. Here, after he did well to beat his man he put in a cross from the right that dipped towards the back post and almost found a creeping team-mate, but a defender was there to head out.
However, one man who probably should have got an equalising goal, was substitute Richard Prieto (No. 20, General Díaz). The chance he squandered came in the 70th minute when a hoisted ball into the area was weakly chested by a defender towards his goalkeeper, yet so soft was it that Prieto was able to sneak in, one-one-one, but his blasted shot went well over. For many, that was the moment and that was the tournament.
Right-back Rodi Ferreira (No. 2, Olimpia) was responsible for this delivery into the area and he was another potential supplier of that elusive second goal, often knocking balls upfield from deep positions. Sometimes, he even got forward himself, such as in the 57th minute when a free-kick was struck in from the left side and he just about kept the ball in play on the byline; his hanging header, no doubt unintentionally, caused a few jitters as it eventually came down and hit the top of the crossbar before going over.
Both he and the left-sided full-back Blás Riveros (No. 4, Basel, Switzerland).appear to be important prospects who could quite plausibly become regulars in the senior squad in upcoming years. Indeed, in this match the Swiss-based left-back also tried to get himself an assist, curling in some decent balls that nevertheless could not be directed goalwards. He himself, to his enormous credit, actually created a chance of his own in the 63rd minute; here, following the breakdown of a Ecuador corner, he blazed a trail up the centre of the pitch, easily bypassing at least two players along the way, before striking a solid effort that went a yard or so wide of the far post. Later on in the tense latter stages, as he was often pushing forward, he sometimes had to dash back, such as in the 82nd minute when he impressively crossed over to the right side of the pitch to stop Corozo from playing a through-ball that could have led to an Ecuadorian third. Thus, Riveros shows potential at both ends and was even given the tournament’s blessing for future success by getting sent off at the death – who knows, we may see him in the Champions League next season.
Nevertheless, despite impressive moments from players such as Riveros, Rodi Ferreira, Medina and Báez, as well as, at times, Cristhian Paredes (No. 6, Club América, Mexico) and Sebastián Ferreira (No. 19, Olimpia), it’s adios to Paraguay. They came close, but just couldn’t quite manage to upset the capacity crowd in Riobamba.
To keep up-to-date with the latest from Ecuador 2017, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter. The next games will be Uruguay vs Bolivia & Argentina vs Venezuela, the final games from both Group B and the group stage altogether – expect to see another bout of talent-spotting from these encounters on Hispanospherical.com.