Tag Archives: Javier Rodríguez

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

Following a brief tournament overview of Ecuador’s performance at the FIFA 2017 Under-20 World Cup, below are some summaries of several players worth keeping an eye on. As La Mini-Tri struggled to give the best account of themselves, those seeking more information on these individuals may wish to also take a look at their respective exploits in qualification as well as, perhaps, this site’s preview for the Under-20 World Cup.

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Bryan Cabezas celebrating with Pervis Estupiñán following the former’s second goal against the USA (GettyImages)

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Ecuador

Tournament Overview

Seven minutes into their opener with the USA, Javier Rodríguez’s men were 2-0 up and looked to be on course to not only win the game but also do some serious head-turning at the tournament. However, they were pegged back and, despite regaining the lead, were thwarted at the death, gaining a solitary point in a 3-3 draw. They lost further ground in the subsequent encounter with Saudi Arabia, going down 2-1 and yet, despite entering their final game with their fate still in their hands, could only manage a drab 0-0 draw against Senegal. Thus, the team who began Group F all guns blazing ultimately suffered the ignominy of being the only side not to progress.

Overall, though the leakiness of their defence was again on display, La Mini-Tri did also show that they possess some strong and/or pacy attackers. However, while it should not be forgotten that simply qualifying for the World Cup is an impressive achievement in itself, the forwards and attacking-midfielders – particularly after that dream start against the USA – will surely go home feeling that things could have been quite different indeed.

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

Top Talents

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

As with the other Ecuadorian attackers, the former Independiente Del Valle man may feel he was unable to give a true demonstration of his abilities, though at least in his case he can say that he certainly had his moments. Indeed, he scored twice against the USA, the first involving some nice control and a rapid stepover, culminating with a rifled shot past the goalkeeper; the second, on the other hand, was a punishing low strike following some amateurish dilly-dallying from goalkeeper Jonathan Klinsmann. Along with the goals, he also impressed on his left flank, charging at defenders and putting in balls. He continued in this vein against Saudi Arabia yet, after he failed to convert from the spot at the end of the first half, his influence began to wain, both in this game as well as in the tournament as a whole. Nevertheless, having also scored five goals in qualifying, two from three games is not a bad haul and one can only hope he enjoys more domestic action next season after a year largely on the bench in Serie A.

Herlin Lino (Forward, No. 9, Deportivo Cuenca)

Aside from Cabezas, there were a number of other attackers vying for attention and, though some may disagree, it seemed to these eyes that Lino came away with most credit. Indeed, he played every minute of the tournament and scored his nation’s opening goal against USA, a strike into a virtually unguarded goal following a cutback. In this as well as the subsequent game against Saudi Arabia, he had other strikes on target and also helped set up at least one opportunity of note for a team-mate. However, perhaps most notably, in this second match he exhibited his remarkable propensity for winning penalties, with the one he gained for Cabezas coming off the back of three he impressively forced out of opponents in qualifying.

Pervis Estupiñán (Left-back, No. 6, Granada, on loan from Watford)

It was Estupiñán who picked up the loose ball helped on by Lino in the area against Saudi Arabia, which he struck against the post. However, overall, it really was a tournament to forget for the rampaging left-back as not only did he get forward far less than in qualifying – during which he scored an eye-catching four times – but he also provided more evidence that perhaps that defending lark isn’t really for him. Indeed, for every single one of the five goals his country conceded, he was in some way at least partially culpable, either by being bypassed, not closing down an opponent who put in a decisive ball and/or huffing back in vain unable to halt the inevitable. Despite this eyebrow-raising record, he is still a player to watch out for, but needs to muck in more at the back and/or ask to be fielded further up the park.

The Rest

Otherwise, there were several more players in the Ecuadorian ranks who showed glimpses of their potential, but were unable to play particularly decisive roles.

There was the captain Jordan Sierra (Midfielder, No. 15, Delfin), who got forward less than he did in qualifying, being instead more preoccupied with trying to halt opponents from making inroads centrally.

Joao Rojas (Midfielder, No. 17, Emelec), who impressed in the early stages of qualifying before being benched, was a substitute for the the first two tournament games. However, he did occasionally cause problems – it was he who closed down USA goalkeeper Klinsmann to hurry him into the error which led to Cabezas’ second goal – and thus he was rewarded with a start in the final game, where he had the best chance to score with a low shot from the edge of the area.

Rojas’ position on the right of midfield was initially occupied by Wilter Ayoví (Midfielder, No. 8, Independiente Del Valle), who was a lively presence in spells during qualifying, yet his World Cup only lasted 57 minutes of the opener plus a further five minutes of the final encounter.

The most notable moment from the pacy Washington Corozo (Forward, No. 7, Independiente Del Valle) – who started all three games – came after five minutes of the opener when he beat a man on the left before setting up Lino to make it 1-0.

Lastly, Jordy Caicedo (Forward, No. 19, Universidad Católica del Ecuador) got on the scoresheet against Saudi Arabia with a back post tap-in and also had other opportunities in that match. Having scored three times in qualifying as well as already netted several times at club level, it will be interesting to see where his career takes him but he’s certainly got some task on his hands if he is to emulate his more illustrious namesake.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Senegal 0-0 Ecuador (Group F, 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, 28 May 2017)

Ecuador’s third and final Group F game of the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup ended in a disappointing stalemate which has eliminated them from the competition. 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)

Senegal 0-0 Ecuador

2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Group F, 28 May 2017 (YouTube)

In a game low on opportunities, Javier Rodríguez’s men were unable to find a way past their Senegalese opponents and will now be on an early flight back home.

The match was hardly blessed with talking points as, with their own qualification hopes always at the forefront of their minds, the Africans were somewhat wary of committing themselves wholeheartedly to forward forays.

That said, Senegal – who were to finish with ten men following a late red card in stoppage-time – did actually break the deadlock ten minutes in the second half – or so they thought. However, following some consultation amongst the officials, it was adjudged that the ball hovering on the goal-line had been kicked out of at least one – if not both – of goalkeeper José Cevallos’ hands and thus this stabbed effort was ruled out.

Although Ecuador showed some intent in the game, aside from a Joao Rojas shot that could well have bypassed the goalkeeper had it a little more direction, they were similarly unable to create many clear sights of goal. Thus, despite such a promising start to the tournament, they bow out, with their three Group F rivals instead progressing.

Talent Tracking

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As with Uruguay’s 0-0 draw yesterday, mercy shall be shown on the reader – not to mention oneself – by not spending undue time ruminating on this performance. Indeed, Ecuador needed a win but, despite having a fair few attackers at their disposal capable of causing problems, Senegal will surely consider this a relatively solid defensive display from their rearguard.

Having been a substitute in the opening two games, Joao Rojas (No. 17, Emelec) was granted a start here. He was one of his side’s more conspicuous attackers and had their best chance, a 79th-minute right-footed effort from the edge of the area, which the goalkeeper did well to get down to parry. Otherwise, he also had a low shot early on following a fine pass from deep by Washington Corozo (No. 7, Independiente Del Valle) – who, in turn, was to show some quick bursts of pace – though this was saved with a greater degree of comfort.

The pickings were indeed rather slim for Ecuador, with their other attempts barely worth mentioning, but here goes: In the 48th minute, Bryan Cabezas (No. 10, Atalanta) fired a low left-footed cross into the area which hit the goalkeeper’s gloves before being cleared. Three minutes later, the man this evaded in the centre, Herlin Lino (No. 9, Deportivo Cuenca), won some space for himself on the inside-right, but his shot was dealt with relatively easily. Much later on at the death, substitute Jordy Caicedo (No. 19, Universidad Católica del Ecuador) hit a shot that elicited an even greater amount of gratitute from the man with the gloves.

Given the clean sheet, the goalkeeper, some of the defence and the two holding midfielders may deserve some credit. However, due to the circumstances which meant that their opponents were somewhat hesitant at times to get forward, it would perhaps be best not to over-egg this particular aspect of the Ecuadorian performance.

Thus, though they certainly have some talented players in their rank, who will be disappointed not to have qualified from the group stage after such a sensational start to the tournament which saw them 2-0 up against the USA in 7 minutes, Ecuador have succumbed at the first hurdle.

In the other Group F game played today, USA and Saudi Arabia drew 1-1, a result which saw both teams progress (along with Senegal) and also dashed Argentina’s hopes of scraping through as one of the four best third-placed teams. Thus, it is left to Uruguay and Venezuela to carry the torch for CONMEBOL in the knock-out stage.

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

 

Ecuador 1-2 Saudi Arabia (Group F, 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, 25 May 2017)

Ecuador’s second Group F game of the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup saw them come a cropper against a well-organised Saudi Arabia side. 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)

Ecuador 1-2 Saudi Arabia

2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Group F, 25 May 2017 (YouTube)

Following on from being forced to settle for a point against the USA, Javier Rodríguez’s young chaps were unable to regain any momentum against Saudi Arabia, leaving their qualification hopes on the brink.

Their Middle Eastern opponents took the lead after 7 minutes when Ayman Al Khulaif impressively waltzed past an opponent on his inside-right before sliding to Abdulrahman Al Yami who clinically struck home inside the area. Subsequently, aside from Pervis Estupiñán hitting the post in the 27th minute, Ecuador struggled to create many clear opportunities in the first half; that is, until they were afforded a chance to level things up at the very end when a soft penalty was awarded. However, their topscorer Bryan Cabezas – who had been a rare bright spark over on the left flank – failed to convert, instead seeing his spot-kick parried out.

Into the second half, the Saudis initially looked relatively comfortable though La Mini Tri did gradually make more inroads, causing much concern in the area and even hitting the crossbar. However, somewhat against the run of the play, it was not they who notched the game’s second goal but instead Al Yami, who once again combined with Al Khulaif to double his tally, making it 2-0 in the 84th minute. Just before the end of regulation time, Ecuador managed to get a goal back, courtesy of a back post tap-in from substitute Jordy Caicedo. Ultimately, however, they fell short and will probably need a win in their final game if they are to sneak into the next round.

Talent Tracking

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Once again, left-back Pervis Estupiñán (No. 6, Granada, Spain) demonstrated that he is probably better suited to a position further upfield. Indeed, in the 27th minute he was unlucky not to score when he struck a loose ball with the inside of his trusty left boot, hitting the post. However, the restating of this assessment is less due to his forward exploits but more his defensive shortcomings. On the first goal, he was easily bypassed by Al Khulaif who then set-up Al Yami and on the second, he was well out of position, having to huff back in vain as Al Khulaif ran down his flank, crossing low for Al Yami to double the scoreline. This area of the pitch is a liability for the attack-minded South Americans and it will surely be targeted by Senegal in the decisive encounter on Sunday.

Moving onto to those who were actually designated from the off in positions further upfield, even if their opponents sometimes looked good value for their lead, Ecuador’s attackers did manage to conjure up a fair few chances. Indeed, though nobody put  in a vintage performance, in the first half at least, Bryan Cabezas (No. 10, Atalanta) impressed out on the left wing, beating defenders and firing balls into the area. However, after failing from the spot just before the whistle for the break, his influence – and perhaps, his confidence – decreased.

Herlin Lino (No. 9, Deportivo Cuenca) had his moments in both halves. In the first period, it was he who bombed down the left before cutting back and watching on as Estupiñán struck the post. He was also the man who won Cabezas’ penalty – having also been fouled for three spot-kicks in qualifying, this appears to be quite a curious asset to his game. In the second half, he was often in and around the box, notably having a header tipped against the crossbar after muscularly latching onto a 78th-minute cross from Angelo Preciado (No. 2, Independiente del Valle). Barely a minute later, he possibly could have done better when his close-range rebound was parried by the goalkeeper.

This came after substitute Joao Rojas (No. 17, Emelec) – who impressed in spells, adding some much needed focus to attacks – played a pinpoint ball into the area which fellow sub Jordy Caicedo (No. 19, Universidad Católica del Ecuador) controlled well before having his effort saved from a sudden one-on-one position. Caicedo, of course, got on the scoresheet 11 minutes later when he tapped in a low cross from Preciado, following good work from Rojas, Lino and others on the periphery of the area. Earlier on, just three minutes after coming off the bench in the 63rd minute, Caicedo also had another opportunity when he just about reached a through ball, though the goalkeeper did well to stick out a leg and block from barely a yard or two away.

Ecuador had a few other lesser opportunities yet, though they provided further evidence that they are not short of talented attackers, they lacked the killer touch. Still, all is not lost just yet and so, hopefully for their own sake, they will be able to regroup, entering their last game hell-bent on gaining three much-needed points.

In the other Group F game played today, USA defeated Senegal 1-0, who will be Ecuador’s final group opponents on Sunday 28 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

Ecuador 3-3 USA (Group F, 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, 22 May 2017)

Ecuador’s opening Group F game of the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup saw them get off to a brilliant start yet were ultimately denied all three points at the very end by an irrepressible USA. Below are video highlights, a brief summary of the match and, most importantly, @DarrenSphericals armchair talent-tracking…

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

Ecuador 3-3 USA

2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Group F, 22 May 2017 (YouTube)

Javier Rodríguez’s men were fast out of the traps yet were to be prevented at the death of claiming three points in this entertaining inauguration of Group F. They were 2-0 up within seven minutes as first Herlín Lino slotted into the net following some good flank-work from Washington Corozo then, two minutes later, Bryan Cabezas did great to worm away from a defender before firing home. However, in this rather open encounter, opportunities never seemed too far away and, though the Americans at times struggled with the Ecuadorians’ physicality and pace, they did gradually regroup. In the 36th minute, they halved the deficit as the impressive Luca de la Torre of Fulham roamed forward in the centre, laying the ball to 17-year-old Josh Sargent, who struck low into the back of the net.

Buoyed by this, USA stepped things up and, nine minutes after the restart, got their equaliser when Sargent notched his second, a close-range header which greeted a fine ball from Brooks Lennon on the right. However, their South American opponents were not primed to roll over for the inevitable, insteading persevering to make their presence felt. That said, when they regained the lead on 64 minutes, they received more than a bit of help from goalkeeper Jonathan Klinsmann (yes, son of Jürgen, who was in the stands). He had previously made a fine close-range stop but here, he dilly-dallied on a pass back and, under pressure, could only knock it straight out to Cabezas, who was able to place it past him. Subsequently, the game did not have as many clear-cut opportunities and it looked as if La Mini Tri were going to clinch a victory. However, in the fourth minute of stoppage-time, another testing cross from Lennon was poorly dealt with by an Ecuador defender, who headed it directly into the path of de la Torre. His low strike thus ended the affair all square.

Talent Tracking

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As they did on home soil during the qualifying campaign, the yellow-and-blue boys showed that they have an array of speedy and strong attackers at their disposal. Indeed, early on, Washington Corozo (No. 7, Independiente Del Valle) made a vital contribution when he gave a demonstration of his pace, bursting past a defender into the area, then nudging it away from the oncoming Klinsmann at the crucial moment. This cut-back left Herlín Lino (No. 9, Deportivo Cuenca) with a virtually unguarded goal to strike into for the fifth-minute opener. Later on in the 56th minute Lino had a good chance to double his tally when he was spotted by the central Wilter Ayoví (No. 8, Independiente Del Valle) – who quietly impressed earlier this year and was given a start here – but the shot was well blocked by Klinsmann.

Lino looked rather alert but Ecuador’s main man was again their topscorer in qualifying, left-sided forward Bryan Cabezas (No. 10, Atalanta), who netted twice. His first goal, which came after seven minutes, allowed him to show off his attributes with quick-fire aplomb. This arrived following a pass from midfielder Jhonny Quiñónez (No. 16, Norte América), who was a somewhat curious inclusion in the line-up as he wasn’t in the qualifying squad and hasn’t actually made any club appearances this year. From this, Cabezas controlled with his left, before a rapid stepover and another touch gave him the space he needed to rifle home inside the area. In the second half, the attacker who impressed with Cinderella story Independiente Del Valle in last year’s Copa Libertadores doubled his account after the pressure Joao Rojas (No. 17, Emelec) put Klinsmann under was evidently too much for the goalkeeper to handle, with his shaky clearance falling to the feet of the wrong man. This gift was thus comfortably dispatched to make it 3-2, allowing Cabezas to announce himself as the tournament’s joint-top scorer with Sargent.

Otherwise, though it was a strong performance in the final third, it seems that the defence is still every bit the liability that it was in qualifying. Indeed, though left-back Pervis Estupiñán (No. 6, Granada, Spain) is very much a prospect going forward, he again provided evidence that his defensive work and/or communication can be somewhat suspect. It may be debatable how much precisely he was at fault – those to his right as well as in front are certainly also culpable to varying degrees – but the bald facts are that the first goal involved a pass going between him and the centre-backs and the last two were the result of crosses from his flank. On each, he was not even close to the danger men and Lennon, in particular, had much joy throughout the second half spraying in balls from his side. Perhaps those in front who sometimes covered for him following his upfield gallivanting were also guilty and the last goal was certainly more the fault of the defender who, instead of clearing, headed the ball directly to de la Torre. All the same, the entire back line as well as the defensive-midfielders who occasionally allowed the USA to roam centrally really need to tighten things up at the back if Ecuador are to make any serious inroads at this tournament.

In the other Group F game played today, Senegal won 2-0 against Saudi Arabia, who will be Ecuador’s next opponents on Thursday 25 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