Tag Archives: Lautaro Martínez

Argentina – 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 Argentina, who finished 4th in the final group stage (also known as the Hexagonal), having initially qualified 2nd from Group B. 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)

argentinaflag Argentina

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 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.

argentinaflag More Argentine Talents

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.


If you would like to read about the best talents from the other nations, then click on the following links: UruguayEcuador, Venezuela, 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

Argentina 2-0 Venezuela (Hexagonal Group Stage, Matchday 5, 2017 Sudamericano Sub-20, 11 February 2017)

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

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(Source: Wikipedia)

Argentina 2-0 Venezuela

CONMEBOL U-20 South American Youth Championship 2017, Hexagonal Group Stage, 11 February 2017 (YouTube)

Venezuela came into this final encounter knowing that a win could put them in with an outside shout of claiming the title, whereas avoiding a defeat by five goals would at least confirm their World Cup qualification. For Argentina, a five-goal hammering would ensure their progress, but a win by anything less would leave them at the mercy of subsequent events – and so it proved. Indeed, in a game in which Los Pibes dominated from the start, it nevertheless looked as if they may be outright frustrated by the best overall defence in the competition. That is, until Lautaro Martínez scored twice in quick succession at the end of the first half; his first came after he took a pass in his stride and struck home and his second was an opportunistic looping header from a long ball. Afterwards, with Venezuela shaken, Argentina’s objective seemed plausible. However, though after the break they enjoyed the majority of the attacks and forced some fine saves from opposition goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez, the clock gradually ran out on the white-and-blue boys. When the final whistle was blown, they looked as if they felt the seemingly inevitable would send them packing, yet just over two hours later, fear was turned to elation as Brazil failed to beat Colombia, gifting Argentina the fourth and final World Cup berth. By contrast, Venezuela, though perhaps not capping off an otherwise memorable tournament in the ideal manner, greeted the end of the match with unbridled joy as they will be travelling to the Under-20 World Cup for the first time since 2009.

Talent Spotting

argentinaflag Argentina

He appears to only score vitally crucial goals but his team-mates will long be grateful that he got another two here. In doing so, with a tournament total of five goals Lautaro Martínez (No. 9, Racing Club) helped elevate himself into a position where he can be justifiably proclaimed one of the top players of the past 25 days. The opener against Venezuela came after 43 minutes when he received a pass from the right from strike-partner Marcelo Torres (No. 21, Boca Juniors); with two good touches, Martínez took the ball into the area before firing low across goal into the back of the net. Barely a few minutes later, Martínez got his second as a long ball from Joaquín Pereyra (No. 18, Rosario Central) surprisingly went over the head of a defender; immediately behind him on the edge of the area, Martínez looped a header which caught goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez off-guard and went over him to make it 2-0. With these two goals, Argentina suddenly looked as if they could go on a rampage, but alas, they were to be thwarted, with the closest Martínez coming to getting a hat-trick actually occurring straight after his second, when he blazed a knock-back over. He did also have another chance much later on in the 79th-minute when he turned and struck from the edge of the area, but his shot also went well over.

Otherwise, though Los Pibes took to this game with an intent rarely seen in recent days, no other player really had a game worth salivating over, though some players did nevertheless try to make things happen. These were Argentina’s other notable forward forays:

In the eighth minute, Pereyra had a weak shot from over 25 yards out which went wide; more substantially in the 13th minute, following a hanging cross over to the right side of the area, Lucas Rodríguez (No. 7, Estudiantes de La Plata) stabbed an effort that clipped the outside of the post and went behind – though goalkeeper Fariñez had this covered. In the 28th minute, Rodríguez had another half-chance though this strike from distance went comfortably wide; a couple of minutes a later, a slightly better effort came from 30 yards on the inside-right from Federico Zaracho (No. 19, Racing Club), which bounced awkwardly in front of Fariñez who nevertheless blocked. A greater opportunity occurred shortly afterwards when Martínez returned a one-two to Rodríguez just inside the area, though just before the latter could hit the trigger, a defender crucially intervened for a corner. Then, just before Martínez opened the scoring as well as straight after the break, Pereyra got a couple more shots in, with the second a much better attempt, though both of these went wide of the post.

Otherwise, Argentina’s best chances to extend their lead in this half all occurred within a minute or so of each other. Indeed, in the 56th minute, Tomás Conechny (No. 20, San Lorenzo) received a dinked ball in space on the left edge of the area and fired a shot that was only marginally deflected over. From Conechny’s subsequent corner, fellow substitute Ezequiel Barco (No. 10, Independiente) connected with a strong header that was well-parried at close range; soon after, a shot was fired in low from the edge of the area that again required a fine save, with the rebound being narrowly diverted from the path of Torres. Subsequently, Argentina gradually had to accept that their fate would be in the hands of others, with a stoppage-time right-footed strike from Santiago Ascacibar (No. 5, Estudiantes de La Plata) that swerved wide some 30 yards out proving to be their very last throw of the dice.

They thus greeted the final whistle with apprehension, though after they sat through the following 0-0 draw between rivals Brazil and bottom-boys Colombia, their faces became pictures of joy and relief. Despite their inconsistent campaign, they have squeaked through in fourth and shall be off to South Korea in May for the World Cup, a tournament that they have won a record six times.

venezuelaflag Venezuela

Rafael Dudamel’s men came into the game simply needing to avoid a heavy loss to guarantee World Cup qualification and played accordingly. Indeed, perhaps it was partly due to Argentina’s greater urgency for goals, but Venezuela were on the back-foot for much of this game.

For the first 42 minutes, despite their lack of adventure, they did a good job of frustrating their opponents; Yangel Herrera (No. 8, Manchester City) put in a notable last-ditch challenge in the fourth minute and the defence collectively forced Argentina into long-range attempts and half-chances. However, they were rocked by two goals at the end of the first half and looked vulnerable to concede more afterwards.

Yet, though the defenders deserve plaudits for regaining their composure and not succumbing to an avalanche of goals, goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez (No. 1, Caracas FC) in particular is worthy of recognition for some crucial saves. Indeed, though he was perhaps unfortunately placed for the second goal due to anticipating his defender to head away, he otherwise looked alert throughout the game and his shot-stopping abilities were called into action in the 57th minute. Indeed, he first pulled off a close-range parry from Barco’s header and not long afterwards did well to see a shot from the edge of the area come through a cluster of players, which he blocked low.

From an attacking perspective, aside from one or two harmless efforts from Ronaldo Peña (No. 9, Las Palmas, Spain), Venezuela were not much of a threat. Their best and only real chance came from Yeferson Soteldo (No. 10, Huachipato, Chile) whose 53rd-minute free-kick clipped the top of the crossbar; otherwise, to a decreased degree, the diminutive dribbler showed some nice footwork and took some other set-pieces which came to nothing.

Nevertheless, as the second half wore on, it became increasingly clear that Venezuela were on their way to their first Under-20 World Cup since 2009 – elation thus greeted the final whistle on the pitch and back home. Eight years ago, Salomón Rondón was part of that impressive squad who progressed on home soil, yet though a handful of his team-mates have since gone on to earn senior caps, none could be said to have also become integral to the national side. Thus, though three individuals in this year’s rather outstanding crop have repeatedly stood out (Herrera, Soteldo and Fariñez) and several others have also caught the eye, one can only hope that this can be built on in upcoming years with greater success.

The two other games played on the fifth and final Hexagonal Matchday were Colombia vs Brazil and Ecuador vs Uruguay – talent-spotting articles have now also been published for these encounters. 

Otherwise, to keep track with the careers of these and many other talented South Americans, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

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

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

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(Source: Wikipedia)

Ecuador 3-0 Argentina

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

Argentina put in a woeful performance as they were comfortably trounced by hosts Ecuador, who got themselves back into the hunt for World Cup qualification. Indeed, Ecuador dominated the chances, with their first goal coming after 40 minutes, when Pervis Estupiñán struck home a penalty. They doubled their lead in the 58th minute when Bryan Cabezas slid the ball across the goalmouth where it was knocked in at the back post by Jordy Caicedo. The third and final goal came five minutes later when Cabezas dispossessed and bustled his way past a defender on the left in the area before squeezing home a finish.

Talent Spotting

ecuadorflag Ecuador

Pervis Estupiñán (No. 6, Granada, Spain) stepped up to convert his 40th-minute penalty down the middle with consummate ease – this was his third successful spot-kick in consecutive games and the left-back now has a remarkable four goals altogether in the tournament.

He also had a hand in the second goal after 58 minutes when he slid the ball on the left to  Bryan Cabezas (No. 10, Atalanta, Italy); he, in turn, knocked a low ball across the goalmouth where it was tapped in by Jordy Caicedo (No. 19, Universidad Católica, Ecuador) at the back post. For the third goal some five minutes later, right-back Kevin Minda (No. 4, L.D.U. Quito) played a long diagonal ball which Cabezas quickly mugged a defender of before knocking past the goalkeeper. Cabezas, in particular, impressed with his goal and assist and he also had Ecuador’s first two chances of the game. Indeed, in the third minute on the left in the area, he knocked a ball that bounced back to him so, instinctively, he whacked a strike from an angle, but it was always rising and went over. Then, four minutes later at the corner of the area on the left, he struck a shot that was hit with the pace of a cross but nevertheless forced the goalkeeper to first parry, then gather.

Otherwise, Ecuador had the lion’s share of the chances, including the following:

In the 15th minute, Herlin Lino (No. 9, Barcelona SC, Ecuador) whacked a strike from the right just outside of the area, but it went over. Four minutes later, Caicedo chased a long ball up the right into the area, though his shot from a slightly awkward angle was easily saved. The following minute from just outside of the left corner of the area, Jordan Sierra (No. 15, Delfin) hit a well-paced right-footed strike that was parried low at the near post. Seven minutes later, Sierra curled in a good cross from the right and Lino rose high, coming extremely close to the target but his header bounced inches wide of the post. Much later on in 52nd minute, Ecuador’s other chance of note occurred when Caicedo came bustling forward, played a one-two and then hit a right-footed dipping effort from 30 yards which went just a yard or two over.

argentinaflag Argentina

Los Pibes barely had an opportunity worth speaking of, with most of their attempts on the Ecuador goal coming from long distance. Indeed, in the 7th minute, right-back Nicolás Zalazar (No. 14, San Lorenzo) struck with the outside of his right boot from 30 yards, though this ultimately dipped rather harmlessly for the goalkeeper to catch. 11 minutes later, some 25-30 yards out from a free-kick on the left, one of Argentina’s more impressive players in the tournament, Tomás Conechny (No. 20, San Lorenzo), hit his effort just a yard or so over the bar. Then in the 31st minute, defender Cristian Romero (No. 2, Belgrano) intercepted a ball before shooting from 30 yards on the inside-right, but this went to the goalkeeper.

Otherwise, the only other half-chance of note came in the 65th minute when Lautaro Martínez (No. 9, Racing Club) took on two or three players from the right before making it into the area; he tried to strike an effort with his left boot but, owing to pressure from a defender, ended up hitting this shot wide of the mark.

The pickings really were that slim for Argentina and while their penultimate game against Brazil may not technically be a must-win game, with just three points from a possible nine, it will certainly be treated that way in order to keep their World Cup hopes alive.

The two other games played on Hexagonal Matchday 3 were Brazil vs Venezuela and Uruguay vs Colombia – talent-spotting articles have already been published for 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

Day 10 – 2017 Sudamericano Sub-20 (Uruguay 3-0 Bolivia & Argentina 0-0 Venezuela)

On the tenth day of the 2017 edition of the prestigious U-20 South American Youth Championship, attention turned to the final matches from Group B, which concluded the entire group stage: Uruguay took on Bolivia, then holders Argentina faced Venezuela. Below are video highlights, brief summaries of each game and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-spotting…

groupb270117

(Source: Wikipedia)

Uruguay 3-0 Bolivia

CONMEBOL U-20 South American Youth Championship 2017, Group B, 27 January 2017 (YouTube)

Uruguay secured their place in the Hexagonal with this comfortable win over Bolivia, who had to await the outcome of the subsequent game to see if they would still be joining them. After 18 minutes, defender Agustín Rogel opened the scoring by knocking in Nicolás De La Cruz’s free-kick from the left. Later, just before half time, Rodrigo Bentancur doubled the lead with a golazo, as he teed himself up for a fantastic strike from just outside the area which swiftly bypassed the goalkeeper’s gloves. Bolivia did make some forward forays but it was mainly Uruguay who created the best chances; they wrapped things up with the third goal in the 83rd minute when Rodrigo Amaral was slid into a one-on-one position in the area – he thus controlled and placed his shot just inside the near post.

Talent Spotting

uruguayflag Uruguay

Though the resting of a few notable players as well as the relative ease with which La Celeste‘s youths undertook their task perhaps meant superheroic feats were not required, some players nevertheless had their moments.

Captain Nicolás De La Cruz (No. 11, Liverpool, Uruguay) was responsible for the 18th-minute free-kick crossed into the area with his right boot from the left which found Agustín Rogel (No. 18, Nacional) in a crowd; from this, the centre-back instinctively converted for the opening goal. Aside from this assist, though De La Cruz took some more set-pieces and got into some decent positions, the closest he came to having any role in another goal was his 77th-minute shot; here, from approximately 25 yards, he picked up the ball and quickly struck a good cross-goal effort that the goalkeeper did well to parry wide.

Perhaps more so than during his previous two tournament games, Rodrigo Bentancur (No. 20, Boca Juniors, Argentina) – here, returning from suspension – was more of an attacking threat. From the halfway-line in the 12th minute, the highly-rated holding midfielder came roaming fotward to the edge of area, where he struck low and wide. Ten minutes later, he again gained much space for himself, this time with a nice first touch on the right, though his low ball into the area caused no harm. However, he certainly did some damage in the 44th minute when a corner was eventually knocked towards him just outside the area, somewhat right-of-centre. From here, he took a couple of touches with his right to tee himself up in a standing position that was virtually parallel to the goal-line; subsequently, he unleashed a brilliant left-footed strike that flew past the goalkeeper at the near post to double the lead.

Given the scoreline, 65th-minute substitute Rodrigo Amaral (No. 10, Nacional, Uruguay) did not really need to be a driving force, terrorising opposition players. Nevertheless, though he otherwise managed a minor charge or two as well as a late unremarkable shot, he did also get himself a goal. This came in the 83rd minute when Diego Rossi (No. 16, Peñarol) neatly made his way past a player before playing Amaral into space on the left inside the area; the latter took just one touch before squeezing the ball in at the near post for the third.

One man who made a nuisance of himself throughout the game without, ultimately, making it count was Joaquín Ardaiz (No. 7, Danubio), starting here his first game after two brief substitute appearances. He actually almost scored, not once, but twice: firstly, in the 24th minute when he beat a defender to a through-ball on the inside left; from the edge of the area, he poked a low bobbling shot past the goalkeeper but it came back off the far post. Later on in the 75th minute, he arguably had a better opportunity when he was found in much space, one-on-one; however, despite waiting for the ample moment to lift the ball over the goalkeeper, his effort was too low and easily blocked for a corner. Otherwise, though there’s a fair chance he will hit the back of the net at some point over the next fortnight, the several additional shots and crosses he attempted either missed their targets or were of little serious threat.

boliviaflag Bolivia

Though, as it turned out, a draw would have kept Bolivia in, they were unable to match their opponents and, barring a couple of minor moments, put in a fairly forgettable performance. Indeed, the likes of Limberg Gutiérrez (No. 20, Nacional, Uruguay), Moisés Villarroel (No. 8, Bolívar), Bruno Miranda (No. 11, Universidad de Chile, Chile), Ronaldo Monteiro (No. 9, Bolívar) and Rubén Cordano (No. 1, Blooming) may have suggested potential in their opening day win against Peru. However, there was little from them to get excited about in their subsequent three games; goalkeeper Cordano, for one, has largely discredited himself in the last two matches with some poor fumbles, though he was nevertheless notable here against Uruguay for taking a 53rd-minute free-kick from 25 yards, which went through to his opposite number. The free-kick taking goalkeeper – a fine South American tradition.

However, one man who it may be worth keeping an eye out for in future is 17-year-old Ramiro Vaca (No. 10, Quebracho). He scored a great free-kick against Argentina and also got another one on target as well as nearly setting up a goal against Venezuela; here against Uruguay just before half time, he curled a great right-footed free-kick from around 35 yards, requiring the goalkeeper to parry out wide.

Argentina 0-0 Venezuela

CONMEBOL U-20 South American Youth Championship 2017, Group B, 27 January 2017 (YouTube)

Not a game to dwell on for too long. Given the result of the preceding encounter, Argentina knew they were already through and did not seem too fussed about nabbing first place off Uruguay; Venezuela, on the other hand, merely required a draw. Thus, neither goalkeeper was seriously tested with instead the closest thing to a goal being one or two blasted efforts off-target and some through balls that just needed a touch of two. Owing to their precarious position, Venezuela could never really relax, though when Argentina had Cristian Romero sent off in the 85th minute, seeing out the draw did become somewhat easier. When the full-time whistle blew, their players understandably rejoiced.

Talent Spotting

argentinaflag Argentina

There are many talented players in the Argentine ranks, though this did not really prove to be the occasion to showcase their abilities.

Although he had less success than in previous games, Tomás Conechny (No. 20, San Lorenzo) was perhaps his side’s liveliest attacking player. The closest he came to scoring occurred in the 63rd minute when he did well to chest a cross from the left, before blasting a left-footed effort from 15 yards that went just over, giving the goalkeeper an almightly fright along the way.

Otherwise, he sometimes won space on the flanks, put in some half-decent balls and generally tried to tee up team-mates. All Argentine moments of semi-interest seemed to involve him and these included: a 10th-minute cross from the left that Tomás Belmonte (No. 17, Lanús) headed straight over; a 12th-minute short ball to Lautaro Martínez (No. 9, Racing Club) who, in turn, passed to Belmonte centrally 25 yards out and whose shot, though well-hit, went wide; a 42nd-minute Conechy left-sided corner that was headed over to the right to be put back into the area by Brian Mansilla (No. 11, Racing Club), from whom somehow the ball fell to top-scorer Marcelo Torres (No. 21, Boca Juniors) at an acute angle, though his cross-shot was parried out and cleared; lastly, a 49th-minute Conechny free-kick from 30 yards that dipped low and caused the goalkeeper to awkwardly spill out.

Nevertheless, despite these slim pickings, expect to see much more of these players and some of their team-mates in the Hexagonal stage; as ever, Argentina look to be one of the favourites to claim the trophy.

venezuelaflag Venezuela

Similarly, Rafael Dudamel’s men did not come out all guns blazing seeking a goal, though they did nevertheless cause some trouble in the final third:

In the 23rd minute, goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez (No. 1, Caracas FC) – who would later cause concern when Conechny’s free-kick bounced off him – pumped a ball upfield that the returning Yangel Herrera (No. 8, Atlético Venezuela) jumped to knock on; subsequently, the ball whistled just past Antonio Romero (No. 19, Deportivo Lara) in the area and wide. Four minutes later, Ronaldo Lucena (No. 16, Zamora FC) – who may well be his side’s most useful set-piece taker – curled in a dangerous free-kick from the left which begged for a knock goalwards, but was instead deflected off for a corner. Eight minutes later, right-back Ronald Hernández (No. 20, Zamora FC) surprised many by taking on a couple of players on his flank before working his way into the area; ultimately, he attempted to get a shot away but was blocked off.

In the second half, Yeferson Soteldo (No. 10, Huachipato, Chile) continued being a sporadic nuisance and the closest he came to having a hand in a goal was his 77th-minute free-kick from the left; this was knocked low through the wall and caused the goalkeeper to block it out, with the ball then being hesitantly cleared for a corner. However, probably the closest Venezuela came to a goal occurred from the free-kick on the left that followed Cristian Romero’s dismissal. Indeed, Ronaldo Lucena dipped this in towards the back post where Williams Velásquez (No. 2, Estudiantes de Caracas) was standing, but alas, the ball was just a little too high for the defender.

Nevertheless, for the first time since the Salomón Rondón-led generation of 2009, Venezuela have made it to the final stage of the tournament. Curiously and somewhat impressively, they currently have the best defensive record of the final six teams (one goal conceded in four games) as well as the worst attacking stats (one goal scored in four games). Many eyes will be interested to see whether the likes of Fariñez and Herrera can maintain the former and, on the other hand, whether Soteldo, in particular, can make his dribbles and playmaking count more by playing a role in at least a few additional goals.

To keep up-to-date with the latest from Ecuador 2017, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter. The next games will be on 30 January 2017 when the Hexagonal phase, featuring the six qualified teams, gets under way. The matches will be Colombia vs Venezuela, Uruguay vs Argentina and Ecuador vs Brazil – expect to see another bout of talent-spotting from these encounters on Hispanospherical.com. 

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Day 6 – 2017 Sudamericano Sub-20 (Peru 1-1 Venezuela & Argentina 5-1 Bolivia)

On the sixth day of the 2017 edition of the prestigious U-20 South American Youth Championship, attention turned back to Group B, with Peru taking on Venezuela and holders Argentina facing Bolivia. Below are video highlights, brief summaries of each game and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-spotting…

groupb23117

(Source: Wikipedia)

Peru 1-1 Venezuela

CONMEBOL U-20 South American Youth Championship 2017, Group B, 23 January 2017 (YouTube)

Venezuela struggled to create clear chances for the majority of this game, but a last-minute equaliser has greatly enhanced their chances of qualifying for the Final ‘Hexagonal’ Phase. Despite Peru coming closer to hitting the back of the net in the first half, it was the boys in burgundy who had the best opportunity to do so. Indeed, after being fouled in the 38th minute, Yangel Herrera dusted himself down to take a penalty but his strike was saved onto the bar, with his headed rebound also clipping the top of the framework. After the interval in the 56th minute, Venezuela were made to pay as Peru’s Roberto Siucho took advantage of some defensive indecision to rob the ball and nudge home for the lead. Subsequently, as the clock ticked away, Venezuela saw more of the ball but struggled to create clear chances; thankfully for them, there are always set-pieces. Indeed, in the 89th minute, Ronaldo Lucena’s free-kick was greeted ahead of the goalkeeper by the atoning Herrera, who nodded Venezuela level. However, barely a minute later the bacon-saver received his marching orders after a second yellow card. Nevertheless, thanks also in part to a fine late Wuilker Faríñez stop, Venezuela held on and now look to be in a better position than their opponents to nab one of the three final phase berths.

Talent Spotting

peruflag Peru

Off the back of their blip against Bolivia, Peru generally put in an admirable defensive performance that had more in common with their 1-1 draw against Argentina, rarely letting their opponents gain a clear sight of goal. Therefore, the concession of a late equaliser has really scuppered their chances of qualification, as they now have just the two points with only one game left – as opposed to the two of Venezuela, Uruguay and Bolivia.

If they are able to salvage their campaign on Friday against Uruguay, they will certainly require the creativity of 17-year-old Gerald Távara (No. 7, Sporting Cristal). Indeed, he was away early on, looking to set up and score. After four minutes he wasn’t far off bagging a gol olímpico (from a direct corner) and, three minute later, curled wide a free-kick from 30 yards. He came much closer in the 33rd minute, when a ball fell to him just outside the area on the centre-left; with his left peg, he struck a threatening diagonal shot that went barely a yard wide of the far post. Just after the interval in the 48th minute, he nearly turned provider when he curled in a fine free-kick from the right to the edge of the six-yard-box that found Adrián Ugarriza (No. 19, Universitario), but the latter’s powerful header lacked direction. He later hit another free-kick which went a yard or so wide, but ultimately, though he is quietly suggesting he may be one for the future, he was unable to find the net on this occasion.

However, the player who did get on the scoresheet – and who has netted both of his country’s two goals at this tournament – was Roberto Siucho (No. 11, Universitario). Earlier on in the 31st minute he had threatened the Venezuelan goal when he cut in from the right and sneaked in a left-footed effort; this picked up an opposition touch along the way which caused some additional uncertainty, with the goalkeeper ultimately glad to see it bobble wide. The goal itself came in the 56th minute out of nothing: a headed ball bounced uncomfortably in between two Venezuelan defenders; lacking in communication and decision-making, they allowed Siucho to march in to dispossess and embarrass them, before nudging the ball home to give his country the lead. Just over five minutes later, he actually had another chance; playing a one-two on the edge of the area, he charged forward and shaped for a shot, but was perhaps a bit too close as he struggled to bend the ball around the goalkeeper, who ultimately managed to divert it wide.

Instead, the closest Peru came to a second goal occurred at the death. Indeed, this chance came via a right-sided cross from Bryan Reyna (No. 8, Real Mallorca, Spain), who earlier actually had Peru’s first chance of the match, when he was played by Ugarriza into a half-decent position and subsequently saw his effort palmed over. In the 93rd minute, however, Reyna was looking to supply and his low ball bounced through to Ugarriza’s replacement Fernando Pacheco (No. 16, Sporting Cristal); he immediately snapped to strike a low drive towards the near corner but the goalkeeper was supremely alert to his intentions and denied him his glory with a fine save.

venezuelaflag Venezuela

Captain Yangel Herrera (No. 8, Atlético Venezuela) had quite the game: he could well have ended up being scapegoated for failing to convert a penalty but instead will be hailed by many as a goalscoring saviour – albeit one whose elation was quickly soured by a red card. He played a useful role in his central midfield position, regularly halting central attacks as well as getting forward; senior captain Tomás Rincón may well have a useful partner-in-crime developing here. Indeed, following a left-sided low ball from wing-back José Hernández (No. 5, Caracas FC), it was actually Herrera himself who was fouled to win the 38th-minute penalty. However, though he drove his penalty with exemplary force, the semi-committed Peru goalkeeper did well to leave out a trailing arm which helped parry the ball onto the crossbar; for the rebound, Herrera had to wait for the bouncing ball to fall kindly for his header which, agonisingly, was directed a little too high, clipping the framework before going over. To his credit, he did not let this failure devour his drive and instead ploughed on in the second half admirably. In the 52nd minute, he slid the ball up to the edge of the area to provide a half-chance for the otherwise quiet Ronaldo Peña (No. 9, Las Palmas, Spain), but the latter did not get enough power or direction behind his saved effort. 12 minutes later from an awkward position, Herrera stabbed a knock-down a yard or so wide but, more substantial was a 71st-minute opportunity; here, he received back a one-two in the area, though found himself in a narrow, albeit close, position from which he nudged a low shot a couple of yards wide. Not to be denied though, in the 89th minute, substitute Ronaldo Lucena (No. 16, Zamora FC) displayed his abilities from set-pieces by curling in a fine free-kick from the left which Herrera rose to emphatically beat the goalkeeper to for the equaliser. His joy was short-lived, however, as barely a minute had passed before a late tackle led to him receiving his second yellow card; thus, with their skipper now out of Wednesday’s must-win game against Bolivia, manager Rafael Dudamel will need to find ways to plug the hole in the middle as well as find alternative ways to create chances.

One man who shall be crucial in unlocking the Bolivian defence will be Yeferson Soteldo (No. 10, Huachipato, Chile). However, though his fellow attackers may be equally culpable for the options they sometimes fail to provide him with, he will really need to improve his decision-making in the final third. Indeed, against Peru, he was frequently driving forward, dribbling the ball affectionately with perhaps the lowest centre of gravity that can be witnessed in the entire tournament, yet he struggled to create any clear chances. Perhaps the closest he came to being of effective assistance was the one-two that put Herrera in a somewhat tight shooting position; there were other moments involving the likes of Sergio Córdova (No. 23, Caracas FC), but nothing worth recording for posterity. At times he came across as a frustrating, tunnel-visioned ball-hogger, but these were often during the moments, particularly in the second half, when he also appeared to be running the show for his side. Ultimately, it is imperative for Venezuela that this raw natural talent is harnessed and guided towards more productive ends.

Lastly, the third of Venezuela’s trio of prime talents deserves a mention. Wuilker Fariñez (No. 1, Caracas FC) can not be blamed for the defensive calamity that was responsible for the goal, but he can certainly be credited with preserving his country’s point. Indeed, although his goal-frame was targeted a fair bit, aside perhaps from an early unexpected attempt direct from a corner and a 62nd-minute close-range Siucho effort, it wasn’t until the last minute of stoppage-time that heroics were demanded of him. He can not have had more than a split-second to anticipate Pacheco’s 93rd-minute strike from Reyna’s cross, but he was more than equal to it as he got down and maintained his side’s promising prospects with a strong save with his gloves.

Argentina 5-1 Bolivia

CONMEBOL U-20 South American Youth Championship 2017, Group B, 23 January 2017 (YouTube)

The first real hammering of the tournament occurred as Argentina all but assured their place in the Final Phase. Marcelo Torres opened the scoring in the 23rd minute, nodding in from Nahuel Molina’s cross. 13 minutes later, Bryan Mansilla made it 2-0 after a defensive gift allowed him to strike home low from outside the area into the far corner. Just before half time, Torres doubled his tally as he pounced to make it three, after Mansilla’s shot was spilt by goalkeeper Ruben Cordano. The second half began in similar fashion with Tomás Conechny repaying the faith shown in providing him with his first start by cutting inside from the right to strike home a 25-yard golazo with his left boot in the 55th minute. 14 minutes later, Lautaro Martínez crossed in for substitute Lucas Rodríguez’s powerful header to make it five. By this point, Los Pibes had taken things down a notch or two and, consequently, Bolivia made most of their forward forays in this period, even managing a consolation goal. It wasn’t a bad one either: in the 71st minute, substitute Ramiro Vaca curled a fine right-footed free-kick from 25 yards around the wall and into the back of the net.

Talent Spotting

argentinaflag Argentina

He wasn’t prominently featured in many of the tournament previews but, with four goals, Marcelo Torres (No. 21, Boca Juniors) is currently the leading goalscorer – and deservedly so. He notched his first here when the cross of Nahuel Molina (No. 4, Boca Juniors) from deep on the right bounced for him to nod home to give his side the lead; his second came later in the first half when the Bolivian goalkeeper spilled a team-mate’s effort and he was on cue to tap in for 3-0. Otherwise, he was often to be found on the prowl in the final third; for example, in the 30th minute in the interim between his two goals, he had another noteworthy attempt, when he whacked a good, low, hard shot from the right, which was parried wide. Presumably to preserve his powers for future battles, he was denied a further half-hour of hat-trick hunting as he was substituted just before the clock struck 60′.

Brian Mansilla (No. 11, Racing Club) was withdrawn not long afterwards, most likely for similar reasons as he and Torres had been the best players of the first half. Indeed, it was he who scored the second goal of the rout after 36 minutes, capitalising on a defender’s dreadful pass that fell to his feet some 25 yards out in a central area; with the goalkeeper out of position, he then placed a textbook left-footed strike into the far corner. He also played a part in the third goal, as it was his strike from 20-odd yards out that was clumsily dealt with, enabling Torres to net his second.

The fourth goal was scored by Tomás Conechny (No. 20, San Lorenzo), who was rewarded here with his first start following his two assists from the bench against Uruguay. His 55th-minute effort was a stunning strike that came after he cut in on the right edge of the area and unloaded with his left, beating the goalkeeper at his near post. A fine golazo indeed and he could well have had another earlier in the 29th minute when he slalomed inside from the left past two players; alas, his strike inside the area with his less-fancied right was somewhat wild and wide of the mark. Otherwise, though he did not play as much of a critical role as he did on Saturday, he did certainly look to set up his team-mates. Perhaps his most notable supplementary effort came in the 42nd minute when he went past a player on the left, then played a low cross which Torres nabbed from surrounding defenders before, from an awkward position, forcing an attempt that went not too far wide.

Lastly, Lautaro Martínez (No. 9 Racing Club) also supplied at least a couple of reasons as to why he is one of Los Pibes’ stand-out performers thus far. Firstly, in the 11th minute from the inside-left, he forced a fine parry from the Bolivian goalkeeper when he rapidly struck a fierce effort with his right boot from 20 yards out. Then, later on in the 69th minute, he whipped in a cross from the left with his right that substitute Lucas Rodríguez (No. 7, Estudiantes de La Plata) did well to powerfully head home at the near post to make it 5-0.

Although they are not yet through, Argentina look to be on their way and, perhaps to nobody’s surprise, have demonstrated that they have some strength in depth in the forward ranks.

boliviaflag Bolivia

Aside from the consolation goal, a fine curled free-kick from substitute Ramiro Vaca (No. 10, Quebracho) some 25 yards out, it would be a tad superfluous to highlight potential cracks based on this performance. Indeed, although Juan Mercado (No. 2, Guabirá) should have also scored soon afterwards but instead missed a tap-in from a knock-on from a corner, both these and the other lesser Bolivian attempts on goal occurred when they were already well on their way to a hiding and Argentina had begun substituting some key players. Thus, while in the last 20-25 minutes the likes of Moisés Villarroel (No. 8, Bolívar) and Bruno Miranda (No. 11, Universidad de Chile, Chile) – though less so erstwhile star Limberg Gutiérrez (No. 20, Nacional, Uruguay), who had a quiet game – exhibited some signs of attacking life, one can almost strike this evidence from the record.

Off the back of a respectable debut tournament performance, goalkeeper Rubén Cordano (No. 1, Blooming) also had a poor game, despite a good early save from Martínez. Nevertheless, if he and his colleagues can regroup, then despite having suffered the first tonking of Ecuador 2017, they are actually still in with a good chance of qualifying second in Group B. Indeed, with three points and two games left against Venezuela and then Uruguay, all may not be so bad in the camp after all.

To keep up-to-date with the latest from Ecuador 2017, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter. The next games will be Paraguay vs Chile & Colombia vs Brazil from Group A – expect to see another bout of talent-spotting from these encounters on Hispanospherical.com. 

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Day 4 – 2017 Sudamericano Sub-20 (Peru 0-2 Bolivia & Argentina 3-3 Uruguay)

On the fourth day of the 2017 edition of the prestigious U-20 South American Youth Championship, attention turned back to Group B, with Peru taking on Bolivia and holders Argentina facing Uruguay. Below are video highlights, brief summaries of each game and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-spotting…

groupb21117

(Source: Wikipedia)

Peru 0-2 Bolivia

CONMEBOL U-20 South American Youth Championship 2017, Group B, 21 January 2017 (YouTube)

Peru were unfortunate not to beat Argentina in their opening game but, to the surprise of some, they came unstuck here against a well-organised Bolivia. In what was a game not short of open spaces, Peru enjoyed the better of the early exchanges, though Bolivia gradually grew in confidence. Despite this, it was nevertheless somewhat unanticipated when Ronaldo Monteiro chased a ball hoisted upfield and slid home the opener after 55 minutes. Further confounding expectations, Bolivia didn’t merely sit back and cling onto their rare lead. Instead, towards the end of their admirable debut performance, they doubled the scoreline, with Limberg Gutiérrez playing in Bruno Miranda to seal the win.

Talent Spotting

peruflag Peru

They only made four changes from the side that nearly beat Argentina, so one can not help but feel that, though having to play twice in three days may have taken its toll, Peru may be better off playing counter-attack football rather than conceding so much open space. Indeed, both Bolivian goals, as well as some other opposition attacks, made Peru look potentially porous, with some of their defenders being either too slow to keep apace of forwards or simply rather sluggish in foreseeing danger.

That said, they did appear to be edging things for at least the first half-hour or so. Although no individual could really be said to have stood out, there were at least a couple of attacks of note. Firstly, in the 21st minute, 17-year-old left-footed corner-taker Gerald Távara (No. 7, Sporting Cristal) swung in a cross that was greeted in a prime central position by fellow 17-year-old club team-mate Fernando Pacheco (No. 17, Sporting Cristal); alas, though his connection certainly possessed power, it was a bit too close to the goalkeeper, who nevertheless deserves credit for getting two strong gloves behind the ball for the parry. Secondly, five minutes later, the perhaps unfortunately-named Mark Estrella (No. 18, Universidad San Martín de Porres), chipped a fine ball forward up the inside-right channel to Rely Fernández (No. 22, Carlos A. Mannucci); with a deft chest, he took it in his stride into the area, though again, despite having the goalkeeper in his sights, his shot from a slight angle went straight at the shot-stopper.

If such chances had been taken, things may indeed have been different. Alas, as this performance left much to be desired, one has to hope that they put in better showings in their other two group games.

boliviaflag Bolivia

In a game in which the perceived quality was condemned by some before a ball had even been kicked, one man stood out above all others: Limberg Gutiérrez (No. 20, Nacional, Uruguay), son of a much-capped former international who he shares his name with. He was often to be found attacking up the inside-left, looking to create chances as well as get away the odd shot himself. He also vied for set-piece duties with another dead-ball threat, Moisés Villarroel (No. 8, Bolívar), and displayed a moment of slight ingenuity in the 33rd minute. Here, as if to highlight that those around him may be on a different wavelength, his diagonal pass to play in Henry Vaca (No. 22, O’Higgins, Chile) in the area ended in embarrassment for the latter; he could not take the ball in his stride, let alone shape to take a shot. Nevertheless, Gutiérrez also had a couple of chances to score himself, with the first of these coming in the 35th minute. At this moment, from the inside-left, he capitalised on a poor clearance, audaciously outpacing a defender into the left side of the area before firing a cross-goal strike, which had to be parried out.

Later on in the 80th minute, following a one-two with Ronaldo Monteiro (No. 9, Bolívar) – target-man and scorer of the 55th-minute opener – Gutiérrez found himself in the area on the left with the goalkeeper in his sights. However, perhaps not believing he hadn’t been flagged offside, he hesitated and hit a somewhat tame shot into the side-netting. Nevertheless, he compensated for this in the 89th minute when he brilliantly turned to leave his marker for dead and then paced up his trusty inside-left channel towards the area. Here, he slid in Bruno Miranda (No. 11, Universidad de Chile, Chile), who finished the job to make it 2-0. Furthermore, a few minutes later, the scorer was not far off bagging another goal with a well-struck shot from the edge of the area, though this was parried out wide.

Finally, though one suspects he will be picking the ball out of his net a fair bit over the next week or so, goalkeeper Rubén Cordano (No. 1, Blooming) often appeared assured and pulled off two or three decent saves, the most notable being a close-range parry from Pacheco’s strong header in the 21st minute.

Argentina 3-3 Uruguay

CONMEBOL U-20 South American Youth Championship 2017, Group B, 21 January 2017 (YouTube)

For the second day in a row, the second game of the day proved to be a thriller, with both teams coming into it with much to prove after disappointing opening matches. Naturally, some changes were paid and within four minutes, one paid dividends for Uruguay as Rodrigo Amaral hit an unstoppable strike from 25 yards out. Argentina were back on level terms in the 24th minute when Marcelo Torres controlled a diagonal ball, dipped a shoulder and impressively struck home. However, just before half time his side fell behind again as a penalty was converted by Nicolás De La Cruz, who this time took a more prosaic approach from 12 yards. Argentina generally had the better of the second half, knocking on the door, though it wasn’t until the 74th minute that Torres got his second with a powerful header from a corner. It then felt as if only one side could get a third goal but that was soon dispelled when Uruguay won a penalty out of nowhere in the 82nd minute; De La Cruz was no longer on the pitch, so Nicolás Schiappacasse stepped up. However, though Ramiro Macagno saved both his spot-kick and Waller’s rebound, the goalkeeper diverted the latter back to the feet of Schiappacasse, who was able to give Uruguay the lead. Several minutes later though, Rodrigo Bentancur hindered their cause by receiving his marching orders and alas, they could not hold on. In stoppage-time, a Tomás Conechny corner was nodded home, seemingly by the celebrating Lautaro Martínez, though some sources have credited it as an own-goal. Thus, it ended all-square and despite having both played a game extra than Bolivia, it is the unfancied side who are currently at high-altitude atop Group B.

Talent Spotting

argentinaflag Argentina

Playing his first game of the tournament, striker Marcelo Torres (No. 21, Boca Juniors), certainly took his chance, netting two clinical goals. The first came in the 24th minute when a fine, long-range diagonal ball from club team-mate, right-back Nahuel Molina (No. 4, Boca Juniors), was sent over to the left side of the area. Torres controlled exquisitely with the outside of his right boot, before nudging it past a defender and brilliantly striking home. Much later on in the 73rd minute, he did well to get onto the end of a fine free-kick aimed towards the back post; though the angle was difficult, he was nevertheless able to create discomfort and uncertainty with a header that was ultimately diverted wide. From the resulting corner, he rose in exemplary fashion to power home a bullet-header to make it 2-2.

The man who put in both of these pin-point left-footed crosses for Torres was substitute Tomás Conechny (No. 20, San Lorenzo). He came on for the final 20 minutes and is clearly a vital weapon to have sitting about on the bench as he was also responsible for the stoppage-time equaliser. Indeed, his corner was nodded in, some – probably correctly – said by defender Agustín Rogel for an own-goal, while others were willing to credit striker Lautaro Martínez (No. 9 Racing Club). He was somewhat of a lesser threat than he had been against Peru, with the closest he had previously come to scoring in this game being a 31st-minute header that was literally punched into his direction. This came from a sudden rebound after the Uruguayan goalkeeper reacted instinctively to a surprise shot from the left side. Brian Mansilla (No. 11, Racing Club) was behind this effort and, later on in the 80th minute, he came rather close to getting on the scoresheet when he shot again from another position that most mortals would have crossed from – this time he clipped the bar.

Before Conechny came on in the 70th minute to boost the goal-hunt, it was the man he replaced who appeared to be the likeliest candidate to be a supplier or scorer. 17-year-old Ezequiel Barco (No. 10, Independiente) was not far away from the scoresheet on at least three occasions: in the 23rd minute, when he struck a swerving 35-yard free-kick which had to be parried low for a corner; in the 53rd minute, when another free-kick curled low around the wall some 20-odd yards out and again had to be parried to the side; and in the 60th minute, when he collected a ball on the right side of the area, shimmied his way into a slightly better position, before striking with his – possibly weaker – left boot, which went a yard or two wide of the far post. At the time, it seemed a slight surprise that Barco was withdrawn from the field, but it is possible that his energy is being saved for upcoming battles; at his age, one would have thought that the coaching staff will be careful not to demand too much, too soon. Nevertheless, expect to see much more of him.

uruguayflag Uruguay

He was a second-half substitute against Venezuela, but here charging midfielder Rodrigo Amaral (No. 10, Nacional, Uruguay) was granted a start as well as the captain’s armband – he did not take long to formally announce himself to observers. Indeed, barely three minutes had gone when he picked up the ball on the inside-left, advanced to 25 yards out and then struck a sensational swerving left-footed shot with the outside of his left boot which crashed into the net for the lead. Just a couple of minutes later, he curled in a fine cross which Agustín Canobbio (No. 19, Fénix) met with a diving header that necessitated a parry. Later on in the 53rd minute, Amaral displayed another aspect of his attacking arsenal when he drew a decent save from a fine free-kick some 25 yards out. Though he was withdrawn from the pitch after 66 minutes when his side was still leading, one suspects that this must have been to protect him ahead of future encounters in this tightly-scheduled competition.

Another man substituted off who nevertheless left a lasting impression was Nicolás De La Cruz (No. 11, Liverpool, Uruguay). He especially came to life in the last five or so minutes of the first half, when he looked to play through his team-mates with short defence-splitting passes and even had a chance from open play himself. Indeed, this came in the 43rd minute when Facundo Waller (No. 15, Plaza Colonia) – who, whilst rarely generating any eye-catching highlights himself nevertheless appears to be a useful player – set him up with a pass into the area. De La Cruz looked as if he felt the flag was going to be raised and thus ended up hitting a low shot lacking direction or intent at the goalkeeper. However, his most memorable moment occurred in first-half stoppage-time when he went some way towards putting the ghosts of a mere two days ago behind him. Indeed, rather than opt for another Panenka-esque chipped penalty, he instead dispatched his spot-kick in textbook fashion, aiming hard for the top corner.

The other leading attack-minded player, Nicolás Schiappacasse (No. 9, Atlético Madrid), also directly contributed to the result as well as helped to make things happen for others. Indeed, though he missed an opportunity in the first half that De La Cruz set up, he himself looked to make things happen and won some set-pieces throughout the game, including the noted free-kick taken by Amaral as well as the second penalty of the match. This, occurring after he was on the receiving end of a clumsy hack in the 82nd minute at a time when De La Cruz was no longer on the pitch, was taken by Schiappacasse himself. However, his low effort was at a good height for Macagno who parried, yet unfortunately for the goalkeeper, despite also saving a rebound by Waller, the ball fell kindly to Schiappacasse who put Uruguay ahead 3-2 with his first goal of the tournament.

To keep up-to-date with the latest from Ecuador 2017, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter. The next games will be Brazil vs Paraguay and Ecuador vs Chile from Group A – expect to see another bout of talent-spotting from these encounters on Hispanospherical.com. 

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Day 2 – 2017 Sudamericano Sub-20 (Uruguay 0-0 Venezuela & Argentina 1-1 Peru)

The second day of the 2017 edition of the prestigious U-20 South American Youth Championship saw Group B get under way, with Uruguay taking on Venezuela and holders Argentina facing Peru. Below are video highlights, brief summaries of each game and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-spotting… 

group19117

(Source: Wikipedia)

Uruguay 0-0 Venezuela

CONMEBOL U-20 South American Youth Championship 2017, Group B, 19 January 2017 (YouTube)

Though it ended goalless, this Group B encounter was not without incident. Despite the talent in their ranks, Uruguay struggled to combine effectively in the first half and Venezuela gave them more than a few frights, persistently matching them across the field. Both sides had come close to opening the deadlock but in the 60th minute, Uruguay were presented with a golden opportunity to do so. However, captain Nicolás De La Cruz was left embarrassed as his Panenka-esque penalty was coolly saved by an upright Wuilker Fariñez. Despite going down to ten men, Venezuela stayed in the game and actually came closest to getting the winner, with Yangel Herrera’s 81st-minute effort saved by an overhead-kick clearance on the goal-line by Rodrigo Bentancur. Alas, it remained all square in Ibarra.

Talent Spotting

uruguayflag Uruguay

To many, the skipper Nicolás De La Cruz (No. 11, Liverpool, Uruguay) acted a bit too big for his youthful boots when his audacious chipped penalty went awry. Nevertheless, he was his side’s most notable attacker, often looking to play in team-mates, taking over set-piece duties and not being afraid to shoot, as evidenced by his fierce 25-yard strike in the first half that drew an instinctive parry from Fariñez. With an illustrious brother, Carlos Sánchez, who has earned caps for La Celeste, young Nicolás may just possess the nature to help him make his senior bow; after a setback like this, one hopes he’ll also receive the right nurture.

The striker he was often looking to play in was Nicolás Schiappacasse (No. 9, Atlético Madrid). The ex-River Plate (Montevideo parish) looked to get involved with some decent runs and also tried to slide through his team-mates, yet he rarely got a clear sight of goal. Indeed, so slim were the pickings that the nearest he came was from a 25-yard left-footed effort entirely of his own making in the 43rd minute, which rebounded hard off the base of the post. He was substituted with just over 15 minutes left, though given his move to Spain last year, much is expected of him.

Another man with a growing reputation is No. 20 Rodrigo Bentancur, who has already played over 50 times for Boca Juniors. Here, he had a mixed time in midfield as he and his colleagues were not always successful in suppressing the Venezuelan bursts upfield. Nevertheless, Bentancur was responsible for ensuring Uruguay came away with at least one point when, in the 81st minute, he cleared an effort off the goal-line with a rather acrobatic overhead kick.

Otherwise, Uruguay seemed to lack the organisation and collective intent they possessed two years ago when they came close to winning on home soil. One man from that team, roaming midfielder Rodrigo Amaral (No. 10, Nacional, Uruguay), now 19, was somewhat surprisingly a substitute here. His presence after the break did not dramatically change things though he did show some invention from a nicely worked free-kick move in the 50th minute that caught the opposition defence off-guard.

Lastly, a quick word of praise for the speedy Marcelo Saracchi (No. 6, Danubio). Just before the hour-mark, he did well to make space for himself after taking on a defender and then firing low to draw a save from Fariñez; this, in turn, led to the foul that yielded the penalty.

venezuelaflag Venezuela

Owing to his penalty save, goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez (No. 1, Caracas FC) understandably earned the headlines. It’s just the kind of highlight that could tip the balance in a move for this 18-year-old who already has a senior international cap and over 50 domestic club appearances to his name. He also did well to parry out De La Cruz’s well-struck first-half effort and often appeared assertive in his area. One small criticism though: Could he not have done better when palming out Saracchi’s shot straight to De La Cruz, which led to the latter being fouled, the awarding of a penalty and his defender Eduin Quero being sent off? Nevertheless, even if play was ultimately called back, he did recover impressively to save the rebound.

Perhaps the most eye-catching individual on the field was the diminutive Yeferson Soteldo (No. 10, Huachipato, Chile). He often seemed to be running the show for Venezuela, roaming forward, looking to make things happen, taking set-pieces and not being afraid to shoot. He nearly set up a goal in the 21st minute when he received a pass on the right, dipped his shoulder to evade a defender and put in a dangerous low ball, but Uruguay just about survived this scare. His nifty footwork sometimes led him into positions where he attempted to feed in team-mates; the closest to the target he came himself occurred in the 32nd minute when he played a one-two from a throw on the left and then aimed for the far post, though this went a few yards wide. When he was substituted in the 74th minute, he received a notable ovation from what must have been a largely neutral crowd.

The player Soteldo often sought out and who he played the one-two with, was Ronaldo Peña (No. 9, Las Palmas, Spain), another attacking midfielder/forward. Up until the very last minute he was very visible chasing every ball to the byline, creating space for himself and making life rather uncomfortable for the Uruguayan back-line. Given Soteldo’s withdrawal, come the final whistle, Peña was arguably getting even more praise on social media than the ex-Zamora man. On several occasions, he got within firing distance of the opposition goal but was thwarted, either by a block, a miscue or a clumsy challenge – such as the one in the 62nd minute which, irrespective of his pleas, the referee flatly waved away.

Impressing in a more subtle manner was holding midfielder and captain, Yangel Herrera (No. 8, Atlético Venezuela). As with Soteldo and Fariñez, he has already appeared for the senior side and the three of them, along with Peña, really did exhibit some much-needed confidence and drive that must have rubbed off on some of their compatriots. He often won midfield duels with the more highly-regarded Bentancur and, more than once, fed team-mates through with central, well-weighted passes. Although he was largely in the right place at the right time, he was nevertheless unlucky not to have scored with nine minutes remaining with his effort from a ricochet that his foe Bentancur brilliantly cleared on the line.

As well as the defence as a whole for rarely affording Uruguay a clear sight of goal, some positive words can be said for a few other individuals. Antonio Romero (No. 19, Deportivo Lara) often looked to get involved with his fellow attackers, most notably after 14 minutes when Peña robbed a defender before nudging the ball to Romero who, from 25 yards out, shaped to shoot, with his low, hard effort going just a yard or so wide. Seven minutes later, Sergio Córdova (No. 23, Caracas FC) perhaps had his country’s best chance to score in the first half when he inched inside the six-yard-box to get on the end of Soteldo’s wicked cross, forcing a save from very close range. Lastly, a quick word for substitute Ronaldo Lucena (No. 16, Zamora FC) to note that it was he who put in the free-kick that nearly led to a goal for Herrera.

Argentina 1-1 Peru

CONMEBOL U-20 South American Youth Championship 2017, Group B, 19 January 2017 (YouTube)

Defending champions Argentina may require a more effective Plan B, as it was not until the last minute that their blushes were spared here. Peru took the lead in the 12th minute, courtesy of a Roberto Siucho strike from range that took a wicked deflection before swerving past Ramiro Macagno. In the remainder of the half, Argentina may have seen more of the ball, but it was Peru who came closest to getting the game’s second goal. After the interval, the holders stepped things up a few notches and were at times almost camped around the periphery of the opposition area yet, particularly after they were reduced to ten men in the 84th minute, a defeat looked on the cards. However, just before the clock hit 90′, Lautaro Martínez struck home a fine equaliser and at least went some way towards softening some of the headlines the Argentine press had no doubt already written.

Talent Spotting

argentinaflag Argentina

Perhaps even more so than his team-mates up until his well-taken goal, Lautaro Martínez (No. 9, Racing Club) had a frustrating evening. He was regularly involved in attempts to unlock the well-drilled Peruvian defence, yet he was often close and yet so far from doing so. Indeed, his best chance in the first half was a header from a cross that he rose well to greet but his effort lacked direction. Six minutes after the restart, he latched onto a ball yet was a bit too near to the goalkeeper whose gloves thwarted him when he attempted to hook it above him into the net. Another chance of note occurred in the 73rd minute when he received a pass in a promising position inside the area but struck it wide of the far post. Nevertheless, the young man ultimately got what he was after and, though he may have wanted more, one suspects plenty of chances await him in upcoming games.

17-year-old Ezequiel Barco (No. 10, Independiente) fed in Martínez for his 73rd-minute opportunity and he was to be similarly agitated whilst seeking an equaliser. Indeed, the roles were in the reverse earlier in the 53rd minute when the Racing man played a fine cutting pass to the left inside the area only for Barco to strike the ball wide of the far post. Shortly before, Barco had also curled a rasping free-kick just over the bar and overall, looks to be a likely threat in this tournament.

The man who actually set up Martínez’s goal was his club team-mate Brian Mansilla (No. 11, Racing Club); he brilliantly drove past two players from his own half before sliding it to the No. 9 for the strike. Previously, he too had looked to make things happen, but the closest he himself came occurred in the 68th minute when a diagonal ball somehow bounced through to him in the area but, from an awkward angle, he struck across the goal and wide.

From this game, other Argentine players could be picked out as likely to pose threats in their future encounters. However, as they were largely all constricted here to long range efforts, blocked attempts and other moments one can not get too excited about, it may be better to instead wait and let them give us something to really write home about.

peruflag Peru

As a collective, Peru deserve a lot of credit. After getting their early goal, they did well to keep Argentina at bay throughout the first half, almost nullifying them and actually coming closer themselves to scoring. As their opponents increased the pressure after the restart, so too did Peru raise their game at the back, scurrying in and around their area, seeking to close off every potential avenue. Though they ultimately succumbed, the back-line as a whole deserve credit and it will be interesting to see if they can maintain this level of performance in their other games, whilst also allowing their attackers to counter effectively.

That said, in this game their goal which allowed them to sit back and frustrate was a bit of a fluke. Roberto Siucho (No. 11, Universitario), deserves credit for being willing to strike from 25 yards out, but he was greatly aided by the deflection the ball took to bypass the Argentine goalkeeper. Nevertheless, though he was substituted in the 66th minute – presumably due to a knock he took – he often got forward and though he himself may not have come close to a second, he and others played a vital role in momentarily relieving the strained defence.

Another man who was often on the ball was striker Adrián Ugarriza (No. 19, Universitario). Now 20 and only eligible for this competition by a whisker, he actually appeared at 2015’s tournament, scoring two goals. Since then, he has moved to a bigger domestic club and thus with an age-advantage over quite possibly all his opponents this time around, he has an opportunity to really make his mark. In this match, he very nearly doubled the scoreline in the 30th minute when a flick-on fell in his path on the edge of the area and he struck low, drawing a fine save from the goalkeeper.

Despite having to settle for the draw, Peru nearly actually regained the lead in the third minute of stoppage-time. Indeed, substitute Miguel Castro (No. 14, Juan Aurich) ran over from the inside-left, jinking left and right into the area, before firing a right-footed strike that only went over by a mere yard or so. Whilst, overall, the Attempts statistics may look more favourably upon Argentina, in future games against – on paper, at least – weaker opposition, Peru’s attackers should have more opportunities to break free and create havoc.

To keep up-to-date with the latest from Ecuador 2017, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter. The next games will be Brazil vs Chile and Ecuador vs Colombia from Group A – expect to see another bout of talent-spotting from these encounters on Hispanospherical.com. 

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical