Tag Archives: Los Pibes

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

Following a brief tournament overview of Argentina’s performance at the FIFA 2017 Under-20 World Cup, below are some summaries of several players worth keeping an eye on. As this was far from a memorable campaign for Los Pibes, those seeking more information on these individuals may wish to also take a look at their respective exploits in qualification as well as, perhaps, this site’s preview for the Under-20 World Cup.

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

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Argentina

Tournament Overview

Once again, Los Pibes fell short on the global stage. Having scraped through qualification, manager Claudio Úbeda made several changes to the line-up for the opening clash with England and, for 30 minutes at least, it seemed as if his new-look side may just run riot. Alas, despite dominating possession, they conceded against the run of play and ultimately contrived to go down 3-0 in a somewhat peculiar defeat. They followed this up with a 2-1 loss against hosts South Korea, leaving their hopes of progression hanging by a thread. For the crunch game against Guinea, Úbeda finally started with all of his best attackers from qualifiying and this paid off as they performed a 5-0 demolition job. However, owing to results in other groups over the subsequent two days, they were narrowly denied one of the four best third-placed team berths and thus departed at the first stage.

Overall, though their goalkeeper and defence left much to be desired, they do possess several more attack-minded players of note, though whether any of these can ascend to the level demanded by this illustrious footballing nation, is another matter entirely.

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

Top Talents

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

The star striker was hurt in the week leading up to the opening game against England, which likely explains why he only made it onto the field for 15 minutes of this encounter. However, given his contribution consisted mainly of an elbow which saw him red-carded and suspended for the South Korea match, he must have wished that he had sat that one out. Indeed, the man who has been banging them in at club level and linked with, amongst others, Real Madrid, was therefore to have little more than one game to demonstrate to the world why, were it not for him, his country wouldn’t even have made the trip. Nevertheless, when he returned against Guinea he would go some way towards bolstering his reputation as he bagged two goals. The first of these was a sensational top-corner golazo on the turn from the edge of the area and the second a well-worked move with a team-mate from a set-piece which he fired home.

Tomás Conechny (Attacking-midfielder, No. 10, San Lorenzo)

Coach Úbeda appears to not be entirely convinced by Conechny – or is unsure how to integrate him into his similarly rotating plans – because, as with qualifying, Argentina’s topscorer at the Sudamericano Sub-17 two years ago started the tournament on the bench. Yet, when he emerged after 60 minutes in the opener with England, he again proved himself to be one of the liveliest players in the squad; for this, he was rewarded with starts against South Korea as well as Guinea. Thus, from both open play as well as set-pieces, in these two games he also came across as one of the likeliest scorers and/or providers. Ultimately, the San Lorenzo attacker – who has so far only been a substitute at club level – had to settle with just the one assist, a quick pass from a free-kick which bamboozled the unsuspecting Guinea defence and was finished off by Martínez.

He may not have been able to put in a string of vintage performances but he was at least afforded more opportunities than another impressive attacker from the qualifiers, Brian Mansilla (Attacking-midfielder, No. 11, Racing Club). Indeed, following on from two substitute appearances, the man Ajax put a considerable bid in for earlier this year was granted a solitary start against Guinea and gained an assist from a cross.

Santiago Colombatto (Midfielder, No. 15, Trapani, on loan from Cagliari)

Perhaps the most positive aspect of Argentina’s campaign was the emergence of this deep-lying playmaker. He did not participate in the qualifying tournament but nevertheless possesses respectable club experience, having played consistently in Italy’s Serie B this past season. He stood out from the off against England, heading against the crossbar and teeing up team-mates. His most telling Group A contribution occurred in the South Korea game when, from near the halfway line, he played a delightful first-time ball which was rapidly finished off to halve the deficit. In the final encounter against Guinea, he was also responsible for another assist, this time a low ball into the area which Martínez dummied over before a team-mate struck home.

Marcelo Torres (Striker, No. 7, Boca Juniors)

The man Colombatto found with both of these passes was Torres who, with few headlines or hype, managed to maintain his goalscoring reputation, netting two to add to the five that he bagged in seven qualifying games. Having been subbed off on both of his starts as well as coming on from the bench against South Korea – with his goal arriving after being on the field for less than five minutes – he doesn’t appear to have as much backing as Martínez. Indeed, he also played, as well as had to contest a place, with Ezequiel Ponce (Striker, No. 18, Granada, on loan from Roma), who wasn’t part of the qualification team and also failed to get on the scoresheet, though did look particularly alert against England.

Santiago Ascacibar (Defensive-midfielder, No. 5, Estudiantes de La Plata)

Lastly, the captain Ascacibar merits comment more because of the admiration he receives from the likes of Diego Simeone than his actual performances in South Korea. That is not to say that they were bad but, owing to his easy-to-overlook role and, in particular, the porousness and poor positioning of those behind him in the rearguard, it seems a lot harder for him to stand out at national level than it has been in the domestic league where he is a regular. Indeed, the errors of the goalkeeper and back four in the first two games put Los Pibes at a severe disadvantage and there is only so much that their midfield-roamer with the armband can do to rally the troops. Still, plenty in the game more qualified than your humble observer will tell you he is going places so, like most Argentines, let’s just agree to forget about this collective tournament showing and wait and see.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Guinea 0-5 Argentina (Group A, 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, 26 May 2017)

Argentina’s third and final Group A game of the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup saw them inflict a heavy defeat upon the now-eliminated Guinea, though they will need to wait before discovering whether this was enough to progress. Below are video highlights, a brief summary of the match and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-tracking…

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

Guinea 0-5 Argentina

2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Group A, 26 May 2017 (YouTube)

Argentina at last found their shooting boots as they routed their African opponents in a game they needed to win by a large margin in order to boost their hopes of advancing out of their group.

With the strongest line-up Claudio Úbeda has fielded thus far in the tournament, Los Pibes dominated proceedings from the off and, following some close shaves, finally got off the mark in the 33rd minute when Marcelo Torres tapped home Santiago Colombatto’s low cross. Ten minutes later, it was 2-0 as Lautaro Martínez announced his return in sensational fashion, turning from the edge of the area to fire a belting strike into the top corner.

Five minutes after the restart, Federico Zaracho made it three, heading in Brian Mansilla’s cross from the left. The following goal on 74 minutes also required a bonce, this time that of Marcos Senesi, who powerfully nodded home a free-kick from Exequiel Palacios. Subsequently, the spanking was capped off five minutes later when Martínez notched his second after Tomás Conechny played a disguised quick free-kick to him and he rapidly struck home into the opposite corner.

Thus, Argentina finally got their tournament underway but, with four other groups yet to be decided, will this prove to be too late for them to salvage one of the four best third-placed team berths?

Talent Tracking

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Well, well, Claudio Úbeda finally selects in the line-up all four of the most eye-catching attackers from the qualifiers and quelle surprise, they admonish a beating.

He had Lautaro Martínez (No. 9, Racing Club) back from suspension and the widely-touted striker certainly made up for lost time. The first of his two strikes was a goal of the tournament contender which came as he received a pass on the edge of the area, took a touch, then rapidly turned to smash an unstoppable effort into the top right-hand corner. Before this, he had looked alert from the off, playing a role in the first goal for which he dummied over the ball in the centre; overall, he was also to have a few other shots of his own. One of these was the second goal, a rather neat set-piece move which he was attentive to, as he latched onto a short ball that surprised the unsuspecting defence; he thus quickly turned to blast a solid strike into the corner. If, as this writer suspects, Argentina are to scrape through to the next round, they really can’t do without their star man.

The man who played this free-kick pass – which drew comparisons to the exquisite Verón-Zanetti move against England at World Cup ’98 – was Tomás Conechny (No. 10, San Lorenzo), a man who, if he hasn’t finally convinced his manager that he deserves to start every single game, then something has gone awry. Indeed, he always appears to have bundles of energy and intent, regularly looking to either make things happen or force an opponent into an error. As well as his assist, early on in the first half he also combined a few times with Santiago Colombatto (No. 15, Trapani, on loan from Cagliari) – the one revelation from this campaign who wasn’t also part of the qualifying phase – such as when the former found the head of the latter from a corner which the Serie B man then flicked on at the near post, causing a hesitant clearance from the goalmouth.

Their most notable link-up, however, was on the opening goal when Conechny fed a pass to the left inside the area which found Colombatto who, in turn, hit a low ball across the goal which Martínez intelligently evaded, leaving Marcelo Torres (No. 7, Boca Juniors) to fire home for his second tournament goal. Previously, Torres was also not far off scoring on at least two occasions earlier in the match. First of all, when Martínez’s shot was parried and the Boca man nearly got to the rebound, as well as not long afterwards when he headed a cross against the underside of the crossbar, which was then put in by a mixture of his boot and Colombatto’s head. However, the play had already been called back for offside – not that this whistle could prevent Colombatto from requiring bandaging following the contact made by Torres’ boot.

Torres, like Martínez, also scored five goals in qualifying and it was encouraging to see the pair both on the scoresheet, as the experiment with Ezequiel Ponce (No. 18, Granada, on loan from Roma) – who came on here for the last 23 minutes – had fallen somewhat short in the two previous matches.

The fourth and final top attacker from qualifying who was granted a start here – having, in his case, had to settle for cameos from the bench in the last two encounters – was Brian Mansilla (No. 11, Racing Club). Here, he went some way towards getting himself into Úbeda’s future line-up plans as he crossed in from the left for club team-mate Federico Zaracho (No. 19, Racing Club) to head home for the third.

The other goal, the fourth, came from a free-kick by Exequiel Palacios (No. 8, River Plate) who dinked in a good ball for centre-back Marcos Senesi (No. 6, River Plate) to head home with force.

Regarding the action at the other end, there wasn’t a great deal for Argentina to be concerned about. Certainly, Guinea had a few attempts, particularly in the latter stages when the South Americans had the game well in the bag, but there was nothing Úbeda will be losing sleep over any time soon. That said, though it is difficult to say off the back of just this one performance, it was good that he made some changes at the back, namely playing a back three and dropping the woeful full-backs Gonzalo Montiel (No. 4, River Plate) and, especially, Milton Valenzuela (No. 3, Newell’s Old Boys).

Time will tell whether these changes will be maintained and reap future dividends. Or will it? After all, though the Argentines went some way to improving their goal difference, we still won’t know until Sunday whether or not they have qualified for the knock-out stage. The permutations are too innumerable to go into here but those who wish to contemplate every last one of them can do so here.

In the other Group A game played today, England beat hosts South Korea 1-0 and thus, with the Three Lions having topped the table, both nations shall participate in the next round.

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

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

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

lautaromartinez

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… 

group5217

(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

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

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

30117grouo

(Source: Wikipedia)

Uruguay 3-0 Argentina

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

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

Talent Spotting

uruguayflag Uruguay

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

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

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

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

argentinaflag Argentina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical