Tag Archives: Marcelo Saracchi

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

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

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

uruguayflag

Uruguay

Tournament Overview

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

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

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

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

uruguayresults1

uruguayresults2

uruguayresults3

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

Top Talents

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

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

The Defence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Uruguay 1-1 Venezuela (AET – 3-4 on penalties) (Semi-final, 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, 8 June 2017)

The first and last all-South American encounter at the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup went all the way to penalties, with Rafael Dudamel’s men sensationally pulling off a breathtaking victory. @DarrenSpherical is tempted to lose the plot right here and now but has been advised to save up some of this caffeine-charged exuberance for Sunday’s surreal, you-couldn’t-make-it-up Final with England – England! Bloody never mind Venezuela, ENGLAND! – where he may be afforded a grander opportunity to really let loose. Below are video highlights, a brief summary of the match and, most importantly, a double-helping of armchair talent-tracking…

uruguayvenezuela

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

Uruguay 1-1 Venezuela (AET – 3-4 on penalties)

2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Semi-final, 8 June 2017 (YouTube)

Thanks to a spectacular last-minute free-kick and some heart-stopping penalty saves, this remarkable Venezuelan generation inched their way past CONMEBOL rivals Uruguay to incredibly gain a place in the tournament Final.

They started off the game relatively well, enjoying a fair bit of possession and causing some frights. However, as the first half wore on,  Fabián Coito’s men came into their own and took the upper hand, with at least two shots of note forcing saves.

Rafael Dudamel’s charges began the second half in a similar manner to how they commenced the first, yet their momentum was to be suddenly halted when Uruguay were awarded a debatable penalty, for which the referee required the aid of video technology. Undeterred by the hullabaloo, captain Nicolás De La Cruz stepped up to convert to make it 1-0. Soon afterwards, Nicolás Schiappacasse was provided with a very presentable chance to double his nation’s lead, though was denied by Wuilker Fariñez. As the match wore on, Venezuela had to try to overcome their sense of injustice regarding the penalty decision, yet though they created a few half-chances, a defeat was looking increasingly unlikely. That is, until the first minute of stoppage-time when 17-year-old substitute Samuel Sosa curled a brilliantly struck left-footed free-kick into the top corner. Cue bedlam.

The 30 minutes of extra-time were understandably nervy, particularly the second half, with both sides coming close to finding a winner. Indeed, Uruguay’s Federico Valverde appeared to be trying his luck from a variety of positions, which included an inswinging corner that would have crept in at the near post were it not for Fariñez and then, later, striking when a cross had been anticipated from a free-kick, with the goalkeeper just about re-adjusting his footing to save. Up the other end, as the clock was about to run out, Sosa’s trickery resulted in a low ball to fellow substitute Jan Hurtado, who poked an effort that hit the outside of the post.

Alas, it was to be penalties. Here, after Uruguay’s second spot-kick taker José Luis Rodríguez saw his effort saved by Fariñez, Venezuela took a commanding lead. However, when Yeferson Soteldo hit the crossbar with his nation’s fourth attempt and Uruguay subsequently levelled things up, a sudden turnaround seemed possible. Thankfully for all fans of La Mini-Vinotinto, this did not materialise, as first captain Yangel Herrera stepped up to make it 4-3 and then his opposite armband-wearer, De La Cruz, had his effort – his second 12-yarder of the game – saved by Fariñez. The goalkeeper took a few moments to realise the significance of his actions before being mobbed by his team-mates as together they celebrated this penultimate chapter in their history-making campaign.

Talent Tracking

uruguayflag Uruguay

Despite reaching the Semi-finals, with just seven goals in their six games, Uruguay can not really be said to have been eye-catchingly potent in attack, with consistency certainly lacking in this area. Nevertheless, though he plays a somewhat deep role in midfield, one man who has, on occasion, been a threat during various tournament games – including this one – is Federico Valverde (No. 16, Real Madrid Castilla). Here, his first moment of note came in the 25th minute when his 25-yard central free-kick was struck well and swerved down low, requiring a parry out wide.

However, it was really in the second half of extra-time that he became a frequent source of danger. Indeed, in the 108th minute, he whipped in a corner that nearly reached Carlos Benavídez (No. 8, Defensor Sporting) at the near post, though a defender just about headed it a little too uncomfortably wide. Then, from the subsequent corner, Valverde’s ball almost squeezed directly in though goalkeeper Fariñez did well to recover to block with his leg. Valverde also attempted a completely wayward effort from the halfway line but his last strike of note with a few minutes remaining was far more testing. Here, he again caught Fariñez off-guard as he hit a free-kick from a deep position on the inside-left with his right, shooting for goal instead of going for the anticipated cross, which the goalkeeper was just about able to get over to in order to stop.

One attacker who has certainly had a mixed tournament is attacking-midfielder and captain, Nicolás De La Cruz (No. 11, Liverpool, Uruguay). This was encapsulated in this game as he both converted a penalty within regulation time which nearly led to him being heralded as the match-winner and also failed to score the final spot-kick in the shootout, which sent his nation out. This was surely especially hard for him to take as, having embarrassingly seen his opening day penalty in CONMEBOL qualifying saved by Fariñez, he must have felt his first goal here put that particular ghost to bed. Alas, it appears not. Or, at least, not for now.

Otherwise, he didn’t have the most influential of games, though managed to put in a few decent crosses, at least one of which deserved better contact from the recipient. Furthermore, in the 98th minute, from an inside-right position he did well to skip away from a few challenges into the area before passing to Agustín Canobbio (No. 19, Fénix) – who was also the man adjudged to have been fouled for the penalty – who, from a slight angle, struck hard but a bit too close to Fariñez, who gathered after initially parrying.

De La Cruz’s most notable set-up, however, came just after his goal when he picked up a cross from Marcelo Saracchi (No. 6, Danubio) then, from the inside-right of the area, put the ball on a plate for Nicolás Schiappacasse (No. 9, Atlético Madrid Under-19s). However, despite being barely six yards out and with plenty of the goal to aim for, the striker instead side-footed the ball at Fariñez, who nevertheless did well to instinctively thwart. Schiappacasse was ultimately withdrawn in the 67th minute owing to an apparent knock, though his replacement Joaquín Ardaiz (No. 7, Danubio) was unable to create much more than minor scares amongst the opposition back-line.

Lastly, as the only goal they conceded – just their third in six games – was from a set-piece, some credit must again go to the defence as a whole, which is full of players who could well find themselves receiving bigger moves in the not-too-distant future. Ultimately, CONMEBOL champions Uruguay will be disappointed not to have made it to the Final – and to have been knocked out by another side from their region – but they have shown both here and in qualifying that they possess many players with the potential to remain on the radars of global football fans for some years yet.

venezuelaflag Venezuela

As was implied by the above section, Wuilker Fariñez (No. 1, Caracas FC) had a fair few shots to contend with, probably the most that he has faced so far in the competition. He will justly go down as one of the two leading heroes of the game, having also saved two of the five shootout spot-kicks and thus further bolstered his penalty-saving reputation.

The other headline-grabber, without whom there would have been no 12-yard duel, is 17-year-old substitute Samuel Sosa (No. 15, Deportivo Táchira). Few were anticipating him to strike the 91st-minute free-kick from the edge of the area but strike it he did, curling a beautiful left-footed shot past Mele and into the top corner for his second tournament goal. He also impressed with some confident touches that belied his age and later on in the 108th minute had a shot from range that was hit well but comfortably saved. Finally, right at the end, he displayed a great piece of skill at the right side of the area, before setting up Jan Hurtado (No. 13, Deportivo Táchira), who nudged an effort against the near post.

Adalberto Peñaranda (No. 7, Málaga, on loan from Watford) was the man who looked most poised to take the free-kick that Sosa buried though, overall, it was far from his most influential game. Perhaps his best moment came less than a minute into the second half, when he skipped past a player or two before passing the ball to Ronaldo Chacón (No. 11, Caracas FC), who hit a snap-shot from inside the area that was deflected not too far wide (20 minutes later, Chacón was to have another shot, a left-footed effort on the turn that was hit well and which Mele had to save low). Later on, in the 58th minute, Peñaranda dribbled past some opponents before striking an effort wide into the side-netting – certainly not a great chance, but it was slim pickings at times for Venezuela.

Otherwise, after having a surprise effort with just 20 seconds on the clock from nearly 35 yards out that Mele had to double-fist over, Ronaldo Lucena (No. 16, Zamora FC) once again showed what a useful provider of opportunities he is. Indeed, after 13 minutes from an inside-left position, Franklin’s younger brother curled in a fine free-kick though, despite being in a good position, Nahuel Ferraresi (No. 4, Deportivo Táchira) was unable to make proper contact. Later on the in the 75th minute, he swung in an even more presentable chance from a corner, yet Sergio Córdova (No. 19, Caracas FC) perhaps stooped a little too much and his misdirected header subsequently bounced over the bar. Then, with three minutes of regulation time left, another Lucena corner was headed over by centre-back Josua Mejías (No. 17, Carabobo FC), who was unable to get his head above the ball.

Yeferson Soteldo (No. 10, Huachipato, Chile) was once again on the bench but was introduced to the field in the second half. He will no doubt shudder at the memory of his shootout spot-kick rebounding back off the bar, yet though it wasn’t a particularly action-filled game for the diminutive dribbler, he nevertheless had one effort of note. This came in extra-time when he went on a run towards the inside-left edge of the area and received a pass back from Hurtado, before toe-poking a low strike that Mele parried low for a corner.

Lastly, though there were some shaky moments for Venezuela’s defence – committed most notably by both Ferraresi and Mejías – who was playing his first tournament game due to a suspension) – to only concede once in 120 minutes certainly can’t be sniffed at. They have now let in just two goals in the entire competition and, as all observers know, will provide a stern test in Sunday’s Final for England, who themselves have only conceded three goals in their six games. Who really knows how this monumental encounter will go? Venezuela will surely be experiencing some fatigue, having played 120 minutes in their three preceding games – England, by contrast, have concluded business each time within 90 minutes – but, as they have demonstrated in the past two-and-a-half weeks, anything really is possible.

To keep up-to-date with the latest news on these two South American sides as they get set to play their final games of somewhat varying significance on the last day of South Korea 2017, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter and check back to Hispanospherical.com for match-by-match talent-tracking articles.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

 

Portugal 2-2 Uruguay (AET – 4-5 on penalties) (Quarter-final, 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, 4 June 2017)

Overcoming an early setback and ultimately requiring the dreaded spot-kicks, Uruguay eventually emerged victorious from their 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup Quarter-final clash with Portugal. Below are video highlights, a brief summary of the match and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-tracking…

uruguayportugal

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

Portugal 2-2 Uruguay (AET – 4-5 on penalties)

2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Quarter-final, 4 June 2017 (YouTube)

Uruguay set up a scintillating Semi-final clash with CONMEBOL rivals Venezuela, after seeing off a Portugal side who easily provided them with their most difficult test yet.

Indeed, within the first minute, their Iberian opponents not only took the lead but also became the first team in the tournament to both score against Uruguay as well as put them in a losing position. This occurred when Federico Valverde was dispossessed by Xadas who slid the ball to Xandre Silva to finish off. It took about ten minutes, but Uruguay did gradually find their way into the game, having a few chances which culminated with the equaliser on 16 minutes. Here, a right-footed corner from Valverde was brilliantly whipped towards the back post, which Nicolás Schiappacasse volleyed onto the bar, with the rebound falling to Santiago Bueno, who headed home. For most of the remainder of the half, Uruguay were more than holding their own despite not creating much, yet in the 41st minute they were left reeling by Diogo Gonçalves’ phenomenal right-footed strike from just outside the area on the inside-left which flew into the top corner.

Thus, Fabián Coito’s men went in at half-time behind, though this state of affairs did not last long. Indeed, after the restart, Agustín Canobbio was fouled in the area and in the 50th minute, Valverde struck home the penalty to make it 2-2. Subsequently, though there were a couple of other chances in the match, both teams appeared to have decided from a relatively early stage that this game was heading to penalties – and so it proved.

After eight well-executed penalties, almost every taker’s nerves then crumbled, with first Portugal’s Pepê seeing his sstrike saved by Santiago Mele. Rodrigo Amaral thus stepped up to claim the glory for Uruguay, yet spectacularly blazed his strike well over the bar. Thus followed three consecutive failed spot-kick efforts, before Bueno struck his home with aplomb to book the South Americans’ place in the final four.

Talent Tracking

uruguayflag Uruguay

Federico Valverde (No. 16, Real Madrid Castilla) had a curious game, yet again made some crucial contributions. Firstly, he was partly at fault for the opening Portugal goal when he was robbed of the ball seconds beforehand, yet 15 minutes later he crossed in the corner that led to his side’s equaliser and later, he both scored the spot-kick to make it 2-2 as well as converted the all-important first one in the shootout. Otherwise, he whacked a conspicuously bad free-kick off-target in the 72nd minute but overall, his positive actions far outweigh the negatives.

Valverde’s potential future El Clásico rival Santiago Bueno (No. 2, Barcelona Juvenil A) also had a game to remember. It is debatable – though, probably a little unfair – whether to apportion blame at his feet or those of centre-back partner Agustín Rogel (No. 18, Nacional) for the first goal as they were both caught off-guard by Valverde’s unexpected loss of the ball. Nevertheless, he got himself in the fans’ good books 15 minutes later when he was on cue to head home the equaliser and, especially at the very end, when he put away the decisive spot-kick to win the tie.

Otherwise, the role of Santiago Mele (No. 1, Fénix) will certainly be fondly recalled as, though he conceded his first goals of the tournament – not a huge deal he could have done about either – he also remarkably pulled off three successive saves in the penalty shootout. He’s certainly attracted some attention over the past fortnight, building on a quietly impressive qualifying record.

Overall, despite the four goals, this was not really a game teeming with clear opportunities. Still, some additional attacking impetus was injected when Rodrigo Amaral (No. 10, Nacional) came off the bench in the 79th minute – taking the captain’s armband off the largely quiet Nicolás De La Cruz (No. 11, Liverpool, Uruguay) – to make his first appearance since his match-winning opening day cameo. In his 41 or so minutes on the field, he was to demonstrate some of the potential of his exceptional left wand, largely seeking to loft balls into the area as well as play in team-mates.

Indeed, a handful or so of opportunities  – or at least, half-chances – were created for the likes of Rogel and Matías Viña (No. 17, Nacional), with perhaps the most eye-catching being intended for Marcelo Saracchi (No. 6, Danubio) in the 90th minute. Here, he rapidly turned near the halfway line and then hit a great pass with his left peg towards Saracchi, though the midfielder – who also played in some impressive balls of his own earlier in the game – was narrowly beaten to the ball by the goalkeeper.

However, though Amaral showed that, despite injury and fitness concerns, he is still capable of spurring his team-mates on and making things happen, one wonders how he feels following the shootout. Indeed, in rather tragi-comical fashion, for the second Under-20 World Cup in a row this prodigous raw talent missed a crucial penalty. Hopefully for his sake, the fact that, unlike last time, this did not prove to be the decisive kick that knocked his nation out, will at least provide him with some solace.

Lastly, a quick word for striker Nicolás Schiappacasse (No. 9, Atlético Madrid Under-19s). He had a half-chance in the 13th minute when he bypassed an opponent before seeing his shot from a rather acute angle parried for a corner. More significantly, however, three minutes later he hit the crossbar, with the rebound being nodded home by Bueno and he also had a role in the second goal when he played the ball to Agustín Canobbio (No. 19, Fénix), who was fouled for the penalty converted by Valverde.

Ultimately, Uruguay certainly survived some scares and rode their luck, but managed to progress and thus move one step closer to attaining their goal. Though they will be very wary of the threat posed by Venezuela – the only side to beat them in qualifying – they will at least be able to welcome back Rodrigo Bentancur from suspension for this potentially epic Semi-final.

To keep up-to-date with the latest news on the two remaining 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

Uruguay 2-0 Japan (Group D, 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, 24 May 2017)

Uruguay’s second Group D game of the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup saw them defeat a tricky Japan side. Below are video highlights, a brief summary of the match and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-tracking…

GroupD2

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

Uruguay 2-0 Japan

2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Group D, 24 May 2017 (YouTube)

Fabián Coito’s men faced a stern test in the form of a talented Japan team, but ultimately survived some second-half scares to confirm their place in the knock-out stages. The opening period was not short of intent with the game being played at a good tempo, though the number of clear chances was not particularly high. Indeed, the Asians’ most threatening early moments occurred via crosses that caused some mild discomfort in the area, but the Uruguayan goalkeeper Santiago Mele was not significantly troubled. For their part, the South Americans got forward on occasion and should have opened the scoring after 10 minutes, but Nicolás De La Cruz squandered a golden one-on-one opportunity. Nevertheless, with what was virtually their first shot on target towards the end of the half, they found a goal. This was a fine sequence of play as centre-back Santiago Bueno hoisted a ball upfield which José Luis Rodríguez exquisitely controlled before passing to Nicolás Schiappacasse who found space from a defender and then clinically struck into the back of the net.

After the interval, however, the Japanese saw more of the ball and should probably have scored in the 58th minute when Takefusa Kubo’s shot was parried only to Ritsu Doan, yet despite the goal gaping, the latter somehow directed his header at Mele. It must be noted that the 15-year-old prodigy Kubo put in a precociously eye-catching performance as he dribbled and threaded through some other decent balls. Definitely one to keep tabs on.

Nevertheless, though Japan spent most of the second half on the prowl for an equaliser, it was Uruguay who bagged the second goal of the game. This came towards the very end when Marcelo Saracchi slipped the ball through for Mathías Olivera to strike underneath the goalkeeper, sealing both a win for Uruguay as well as their place in the Round of 16.

Talent Tracking

uruguayflag Uruguay

Overall, in this well-contested game, most credit must surely go to the defensive organisation of the side. Indeed, although there were a couple of lapses in the second half, with one fortunate not to have resulted in a goal, on the whole, courtesy of some tight marking and well-drilled tracking, they greatly limited the number of clear chances conceded. Though he was largely well-protected by those in front of him, goalkeeper Santiago Mele (No. 1, Fénix) certainly had reason to be cheerful at the whistle, having made at least a few important stops in the second half.

Furthermore, building on their impressive showings against Italy, centre-back Santiago Bueno (No. 2, Barcelona Juvenil A) and right-back José Luis Rodríguez (No. 4, Danubio) again came away with some credit and actually both combined on the first goal. Indeed, the former hoisted a pinpoint upfield ball which the latter did brilliantly to tame before nudging to striker Nicolás Schiappacasse (No. 9, Atlético Madrid Under-19s). He, in turn, proved himself to be a class act, evading a defender and then striking home.

Regarding the rest of the back four, Bueno’s centre-back partner Agustín Rogel (No. 18, Nacional) again did well, contributing to another clean sheet and the left-back Mathías Olivera (No. 5, Club Atlético Atenas) even managed to get on the scoresheet. Indeed, he doubled the lead at the death when, from an inside-left position, substitute Marcelo Saracchi (No. 6, Danubio) played him through to slide a ball past the goalkeeper, who should probably feel disappointed to have conceded.

Otherwise, the likes of Federico Valverde (No. 16, Real Madrid Castilla) and Rodrigo Bentancur (No. 20, Boca Juniors, transferring to Juventus in July) did well, shielding the defenders and thwarting the progress of many central Japanese attacks. From an attacking perspective, Valverde also delivered a couple of decent free-kicks towards the end of the first half whereas, just after the break, Bentancur played a delightful defence-splitting through-ball to Agustín Canobbio (No. 19, Fénix). However, despite the recipient being in a very promising position, before he could put the ball into the net, the referee called play back. Much later on towards the end, Canobbio actually had another chance – this time completely legal. Here, he received a ball from substitute Joaquín Ardaiz (No. 7, Danubio) yet he was to be denied by the goalkeeper who, had he not tipped the shot over, would have seen the rising ball bulge the roof of his net.

Lastly, Uruguay’s other chance of note was the gilt-edged 10th minute miss from Nicolás De La Cruz (No. 11, Liverpool, Uruguay). The captain robbed a dithering defender yet, despite being one-on-one with the goalkeeper, he somehow screwed his shot wide of the target. So far in this tournament he has failed to convert two glaring opportunities (this following on from a saved penalty against Italy) and his confidence must have taken a further battering when he was substituted off after 80 minutes.

Nevertheless, he and his colleagues are now already through to the knock-out stages, so he will hopefully have enough time to rectify his mis-steps and show a global audience why he is touted as one of the most promising players in the entire competition.

In the other Group D game played today, Italy won 2-0 against South Africa, who will be Uruguay’s final group opponents on Saturday 27 May 2017.

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

 

Day 8 – 2017 Sudamericano Sub-20 (Venezuela 0-0 Bolivia & Uruguay 2-0 Peru)

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

groupb25117

(Source: Wikipedia)

Venezuela 0-0 Bolivia

CONMEBOL U-20 South American Youth Championship 2017, Group B, 25 January 2017 (YouTube)

Although this must-win game for Venezuela ended goalless, were it to be judged on Golden Opportunities Wasted, they would have roared to at least a 7-2 hammering. The main culprit of the first half was José Balza, who missed two gilt-edged chances; soon after the interval he was replaced by Yeferson Soteldo, whose presence seemed to spark life into both sides. Indeed, around the hour-mark, a previously insipid game became very much end-to-end, with Bolivia twice nearly making their opponents pay for their profligacy. Nevertheless, it was Venezuela who were the elite goalmouth villains here, with Ronaldo Peña, in particular, guilty of haplessly missing a hat-trick of chances; on two of these occasions, he was presented with near-open goals. Thus, Bolivia somehow survived and could well afford to lose their final match against Uruguay and yet still qualify for the Hexagonal. Venezuela, on the other hand, may rue their collective squandering for a long time as they will need a result against Argentina – and, if they can only manage a draw, require Bolivia to lose – in order to progress.

Talent Spotting

venezuelaflag Venezuela

With Benfica and Manchester City target Yangel Herrera suspended and Yeferson Soteldo (No. 10, Huachipato, Chile) starting on the bench, it was difficult to see how Venezuela were going to undo the Bolivian back-line. Consequently, the first half was a little flat, though the burgundy boys did nevertheless manage to create at least two clear scoring opportunities; however, Soteldo’s introduction in the 52nd minute certainly increased the tempo and creativity. Doubts had been raised pre-game about the diminutive dribbler’s temperament and decision-making but he can’t be faulted for the stalemate here, as he played a part in three of his side’s five further chances in the second half. Elsewhere on the field, Ronaldo Lucena (No. 16, Zamora FC) took his chance with his first start by setting up some opportunities from crosses and, similarly, Heber García (No. 14. Deportivo La Guaira) also provided some invention. With more mixed results, Sergio Córdova (No. 23, Caracas FC) could at times be another effective threat.

However, departing from the usual structure somewhat, rather than detailing all of the most noteworthy players’ eye-catching contributions, what follows is a list of the seven key chances squandered. Supplemented by a perusal of the video highlights, acclaim and condemnation shouldn’t be hard to apportion.

1) 7th min: From the right, Lucena put in a fine cross that José Balza (No. 7, Carabobo) easily out-jumped the goalkeeper for, yet couldn’t direct his header beneath the crossbar, instead seeing it go over.

2) 13th min: On the inside-right, Ronaldo Peña (No. 9, Las Palmas, Spain) did well to play on a ball for Balza to latch onto in the area; however, the first-time starter amateurishly screwed a dreadful attempt well off-target, when a competent professional would have been expected to at least make the goalkeeper work for a save.

3) 54th min: Fresh to the pitch, Yeferson Soteldo received a nice touch by Peña on the left side of the area before giving a defender the runaround one way and then another. He made space for himself to be able to lay the ball to Córdova some 12 yards out yet, though the Caracas FC man had three Bolivians in his eye-line, he really should have done better than the pathetic attempt that scuffed wide.

4) 60th min: Córdova went some way towards atoning for this when he worked his way past two players on the right before sliding the ball across the goalmouth, gifting Peña what was easily the best opportunity. However, from barely four yards out, the Las Palmas youngster air-kicked what was meant to be a right-footed tap-in and the ball instead embarrassingly rebounded against his left heel and up into the air, leading to a fruitless scramble.

5) 78th min: From the right edge of the area with his left boot, García knocked in a low bouncing ball that found its way through to the back post towards Peña and Soteldo. However, despite the latter’s close proximity, Peña maintained his focus on the ball’s trajectory as it came over to him, yet somehow nevertheless missed what should have been a low header at the back post past the goalkeeper.

6) 84th min: Goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez (No. 1, Caracas FC) rapidly began a move with a great throw up the right flank towards Soteldo, who did brilliantly to dash past an opponent and ultimately dink in a ball from the byline. Lucena cushion-headed this back to Peña, yet to nobody’s surprise, instead of bulging the net with a 15-yard half-volley, he saw his horrible miscue go high and wide. Faith in Peña, who had earned many plaudits for his harrying and hassling against Uruguay, was virtually non-existent at this point; perhaps he is more effective playing a support role, connecting attackers and pressuring opponents into errors, rather than being gift-wrapped chances to make some howlers of his own.

7) 93rd min: With one last throw of the dice, Soteldo slid through Antonio Romero (No. 19, Deportivo Lara) on the inside-right of the area. However, despite only having the goalkeeper to beat, instead of composing himself, he leant back and stretched somewhat when connecting with the ball; thus, his shot, with a fatalistic air of predictably, went wide of the near post.

These were the most exasperating opportunities, though some may wish to add to the list the 27th-minute header that Williams Velásquez (No. 2, Estudiantes de Caracas) awkwardly, back-to-goal, knocked over from another good Lucena free-kick.

Ultimately, though Venezuela will be grateful for the return of captain Herrera to bolster attacks whilst shoring things up defensively against Argentina on Friday, they face an uphill task before one even begins to worry about chances being finished off. Indeed, their opponents are comfortably the highest-scorers in the competition and may well expose Venezuela’s defensive record (one conceded – also the tournament’s best) as being a somewhat false reflection of the reality. Time shall tell, though it would be a disappointment to lose the likes of Soteldo, Herrera and Fariñez early, when a Final Phase spot had seemed so eminently attainable.

boliviaflag Bolivia

Somewhat remarkably, they now have four points and, if Argentina beat Venezuela, can afford a loss against Uruguay and still progress past Group B. They were second-best in this game and virtually all of their players who had impressed in their opening win against Peru did little of note here. Indeed, any lustre goalkeeper Rubén Cordano (No. 1, Blooming) may have gained following that match has by now well and truly worn off. He was not responsible for stopping any of Venezuela’s glaring misses and had Balza displayed more direction and anticipation, then he would have been culpable for at least the first of these. Furthermore, in the 64th minute following a cynical kick to halt Córdova’s charge just outside of his area, many Venezuelans were angered to see him only receive a yellow card.

The outfield stars from that opening win were little better, though Bruno Miranda (No. 11, Universidad de Chile, Chile) could well have scored twice. Firstly, in the 59th minute, 17-year-old Ramiro Vaca (No. 10, Quebracho) – who could be one-to-watch in the long run, having scored a free-kick against Argentina and having had another decent one parried here – dinked a short diagonal ball over to him on the left inside the area. From here, Miranda gained some space from a defender by getting the ball over to his right yet, though many were anticipating a goal, he instead struck a couple of yards wide of the near post. Things became rather end-to-end at this stage and just a few minutes later, a Bolivian ball was pumped clear and chased by Miranda; he did well to outpace a defender and then loop it over the outcoming Fariñez, though he couldn’t quite knock it in from the other side as a defender just about got the better of a ball that was bouncing perilously in the goalmouth.

Nevertheless, despite this rather poor display which perhaps should have ended with a scoreline similar to the one that Argentina inflicted upon them, Bolivia go into the final day as favourites to nab the third qualifying position.

Uruguay 2-0 Peru

CONMEBOL U-20 South American Youth Championship 2017, Group B, 25 January 2017 (YouTube)

Though it was by no means a vintage performance, Uruguay did what they needed to in order to spring up to 2nd in Group B, whilst simultaneously eliminating an uninspiring Peru side. With what was his nation’s fourth penalty in three games – and only the second to be successfully converted – Rodrigo Amaral gave them an early lead with his second goal of the tournament. Although Peru did threaten, Uruguay looked likelier to double their lead and did so in the 63rd minute when Nicolás Schiappacasse also notched his second competition goal with a fine left-footed strike from the inside-left of the area. Though shortly afterwards Peru’s Adrián Ugarriza hit the post and Uruguayan substitute Santiago Viera was quickly red-carded, La Celeste‘s youngsters held on for the three crucial points.

Talent Spotting

uruguayflag Uruguay

As against Argentina, Rodrigo Amaral (No. 10, Nacional, Uruguay) put his side ahead within the first ten minutes, this time from a confidently-executed penalty. Again, he was to be found running at defenders with Rooney-esque (circa. 2004) fearlessness and put in at least a couple of decent balls that fell into good positions, even if there was no-one there to meet them. He also had a couple of chances to shoot from open play, such as in the 18th minute when he brilliantly turned a player and then struck well from 25 yards, though it went a couple of yards wide. Later, just before half-time, he received a pass on the left inside the area but, owing to his awkward position, could only strike into the side-netting. Similar to the Argentina game, he had a quieter second half and so, whether for fitness or performance reasons, he was substituted off in the 70th minute.

The man who slid in Amaral for his half-time opportunity and who also won the 9th-minute penalty was Nicolás Schiappacasse (No. 9, Atlético Madrid). His second-half goal, for which he latched onto a left-sided pass from Matías Viña (No. 17, Nacional), was rather well-taken from inside of the area and was the sign of a natural marksman – even if the goalkeeper probably should have got closer to a strike at his near post.

Otherwise, there were a few other moments of note: in the 11th minute, José Rodríguez (No. 4, Danubio) strode forward and played it to the edge of the area to club team-mate Marcelo Saracchi (No. 6, Danubio); with his upper body, he guided it into his own path then flicked an effort with the outside of his left boot which the goalkeeper just about touched over his head and onto the top of the crossbar. Later in the 59th minute, Facundo Waller (No. 15, Plaza Colonia) did well to drive into the area on the inside-left before striking low to force a parry for a corner. Lastly, in the 72nd minute shortly after Nicolás De La Cruz (No. 11, Liverpool, Uruguay) had taken the place as well as the captain’s armband from Amaral, he displayed some nice footwork on the right to beat a few players and have a one-two returned to him; alas, his shot from inside the area was on the stretch and well over.

The 77th-minute straight red card of another substitute, Santiago Viera (No. 21, Liverpool, Uruguay), seven minutes after he had come on, may have made the final quarter-hour a tad tighter but, as his game-time so far has been restricted to two very brief appearances from the bench, Uruguay should be fine without him. Indeed, though they are not yet through to the Hexagonal stage, sitting 2nd in the table and with Bolivia as their final opponents, they should be feeling rather confident.

 peruflag Peru

Alas, the time has come to say goodbye to Peru, who have amassed just two points from four games. Though they were rather unlucky to have succumbed to last-minute equalisers in their games against Argentina and Venezuela, they struggled to really sparkle at any point as an attacking force and have especially paid the price for surprisingly getting turned over by Bolivia.

Here against Uruguay, they did get forward from time to time but were already two goals behind and heading out before they had their best chance, which came in the 69th minute. Just inside the area on the inside-left, striker Adrián Ugarriza (No. 19, Universitario) did rather well to control with his left and make some space from a defender, before quickly firing with his right; unfortunately, his shot hit the near post and went out wide.

Otherwise, perhaps the next best chance Peru had was all the way back in the 4th minute when Miguel Castro (No. 14, Juan Aurich) struck a good, left-footed effort from 30 yards which had to be parried low and then quickly cleared. In the 44th minute, Castro also played in a decent free-kick from the inside-right which looked promising for Fernando Pacheco (No. 16, Sporting Cristal), but his header went comfortably over.

Ultimately, throughout Peru’s tournament, there were always players who showed glimpses of ability that suggested that they could take the bull by the horns in future games and become impossible to ignore. However, this never really materialised. There are undeniably some useful creative players in this Peru team who may well receive regular call-ups to the senior side at some point in their professional careers, but on the evidence of the past eight days, one could not confidently assert which individuals these are likely to be.

To keep up-to-date with the latest from Ecuador 2017, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter. The next games will be Colombia vs Chile & Ecuador vs Paraguay, the final games 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