Tag Archives: Nicolás De La Cruz

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)

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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.

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(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 0-0 Italy (1-4 on penalties) (Third-Place Playoff, 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, 11 June 2017)

In their final match at the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Uruguay were unable to claim third place, succumbing to defeat on penalties by an Italian side that they had beaten long ago on their opening day of the group stage. 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 and fixtures)

Uruguay 0-0 Italy (1-4 on penalties)

2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Third-Place Playoff, 11 June 2017 (YouTube)

Italy nabbed third place from Uruguay as Fabián Coito’s men were defeated for the second consecutive game on penalties.

Giving some opportunities to at least a few other squad members, Coito nevertheless fielded a strong side. However, the first half was largely devoid of clear opportunities for either team, though Italy perhaps should have made the breakthrough in the 17th minute when a Giuseppe Panico effort from a cross was instinctively saved with the knee of Uruguay goalkeeper Santiago Mele.

Things perked up in the second half, with both sides enjoying far more attempts and, though the Italians had a goal ruled out for offside, Uruguay often seemed the likelier to score. Indeed, after an almost absent first half, Rodrigo Amaral in particular gradually made his presence known, having several attempts along the way.

Nevertheless, when the final whistle blew, there was still a stalemate and thus a shootout commenced. Italy managed to convert all four of theirs but Uruguay had the latter two of their three efforts saved and thus the bronze medals were awarded to the Europeans.

Talent Tracking

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Well, though yours truly may be in a minority of appreciating – in principle, at least – third-place playoffs, given the changes in personnel as well the tedium of the majority of the first half, one will try not to give undue weight to the occurrences within this game.

Some changes were made to the Uruguay line-up, most notably Rodrigo Amaral (No. 10, Nacional) being named from the start for the first time in the tournament. Remarkably he would go on to fulfil what was his first 90 minutes this year, having never once managed this feat in qualifying or at club level, where he has not played since last Septmber. Here, he started the match very lethargically, with observers around the world commenting that he could not possibly be fully fit. His two moments of note in the first half came towards the end when he aimed for goal from seemingly improbable positions – a corner as well as a free-kick near the corner flag – and saw both strikes blocked.

However, like his side, he seemed to wake up in the second half. He had his best chance of the game in the  54th minute when, from a central position just outside of the area, he played a one-two with Joaquín Ardaiz (No. 7, Danubio) before striking a left-footed effort which went just wide of the far post. Two minutes later he headed a corner not too far over the bar and then, another two minutes after this, he teed himself up from some 25 yards out, but smacked his effort well over. Generally, he looked a little more lively though certainly not at his best, yet his match was to end on a real downer when, once again, he could not convert during the penalty shootout, just as he also failed to do so against Portugal as well as two years ago in the Round of 16 match with Brazil.

Elsewhere, right-back José Luis Rodríguez (No. 4, Danubio) gave one last quality exhibition of his attacking abilities. In the 55th minute, he created one of his side’s better chances when, from his flank, he played a fine low ball which reached the sliding Ardaiz at the back post, whose connection forced the goalkeeper into a scrambling parry on the goal-line. Later in the 76th minute, a Rodríguez cross from the right was punched away – perhaps needlessly – by the Italian with the gloves. Eight minutes after this, he had the first of two chances of his own when he bypassed some opponents before cutting inside to shoot well wide from just outside the area. In stoppage-time, he fashioned a better opportunity for himself when, again cutting in from the right onto his left boot, he forced an eye-catching parry from the goalkeeper – had it gone just a few inches higher, it could well have bulged the top corner of the net.

Federico Valverde (No. 16, Real Madrid Castilla) – who was later awarded the Silver Ball award for being adjudged to be the second best player of the tournament – was involved in a few opportunities. In the first half, he only really had one shot – which went comfortably over – but, barely a minute into the second, he was set up by Mathías Olivera (No. 5, Club Atlético Atenas) from a low cross into the centre. However, despite being in a very inviting position, Valverde poorly scuffed well wide what could have been a side-footed finish. Nevertheless, some ten minutes later, it was he who swung in the corner that Amaral headed not too far over the bar. Then, in the 81st minute, Valverde had his best shot when he took the ball off a team-mate and struck first-time from some 25 or so yards out, with his effort swinging just wide of the far post.

Otherwise, there were a few other attacking moments worth mentioning. In just the third minute, Agustín Canobbio (No. 19, Fénix) was played into a slightly acute position on the right inside the area by Santiago Viera (No. 13, Liverpool, Uruguay), though his shot was poor, only troubling the side-netting. In the 40th minute, Viera himself had a chance from 25 yards out when he struck what was hitherto Uruguay’s closest opportunity; his shot had pace though was a little too near the goalkeeper, who nevertheless made a meal out of it. Later on, Nicolás De La Cruz (No. 11, Liverpool, Uruguay) – who was initially rested for the first time this tournament – came off the bench and was involved in a couple of attempts. The first of these came in the 77th minute when, from an inside-right position outside of the area, he took the inattentive goalkeeper by surprise by hitting an effort which went just wide of the target. Then, in the 87th minute, he did some good work, coming in central where he gave the ball to fellow substitute Juan Manuel Boselli (No. 14, Defensor Sporting) to have a shot which went high at the goalkeeper, who had no choice but to parry over.

Lastly, goalkeeper Santiago Mele (No. 1, Fénix) was tested several times in this game and was to bolster his reputation with some decent stops. He will have been frustrated not to have saved any of the penalties but perhaps the fact that he and his defence kept their fifth clean sheet in seven games will provide some solace.

Please stay tuned over the upcoming days for a summary of the performances of Uruguay’s leading talents. Otherwise, to keep up-to-date on the latest in South American football, please consider following @DarrenSpherical on Twitter.

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…

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(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

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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.

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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…

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(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

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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 1-0 Saudi Arabia (Round of 16, 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, 31 May 2017)

Owing to a fearsome penalty strike, Uruguay came through their Round of 16 clash with Saudi Arabia at the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup. Below are video highlights, a brief summary of the match and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-tracking…

uruguaysaudiarabia

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

Uruguay 1-0 Saudi Arabia

2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Round of 16, 31 May 2017 (YouTube)

It was not entirely comfortable, but Fabián Coito’s charges did just about enough to see off the threat posed by Saudi Arabia to book their place in the quarter-finals.

The South Americans saw the better of the early exchanges, with their phalanx of attackers combining well and causing concern – albeit, without actually troubling the opposition goalkeeper. However, as the first half wore on, the Middle Easterners were to enjoy more of the ball and notably provoked at least two scares. The first of these was a well-struck 40th-minute shot from Fahad Ayidh Al Rashidi, who had been found in some space on the left side within the area, which Santiago Mele blocked down low. The second was a 45th-minute effort from Ayman Al Khulaif outside the 18-yard rectangle which trickled across the goal and not too far wide of the post.

It briefly looked like an upset was not outside of the realms of possibility, though this perception was to change less than five minutes after the restart. Indeed, following a handball, a penalty was awarded and captain Nicolás De La Cruz emphatically made up for his failure to convert from 12 yards against Italy by blasting an unstoppable strike into the back of the net. From then onwards, the game was hardly blessed by goalmouth opportunities yet, though the solitary-goal margin was always a cause for slight concern, Uruguay nevertheless had the better of proceedings and ultimately saw out the win to progress.

Talent Tracking

uruguayflag Uruguay

Though he has struggled to find the kind of form that led to him being widely acclaimed as the most important player in CONMEBOL qualifying, Nicolás De La Cruz (No. 11, Liverpool, Uruguay) must have been buoyed by this performance. Indeed, there was a welcome case of déjà vu for the captain as, mirroring events at Ecuador 2017 earlier this year, having missed an opening-day penalty he was to redeem himself and bolster his confidence with his second spot-kick attempt of the tournament, by striking this one home. He also won this opportunity himself, forcing a handball in the area and, overall, he had a decent outing, having an early free-kick comfortably saved as well as occasionally charging forward and looking to play in team-mates.

One minor piece of support he provided was a 25th-minute pass to the inside-left to Nicolás Schiappacasse (No. 9, Atlético Madrid Under-19s), who put the ball on his right and struck well, seeing his pacy low effort go just wide of the near post. As has often been the case, he again looked a threat though was unable to add to his one tournament goal. Though, through no fault of his own, some feel he should have done so when his stoppage-time strike from a fine José Luis Rodríguez (No. 4, Danubio) – who again had a good game – through-ball found the back of the net, yet was ruled out for a disputed offside.

Schiappacasse was one of several Uruguayans causing recurring problems for Saudi Arabia in the early stages. During this period, from a cross he set up Agustín Canobbio (No. 19, Fénix) yet, despite being in a promising position, the latter could not make proper contact with his header, which went well wide. Canobbio later put in a ball for Joaquín Ardaiz (No. 7, Danubio) that caused a mild fright at the back and also had a shot from range that went comfortably wide but, overall, Uruguayan attempts that actually hit the target were few and far between. Though they are rightly considered one of the tournament favourites, with just four goals in as many games, they will surely need to improve in the attacking department if they are to seriously challenge for the trophy.

Otherwise, slightly further back Federico Valverde (No. 16, Real Madrid Castilla) again impressed with his smart midfield play and occasional forays, even managing a curious swerved strike from over 35 yards that the goalkeeper stopped centrally. He and Rodrigo Bentancur (No. 20, Boca Juniors, transferring to Juventus in July) did a good job helping to protect and support the back four, though the latter will unfortunately miss the crucial next game, as he picked up his second yellow card of the tournament.

Lastly, though in the second half they did not have a great deal to do, the defence as well as goalkeeper Santiago Mele (No. 1, Fénix) also all had another solid game. Collectively, Uruguay have now gone a remarkable 360 minutes without conceding a goal.

That said, they are likely to be tested a lot more in their quarter-final encounter on Sunday 4 June 2017 against Portugal, who yesterday impressively defeated hosts South Korea 3-1 to progress.

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

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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

 

Italy 0-1 Uruguay (Group D, 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, 21 May 2017)

Uruguay’s opening Group D game of the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup saw them eventually overcome Italy, courtesy of some set-piece magic. Below are video highlights, a brief summary of the match and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-tracking…

groupd1

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

 

Italy 0-1 Uruguay

2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Group D, 21 May 2017 (YouTube)

CONMEBOL champions Uruguay must have been wondering if their chance to win had slipped from their grasp but ultimately they left the stadium in Suwon happy, courtesy of a fantastic free-kick strike. Though their European opponents, who finished runners-up in qualifying, had at least one promising first-half chance – an Andrea Favilli header in a central position, which he couldn’t quite direct on target – it was the South Americans who had the better of the opening proceedings. Indeed, Fabián Coito’s men looked sharper on the ball and had at least a few good efforts, though really should have taken the lead at the end of the half. However, captain Nicolás De La Cruz failed to convert his 44th-minute spot-kick, with the impressive Italian goalkeeper Andrea Zaccagno comfortably stopping his rather poor effort.

After the break, Italy began to enjoy more possession and caused a few scares amongst the Uruguayan back-line. The La Celeste youths appeared to be less of an attacking force, playing with less fluidity and when Nicolás Schiappacasse squandered a surprise 72nd-minute opportunity, it looked like as if it may not be their day. However, four minutes later, with what must have been his first meaningful touch of the game despite having been on the pitch for 20 minutes, Rodrigo Amaral struck. From just outside of the right corner of the area, Uruguay’s top-scorer in qualifying hit an unstoppable, pinpoint belter with his left into the opposite corner. He and his team-mates subsequently regained some confidence and saw out the remainder of the encounter to record an opening-day win that confirms that they are rather serious title contenders indeed.

Talent Tracking

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Possibly due to a minor knock, though perhaps more likely owing to the kind of on-going fitness concerns which led to him never once completing 90 minutes during qualifying, forward Rodrigo Amaral (No. 10, Nacional) started on the bench. Emerging onto the pitch in the 56th minute, it is difficult to recall one single touch from him in his first 20 minutes after joining the fray. However, he more than made up for this with his phenomenal 76th-minute winner, a left-footed free-kick from the right angle just outside the area, which was hit with such pinpoint accuracy into the opposite corner that goalkeeper Andrea Zaccagno didn’t even move. What a way for this prodigy to assert himself at the tournament which left him heartbroken two years ago. Subsequently, he was more involved in proceedings, yet at the final whistle appeared to be struggling with some kind of injury. No update has yet been released, but it should go without saying that his compatriots could undoubtedly do with Amaral at their disposal, even if it is to be only in cameo form.

Otherwise, though he really should have done better with his penalty, which was struck far too close to the goalkeeper, Nicolás De La Cruz (No. 11, Liverpool, Uruguay) nevertheless showed more than enough to suggest that he’s going to continue to be a crucial asset to the cause. Indeed, the attacking-midfielder, who was often out on the right, displayed a decent understanding with right-back José Luis Rodríguez (No. 4, Danubio), who himself had a good game, putting in at least a couple of notable crosses. De La Cruz largely looked a class act on the ball, seeking to make things happen as well as having a few chances of his own. Indeed, in the sixth minute, he bent a free-kick little more than a couple of yards the wrong side of the woodwork and in the 21st minute he managed to get a slight touch on a loose ball, but his close-range effort from an angle at the back post was instinctively blocked by Zaccagno. Also, five minutes after the restart, Carlos Sánchez’s younger brother drove forward with intent but his low shot from the edge of the area caused little alarm as it was misdirected wide. Here, he was seeking to make up for missing the 44th-minute penalty, something he was also guilty of in his side’s opening game at the CONMEBOL qualifiers in January. He has since spoke of the pain he felt following that misguided Panenka, yet as he showed immense character to go on to lead his country to ultimately triumph in that tournament, one wouldn’t bet against a similar outcome on this grander scale.

Earlier on in the 16th minute, De La Cruz also did well running infield from the right flank to pass to striker Nicolás Schiappacasse (No. 9, Atlético Madrid Under-19s), who hit a fine first-time strike with his right, which forced a spectacular one-handed save from Zaccagno. Much later on in the 72nd minute, Schiappacasse really should have done better when Rodríguez’s long ball from his own half was dummied by De La Cruz, falling to the Atleti youngster. However, from just inside the area, one-on-one with Zaccagno, he placed his shot just wide of the far post. Otherwise, Schiappacasse showed glimpses of what he can do, as did his initial strike-partner Joaquín Ardaiz (No. 7, Danubio). Indeed, both men were involved in this penalty decision as Rodríguez’s 41st-minute cross narrowly evaded Schiappacasse but Ardaiz, who nevertheless managed an effort on target from a golden position, was adjudged – belatedly, after the referee was aided via the new video technology – to have been held back by a defender.

Finally, the defence – centre-backs, in particular – deserve credit for limiting the clear opportunities conceded to Italy and one other man in particular who caught the eye of many was Federico Valverde (No. 16, Real Madrid Castilla). The midfielder appeared to be playing a more deep-lying role and was often seen caressing the ball, taking pressure off the back-line behind him as well as linking up well with those ahead. He also took a couple of decent set-pieces, the most notable being a 28th-minute free-kick which sneaked low past the wall before being parried wide for a corner.

Uruguay have several other players capable of key contributions, not least midfielder Facundo Waller (No. 15, Plaza Colonia) who was unfortunately taken off with an injury after less than half an hour. It’s currently up in the air as to whether he will take further part in this tournament but, either way, given the likelihood of this side progressing to the latter stages, there should be plenty of future opportunities for other individuals not mentioned here to shine.

In the other Group D game played today, South Africa were defeated 2-1 by Japan, who will be Uruguay’s next opponents on Wednesday 24 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