Tag Archives: Ronald Hernández

Paraguay 0-1 Venezuela – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (10 October 2017)

The eighteenth and final jornada of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign saw Rafael Dudamel’s post-Under-20 World Cup rebirth capped off with a memorable, disciplined victory. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a full match report and some thoughts…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Tuesday 10 October 2017 – Estadio Defensores del Chaco, Asunción

Paraguay 0-1 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Paraguay 0-1 Venezuela, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 10 October 2017 (YouTube)

Herrera Heralds New Era at the Death

Rafael Dudamel’s youthful Venezuela concluded their late surge of good form by gaining their first away victory in their otherwise long-dead campaign, destroying Paraguayan hopes of progression in the process.

As revealed in post-match comments, La Vinotinto resisted some late-night intimidation and temptation – the latter arriving in the form of some rather talented young ladies sent to the team hotel – in order to methodically inflict some late, heartbreaking sabotage, courtesy of an 84th-minute Yangel Herrera winner.

The game was somewhat reminiscent of recent Venezuela encounters – particularly the away draw against Argentina – as the onus was on the opponents – for whom a win would, ultimately, have kept their qualification hopes very much alive – to break them down.

Thus, roared on by the ascension-seeking Asunción faithful, they took the game to Dudamel’s men, looking to gain advantages down the flanks in order to whip in balls as well as occasionally try their luck from dead-ball scenarios. Many of these crosses were dangerous and elicited gasps from both sets of fans but, truth be told, the vast majority were also very well dealt with by those in the centre, notably Wilker Ángel. Indeed, throughout most of the encounter, goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez, whilst having to remain alert and viligant, was perhaps only ever once forced into an acrobatic save – and that did not occur until just before the end of regulation time.

The most troubling shot in the first half that he stopped was a mild worm-murderer from Rodrigo Rojas; it demanded merely a routine low save, though as with some other cross-area balls, goalkeeper did have to contend with the fear that a foot or other body part could so easily redirect it. Shortly afterwards in the 26th minute though, he did have to face his side’s biggest fright of the half as Cecilio Domínguez bypassed debutant right-back Ronald Hernández, broke into space inside the area on the left and cut back into the goalmouth. It looked as if someone in the centre was inevitably going to knock it home, yet somehow, after at least one attacker, defender and Faríñez all made tentative touches, the ball was cleared. The relieved rearguard thus breathed a collective sigh of relief – that is, until an Óscar Romero cross caused more concern, though ultimately this whistled by the cluster of bodies in the box and out to the other side.

Romero often put in testing balls, such as in the 38th minute when a lofted free-kick met Antonio Sanabria just inside the area, but the Real Betis forward’s header went a couple of yards over the bar. Four minutes later, Romero crossed in again – this time at the second attempt from the left – and Gustavo Gómez beat Ángel to the header, yet though he was in a promising goalmouth position, his effort comfortably evaded the target.

Throughout all of this, Venezuela’s forward forays were limited, though did gradually increase without seriously threatening the Paraguayan goal. Indeed, the only real attempt was Salomón Rondón’s soft 19th-minute header from a floated Tomás Rincón free-kick, which goalkeeper Antony Silva easily caught. However, Dudamel’s men were biding their time, hoping they could repeatedly thwart their hosts to the point where morale would slip and they would be on hand to grow in confidence and punish.

If home belief was dipping it did not tell immediately after the restart when, 30 seconds into the second half, a Paraguayan roamed down the right and played in a near-perfect cross. This found Domínguez in the centre with just one defender near him, yet his touch was off and the ball missed the target. Less than a minute later, the Paraguayans came storming forward again and their momentum was only halted by Yangel Herrera taking one for the team, strategically fouling and picking up a yellow card.

Venezuela composed themselves for a bit, though in the 50th minute had to deal with another series of scares. This involved Romero winning space again inside the area and crosses going across and back, but alas, without a killer connection.

Paraguay continued to see more of the ball, though with each passing minute, Venezuela became more bold. Suddenly, in the 61st minute, Jhon Murillo fashioned what was hitherto the best actual shot of the match, as from just outside the area on the centre-right, he blasted an effort that stung Silva’s palms and went out for a corner. Four minutes later, Murillo came even closer when substitute Yeferson Soteldo did well to hold off opponents and play him through on the inside-left. One-on-one with the goalkeeper, he had to quickly get a shot away, but the result was too close to Silva, who blocked low.

The game was more open and, with just one unanswered goal likely to suffice, Paraguay had certainly not given up hope. In the 68th minute, they caused further frights as a cross in from the right was headed goalwards; another player attempted to divert the ball with a high foot but Fariñez was there to dive-and-punch away. Three minutes later, after the ball was again played in and around the area, Óscar Romero had evidently had enough of the final-third frustrations and struck a low left-footed effort from almost 25 yards. Though it missed the target by at least a yard, it was hit with intent and was the closest Paraguayan effort of the half thus far. In so many ways, this said a lot.

Indeed, subsequently, Venezuelan forays became very commonplace and in the 77th minute, they came agonisingly close to the opening goal. Here, ultra-fresh substitute Rómulo Otero hit a slightly unexpected low drive from just outside the angle of the area on the right. Goalkeeper Silva could only parry this into the path of Rondón, yet with the goal gaping, his instinctive lunge instead somehow diverted the ball over the bar. Whether or not his footing and/or anticipation was at fault, it did look much easier to score.

A momentary let-off for the hosts. Five minutes later, they survived another one, as jinking Yeferson Soteldo showed what he can do at senior level, cutting into the area onto his right foot and hitting a strike that appeared to be net-bound, but instead clipped the top of the crossbar.

However, with their own forays yielding repetitive, underwhelming results, Paraguay’s fortune at their own end could not last and barely a minute after Soteldo’s effort, Venezuela finally made the heartbreaking breakthrough. After a home attack was snuffed out, the impressive Otero brilliantly bypassed an opponent on the right flank and then gained space from another inside the area, before pulling the ball back from the byline. It rolled for what felt like a potential golden age towards the middle of the area, some 16 yards out, where the steely-eyed 19-year-old Herrera met it in space and struck home. He immediately reeled away to celebrate with his fellow Under-20 graduate Soteldo as La Vinotinto‘s future gleefully hammered virtually the final nail into La Albirroja‘s 2018 qualification dreams.

Though most inside the stadium were deflated, their representatives did nevertheless attempt some hurried late attacks. One of the more notable attempts involved Fariñez parrying a strike and then, from the resulting cross, seemingly tipping Gómez’s powerful header onto the crossbar.

A sensational moment and some further heat exploded into the late proceedings as in the 89th minute Wilker Ángel and Gustavo Gómez let tensions get the better of each other and their mutual pushes resulted in double red cards.

Finally, in the last of what somehow turned out to be eight hair-pulling minutes of stoppage-time, Fariñez was called upon again to see the win out. At this point, an unexpected ball hoisted forward caught out the Venezuelan back-line and Rojas charged past them all, yet when confronted by the 5 feet 9 inch frame of Fariñez, his attempted chip was weak and the Caracas FC goalkeeper gratefully gathered the ball with barely a stretch.

When the final whistle blew, Paraguayan dejection, following a game which must have felt eminently winnable, was contrasted with elation from a Venezuela supposedly playing for nothing. However, this, their first away win in the entire campaign – only their second victory in the 18-game marathon and which extends their competitive unbeaten run to four matches – featured five players from the squad of Under-20 World Cup finalists. A rebuilding project is very much under way and at this moment, one can not rule out at least a dozen of the players whose exploits thrilled a nation several months ago receiving call-ups at some point during the Qatar 2022 qualification cycle.

Dudamel – who has just this week signed an extension deal to take him to 2022 – no doubt knows that he will certainly have difficulty in maintaining any kind of momentum from now until the next competitive games are played at June 2019’s faraway Copa América. Indeed, in preparation, he has requested “at least five friendly games” for next year, a relatively meagre number but one which was no doubt informed by the FVF’s cash-strapped situation as well as a mere handful having also been played in the previous World Cup year of 2014.

Still, against a backdrop of domestic turmoil, with such a promising pool of young talent already reaping dividends in tamden with a frequently shifting cast of – also relatively young – elders, really, what’s to stop this group from seriously competing for a spot at Qatar 2022? After all, upon final cold-light-of-day reading of the Russia 2018 CONMEBOL qualification table – their worst performance since the road to France ’98 – everyone will be determined to ensure that things can only get better.

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Final Standings for the CONMEBOL Qualification Campaign for the 2018 FIFA World Cup (Wikipedia)

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-4-2): W. Fariñez; R. Hernández, J. Chancellor, W. Ángel, R. Quijada; S. Córdova (Y. Soteldo, 57′), Y. Herrera, T. Rincón, J. Murillo (J. Moreno, 81′); S. Rondón & J. Martínez (R. Otero, 77′).

Paraguay (4-4-2): A. Silva; J. Moreira, G. Gómez, P. Da Silva (M. Samudio, 62′), J. Alonso; Ó. Romero, R. Rojas, R. Piris, C. Domínguez (A. Bareiro, 56′); A. Sanabria (O. Cardozo, 56′) & Á. Romero.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s CONMEBOL Qualifying Campaign for FIFA World Cup 2018 – October 2017 Preview

Jornadas 17 and 18 of the CONMEBOL World Cup 2018 Qualifying Campaign are finally here as the cycle reaches its climax. Whether in the short- or long-term, most nations are competing for something and here @DarrenSpherical previews La Vinotinto‘s renovating squad ahead of their clashes with Uruguay and Paraguay.

CONMEBOL Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 5 October 2017 – Estadio Polideportivo de Pueblo Nuevo, San Cristóbal, Táchira.

Venezuela vs Uruguay

Tuesday 10 October 2017 – Estadio Defensores del Chaco, Asunción.

Paraguay vs Venezuela

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Wuilker Fariñez (Caracas FC) and Samuel Sosa (Deportivo Táchira) on opposing teams in the recent Clásico match (Photo: Jean Contreras and Balonazos)

Nine Under-20 World Cup Finalists Selected to Aid Rebuilding Process

Well, it’s been a bloody disaster, hasn’t it? The final two games of World Cup qualifying are upon us and Venezuela are almost certainly going to finish bottom, having never at any point seriously been in contention.

That’s certainly what a cursory glance of the CONMEBOL standings conveys, though it’s not necessarily how it currently feels for the average follower of La Vinotinto. Indeed, long resigned to their nation’s fate within this cycle which began two years ago with Noel Sanvicente at the helm, the hinchas have had little option throughout but to pine for a transformation of fortunes. El Chita was ultimately unable to perform such a resuscitation, being relieved of his duties after six qualifiers and – despite an impressive showing at 2016’s Copa América Centenario – his replacement Rafael Dudamel has struggled to revitalise the side as they dawdle along their self-made CONMEBOL cul-de-sac. That is, perhaps – and it is a very tentative supposition, more evidence definitely being required – until last month’s pair of draws with Colombia and then, historically, away to Argentina. Tellingly, this was the first time in the entire campaign that they had managed to avoid defeat during a CONMEBOL double-header.

Was this the long-awaited turning point? Time may, in fact, be unable to tell. This being because after next Tuesday, the subsequent competitive games will not occur until June 2019’s Copa América. To plug the considerable gap, Dudamel has stated that he has requested “at least five friendlies for 2018“). Plenty of time for further alterations to be made both on and off the pitch, then. Still, though it could very well have come at a better moment, some modicum of momentum appears to be with the manager, particularly as September’s results were achieved with some fresh faces, drawn from an ever-more-youthful pool of players.

Indeed, many experienced and valuable contributors to La Vinotinto‘s 21st century footballing rise have either retired or otherwise departed the picture since Sanvicente’s Venezuela commenced the Russia 2018 preliminaries in October 2015. The legendary Juan Arango handed in his notice the month prior but the list of those who have participated in competitive action yet are no longer on the scene includes the following: Alejandro Guerra, Luis Manuel Seijas, Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, César González, Grenddy Perozo, Gabriel Cichero, Franklin Lucena, Nicolás “Miku” Fedor, Fernando Amorebieta and Ronald Vargas.

It has been noted by more than a few on social media that many of these players were amongst the 15 who signed the notorious letter protesting against the national football federation (FVF) a mere 22 months ago. It is a curious coincidence and in a country in which there exists a general fear of repercussions if authorities are challenged via the media and where the football press tend not to delve particularly deep, such conspiracies will always be nurtured. That said, they do appear to be, for the most part, just that: most of these players are on the wrong side of 30, so even if some of their departures seemed a tad premature, they were not entirely unjustifiable and/or unexpected.

This reasoning, however, is a tad harder to apply to the continued snubbing of the Málaga pair of right-back Roberto Rosales and midfielder Juanpi, both currently regularly featuring in La Liga. The former is one of his nation’s most high-profile players and a mere 28 years of age; the latter is just 23 and had been widely-tipped as a star for the Qatar 2022 cycle. Rosales was one of the infamous 15, whereas Juanpi expressed his sympathy with their grievances. The former has often been very vocal on social media with his opposition to the country’s government; the latter has as well, also appearing at local protests. This is fertile material for full-blown paranoia.

Really though, who knows? No explanation, whether it be be grounded in football, politics or human relations, is without contradictions when applied to other players’ inclusions/exclusions. Thus, with 20 months of uncompetitive international football on the horizon, perhaps it is best to just view this puzzling state of affairs as merely part of the early phase of what is going to be a very drawn-out and experimental reshuffling period. Things can so easily change, as calling up a squad of some 31 players should testify.

The only signatories remaining in this selection are captain Tomás Rincón (Torino, on loan from Juventus, 29 years old), Premier League striker Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion, 28) and MLS goal-machine Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, 24). They have been joined by no less than nine players from Dudamel’s hallowed Under-20 squad which reached the World Cup final in June; it is hoped that as many as possible can be gradually weaved into the senior starting XI. Of these, goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez (Caracas FC) – who has recently signed a deal with Colombian side Millonarios – has already established himself as the country’s No. 1 choice and central midfielder Yangel Herrera (New York City FC, on loan from Manchester City) as well as right-sided attacker Sergio Córdova (Augsburg) also looked at home in their starts last month.

Although in Wednesday’s press conference Dudamel did not reveal any of his line-up plans, one would expect to see at least two or three of the other Under-20 starlets receive a run-out. Perhaps, with Herrera himself actually being suspended for Thursday’s Uruguay game along with the more experienced Arquímedes Figuera (Universitario), the door may be ajar for Ronaldo Lucena (Atlético Nacional) – Herrera’s midfield partner at youth level who is also the brother of the veteran Franklin, sharing with him some impressive dead-ball capabilities. Further back, though collectively Venezuela defended admirably last month, the two spots on the flanks are still causes for concern and this could open the door to “Los Hernández” (no relation). Indeed, over on the left, Rolf Feltscher – currently without a club after a trial with Birmingham City broke down following Harry Redknapp’s sacking – will also be suspended against Uruguay, so José Hernández (Caracas FC) could be in with a shout. Without Rosales, the right side is seemingly up for grabs with Dudamel appearing to have lost some faith in his initial replacement, Alexander González, who has not even been called up this time around. This month’s likely starter, 23-year-old Víctor García (Vitória Guimarães) looked markedly off the pace against Argentina so if Dudamel wants to try someone fresh, then he knows a lot about what Ronald Hernández (Stabæk) can do. At Under-20 level, he was one of his side’s most impressive performers, shining during both the qualifying tournament as well as the World Cup, rarely giving opponents an inch on his flank and showing a propensity to roam forward. It is tempting to perceive shades of Rosales in his play.

Otherwise, plenty will be enthusiastic to see if jinking dribbler Yeferson Soteldo (Huachipato) can light up the park at any point, whether in San Cristóbal or Asunción. Receiving his first call-up, Samuel Sosa (Deportivo Táchira), the 17-year-old prodigy who has already won a place in the hearts of many with his U20 World Cup semi-final free-kick against Uruguay, is another attacking talent well worth getting excited about.

They, as well as forward Ronaldo Chacón (Caracas FC), may struggle for minutes in the upcoming week, but it feels as if most of this group are on course to receive further call-ups. Remarkable as this inclusion of nine players is, the fact is that over a dozen of the Under-20 heroes can consider themselves in contention for future senior engagements. Indeed, had Adalberto Peñaranda recovered from injury a little sooner than this past weekend – in which he shared the field at Málaga with Rosales and Juanpi – then he would definitely have been included. Furthermore, not one of the three centre-backs who impressed in the U-20 qualifying and/or World Cup – Williams Velásquez, Nahuel Ferraresi and Josua Mejías – have yet received senior call-ups, but given their integral roles, one can not help but feel that their names will never be far from Dudamel’s thoughts in the upcoming year or two. Well, that is, of course, if the manager himself isn’t tempted to flee the cash-strapped FVF…

With all this emphasis on the next generation stars being integrated into a rejuvenated side with a few longstanding and established servants of the cause, it can be easy to forget about those who fall somewhere in between. Several of these individuals, in their early-to-mid-twenties, have been afforded more opportunities of late under Dudamel and the one who seems to have done himself the most favours is Jhon Murillo (Kasımpaşa S.K., Turkey, on loan from Benfica, Portugal). Not only has the 21-year-old driving attacker displayed greater tactical nous but he also scored a well-taken breakaway goal against Argentina and is sure to have earned himself at least one – though probably two – starts in the upcoming week. One other player from this “inbetweener” group worth keeping in mind is attacking-midfielder Yohandry Orozco (Zulia FC), who has not played for the national team in almost three years. Now 26, he was hyped by many after the 2011 Sudamericano Sub-20 tournament as the next big thing, consequently earning himself an ill-fated move to Wolfsburg. Aside from a spell in the American second-tier (NASL), he has spent most of the past four years in Venezuela, where his form this season with Zulia – he leads the league in assists for 2017 – has earned him a recall. It is not known whether he will make it onto the pitch but his presence will bring a smile to many as well as remind all that success at Under-20 level will not guarantee a prosperous senior career – at least, not immediately.

Dudamel has a daunting, though exciting, job on his hands. With two games coming up against qualification-chasing opponents, it is likely that he will set his side up defensively, hoping to cut out balls in the middle of the park, crowd out opponents and counter-attack. This is how almost all of the best competitive results under his reign have been achieved. Given the context, two further draws – which would make it five out of their last six qualifying games – would certainly be commendable, though if they can nab a win, that would really give the faithful reason to believe in the long-term future. It would, after all, be merely their second victory of the entire 18-game campaign.

Both matches could go every conceivable way, though Venezuelans should be inspired by the memory of the Dudamel-led 1-0 win against Uruguay at last year’s Copa América Centenario and take heart from Paraguay having an even worse goalscoring record than their burgundy representatives (17, to La Vinotinto‘s 18).

Whatever happens, for the neutral at least, these final two rounds of games promise to be utterly enthralling. Some dreams are set to be fulfilled and others dashed; Venezuela may have long been eliminated, but they have certainly got a role to play. As they seek to rebuild, there will also be plenty of room for sabotage.

Venezuela Squad

venteam2017oct

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

José Contreras (Deportivo Táchira), Wuilker Fariñez (Caracas FC) & Carlos Olses (Deportivo La Guaira).

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Terek Grozny, Russia), Pablo Camacho (Deportivo Táchira), Jhon Chancellor (Delfín, Ecuador), Rolf Feltscher (Free agent), Víctor García (Vitória Guimarães, Portugal), José Hernández (Caracas FC), Ronald Hernández (Stabæk, Norway), Rubert Quijada (Al Gharafa, Qatar, on loan from Caracas FC), José Manuel “Sema” Velázquez (Veracruz, Mexico) & Mikel Villanueva (Cádiz, on loan from Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Juan Colina (Carabobo FC), Sergio Córdova (Augsburg, Germany), Arquímedes Figuera (Universitario, Peru), Yangel Herrera (New York City FC, USA, on loan from Manchester City, England), Ronaldo Lucena (Atlético Nacional, Colombia) Junior Moreno (Zulia FC), Jhon Murillo (Kasımpaşa S.K., Turkey, on loan from Benfica, Portugal), Yohandry Orozco (Zulia FC), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Tomás Rincón (Torino, on loan from Juventus, Italy), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA, on loan from Zulia FC), Samuel Sosa (Deportivo Táchira) & Yeferson Soteldo (Huachipato, Chile).

Forwards

Anthony Blondell (Monagas S.C.), Ronaldo Chacón (Caracas FC), Edder Farías (Once Caldas, Colombia), Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA) & Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion, England).

Please note: Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA, on loan from Zulia FC) was initially called up to the 31-man squad but has since been ruled out with injury.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

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

Following a tournament overview of Venezuela’s sensational performance at the FIFA 2017 Under-20 World Cup, below are some summaries of most of the squad members. Those seeking further information on the majority of these individuals may wish to also take a look at their respective exploits in qualification.

 Venezuela celebrating reaching the U-20 World Cup Final (@VinotintoSub20)

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Venezuela

Tournament Overview

Coming into the tournament off the back of an impressive qualifying campaign, Rafael Dudamel’s trailblazers instantly put paid to fears that they would be too lightweight on the global stage, rapidly transforming from dark horses to genuine contenders before ultimately succumbing at the final hurdle.

They kicked of the competition’s opening game with an emphatic statement, overcoming a shaky first half to defeat – an admittedly sub-par – Germany 2-0. They followed this up with an emphatic 7-0 win against Pacific Islanders Vanuatu, who were billed by some as “no mugs”, on the basis of their narrow 3-2 defeat against Mexico, a scoreline that was later replicated against Germany. La Mini-Vinotinto, however, certainly made them look it, in the process booking their place in the next round. Subsequently, following a 1-0 win over Mexico, they confirmed themselves as winners of Group B, achieving in only their second Under-20 World Cup what regional heavyweights Brazil never have: a “perfect” record of three straight wins with no goals conceded. They could even boast the tournament’s topscorer at this stage, with the hitherto unstoppable Sergio Córdova having bagged four goals.

As one would expect, they were tested more in the knock-out stage, with Round of 16 opponents Japan rattling Venezuela’s crossbar from a free-kick as well as putting them on the back foot more than any of their previous opponents managed. However, the South Americans later re-asserted themselves and, though it took an additional 30 minutes to do so, eventually emerged victorious thanks to a towering Yangel Herrera header.

Next up in the Quarter-finals were the USA. However, though they agonisingly missed a golden opportunity in stoppage-time, the CONCACAF representatives largely turned in a less than imperial performance. That said, despite Venezuela greatly dominating the play and opportunities, it looked as if their profligacy in front of goal could cost them. Thus, extra-time was again needed and, to their relief and elation, Adalberto Peñaranda broke the deadlock in the 97th minute, with Nahuel Ferraresi adding a second. The States caused a late scare by pulling one back to become the first side to score in the tournament against Venezuela, but Dudamel’s darlings hung on.

They progressed to an all-South American Semi-final with Uruguay who, following a disputed penalty decision at the beginning of the second half, became the first side to take the lead against Venezuela. Subsequently, things did not look too promising for the burgundy boys. However, in the first minute of stoppage-time, 17-year-old Samuel Sosa came to the rescue, surprising almost everyone with a sensational free-kick into the top corner that will live long in the memory. Ultimately, his side were to edge Fabián Coito’s men out of the tournament, with two fine Wuilker Faríñez saves in the penalty shootout advancing them through to ascend to the most astounding, sublime, vertigo-inducing heights yet. Such was the fervour and focus on the nation that, post-game, coach Dudamel felt emboldened to take the opportunity to call upon the under-fire President Nicolás Maduro to “put down the weapons” and end the seemingly neverending armed conflicts that are ravaging the homeland.

Back to the football, having taken at least 120 minutes to achieve the admirable feat of seeing off the regional champions from the AFC, CONCACAF and CONMEBOL, Venezuela reached the Final to meet a European side who also had to pinch themselves upon arrival. In the opening thirty minutes of their opening Group A game against Argentina, England looked as if they were going to receive a comprehensive going-over, yet emerged 3-0 winners. They were to grow in confidence throughout the tournament, delivering some impressive results on their journey to become the first English side at any level to reach a Final since…well, honestly, who can recall the precise year? Against Venezuela on Sunday 11 June 2017, they often looked formidable and deservedly took a first-half lead, courtesy of Dominic Calvert-Lewin. However, Dudamel’s charges saw more of the ball after the break and won a penalty in the 74th minute, yet, in a moment that defied the trajectory of Venezuela’s entire campaign, Peñaranda saw his spot-kick saved. Thus, when the final whistle later blew, his nation had to settle for runners-up medals.

Though it is a struggle not to contemplate “What could have been?” – and that many will is, of course, partly a testament to how readily they were accepted as viable contenders – it should go without saying what a phenomenal achievement this second-place finish represents. Plaudits of course go to Rafael Dudamel and particularly the way in which he organised his well-drilled side who rarely looked overrun, conceding just three goals in their seven games – even tighter than the record of seven goals let in during nine qualification matches. Further upfield, though the goals were more infrequent during the knock-out phase where set-pieces came to the fore, they did nevertheless finish the tournament as topscorers with 14. Certainly, the Vanuatu game greatly bolstered this tally but, as they were not really reliant upon a conventional striker, they demonstrated that there is a considerable amount of attacking talent to be located throughout their ranks.

With such a promising batch of players, expectations for La Vinotinto‘s seniors in the upcoming decade have suddenly escalated. Given that they currently sit bottom and are already out of the running of CONMEBOL qualifying with just six points from a possible 42, when they embark on the road to Qatar 2022, up really is the only way they can go. That Dudamel is also their coach, with his 14-month reign yielding results little better than those of his predecessor Noel Sanvicente, should cause a mixture of both caution as well as optimism amongst the level-headed. Indeed, caution because there are already plenty of talented individuals in the senior set-up, yet whether due to the volatile situation in the country, internal politics within the squad as well as the footballing authorities and/or some questionable tactical/selection choices, they have been underperforming. However, no doubt currently overriding these misgivings are the visions of imminent prosperity which Dudamel seems best-placed to oversee. Indeed, for all the individual talents within this Under-20 squad, their collective qualities were paramount and the boss, an ex-international goalkeeper, will want to integrate as many players from this crop as he can in order to perpetuate and fine-tune his footballing creed. Who knows, perhaps the disparity in results at the two levels can partly be understood as a case of these wide-eyed and eager youngsters simply being more receptive to his ideas.

Who knows, indeed. Who knows just how many of these heroes will go on to enjoy careers that at least equal those of their peers at club level, let alone at international? If lucky, history suggests maybe 3-5. Thus, as plenty is still very much up in the air regarding their fates, what follows is a summary of the majority of the squad members who made it onto the pitch during this record-breaking, inspirational South Korean campaign.

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(Group B table and knock-out stage results courtesy of Wikipedia; to read about and view highlights of each game, click here and scroll down)

Talents

Yangel Herrera (Midfielder, No. 8, New York City FC, on loan from Manchester City)

Captain Fantastic, this athletic, assured midfielder continued where he left off at the qualifiers, providing leadership, one solid half of the two-man protective shield in front of the back four as well as some significant contributions to attacks. Indeed, the ex-Atlético Venezuela man played every single minute of the tournament and rarely looked flustered, instead regularly displaying morale-lifting composure and intent that helped both define and enhance his team’s play. Occasionally looking to cut open defences from deep, he demonstrated his impressive range of passes as well as often sought to get his head on the end of set-pieces – most unforgettably doing so in extra-time against Japan, when he nodded home the winning goal. Thus, though this man who has already turned some heads in his brief MLS career is primarily fielded for his defensive play, he is rather nimble on the ball and enjoys a forward foray or two. As with three other members of this squad, he has already been capped at senior level and, right now, his long-term international prospects are quite possibly the brightest. A consistent starting place as Tomás Rincón’s more attack-minded side-kick seemingly beckons for the man awarded the Bronze Ball by FIFA, as he was adjudged to be the tournament’s third best player. For this site, he was Venezuela’s top player.

Adalberto Peñaranda (Attacking-midfielder/Forward, No. 7, Málaga, on loan from Watford)

The only regular starter who was not part of the qualifying campaign, this creative attacker nevertheless slotted in rather well, ultimately proving to be his side’s main threat from open play. Indeed, the most high-profile Venezuelan in the squad, this dangerous dribbler often set up team-mates, gaining three assists: a drive infield followed by a short pass to Sergio Córdova for the second against Germany, a cross for Velásquez to head home in the vanquishing of Vanuatu and, in the marginal win over Mexico, a well-weighted dinked central ball for Córdova’s winner. He also scored twice: a clinical low strike against Vanuatu and a slid finish to finally break the deadlock in the Quarter-final against the USA. Such returns should silence the naysayers who claim he has “no end product” – likes a spot of showboating, you see, does ol’ Penny – though, admittedly, he did frustrate at times, particularly in the latter stages. It should not go unremarked that this senior international also won the penalty in the Final, yet some English bandwagon-jumpers may only take away from the tournament his subsequent saved spot-kick. This may burden him for a fair while, though as he is set to return to parent club Watford, if – and, judging by the loan rumours and some work permit issues, it is a big “if” – Hertfordshire’s finest field him one day, perhaps he will be able to alter some perceptions first-hand.

Ronaldo Lucena (Midfielder, No. 16, Zamora FC)

Herrera’s ever-present partner-in-crime also responsible for some crucial tackles and reinforcing the back four. Like the captain, the – much – younger brother of 36-year-old ex-international Franklin also participated in many attacking moves, possessing an even greater range of passes, especially from deep positions. This, he most notably demonstrated against Vanuatu with an exquisite chipped ball that Córdova brilliantly controlled and finished off for his second of the game. However, undoubtedly his – and, arguably, Venezuela’s – greatest weapon was his pinpoint set-pieces, with one corner of his setting up Herrera’s goal against Japan and another providing Nahuel Ferraresi with a header to double the lead against the USA. Had some of his team-mates shown more composure, he could well have outshone Peñaranda with the quantity of goals marked by his involvement. Though he himself did not score, owing to his integral play – not to mention an outrageous 45-yard free-kick that hit the post against England – his performances gained much attention and acclaim, with his value to the team having greatly increased since his impressive, if more low-key, qualifying outings.

Wuilker Fariñez (Goalkeeper, No. 1, Caracas FC)

It is becoming harder to doubt the career potential of this supremely likeable 5-feet-9-inch shot-stopper, as though here he faced some more physically imposing opponents, his performances and statistics only improved: three goals conceded in seven games, which can be favourably compared to the seven goals in nine games that saw him heralded as the best goalkeeper in qualifying. What he lacks in height, he appears to compensate for with bottomless reserves of spring and alertness. True, he was not greatly troubled in the Group Stage – so uneventful was it at times, that he even followed in that hallowed tradition of goalscoring Latin American ‘keepers by netting a spot-kick against Vanuatu – but this certainly changed in the knock-out phase. Indeed, here the 19-year-old – who was the No. 1 for La Vinotinto‘s last two World Cup qualifiers – had more shots to contend with, particularly against Uruguay, where he ultimately enhanced his reputation for astutely saving penalties, heroically thwarting two in the shootout. He can add these to his list of scalps which includes Alexis Sánchez from the March senior preliminary with Chile. With a considerable run as the nation’s first-choice seemingly on the cards, it will be intriguing to see how far in the club game he can go. Dani Hernández, the man who he appears to have usurped, is currently chasing promotion in Spain’s second tier and also already has a short stint in the top-flight under his belt. Can Fariñez defy some more odds and surpass these credentials?

The Defence

Great as the little big man was, he did not really have to face an onslaught of the kind he may become accustomed to at senior level. For this, he has Herrera and Lucena to thank, as well as, of course, the defence. Apologies to the Alan Hansens and Gary Nevilles of this world for lumping them all together in the same section, but it has felt as if this year’s consistently impressive defensive record is more of a collective achievement.

That said, certain individuals were more notable than others, in particular right-back Ronald Hernández (No. 20, Zamora FC), who played all 16 games of qualifying and the World Cup, hardly ever – if at all – putting a defensive foot wrong. Furthermore, though he did not contribute to any goals, he can certainly roam up the flank. With Roberto Rosales’ senior career surprisingly in limbo at the moment, Hernández could well be in with a chance of at least earning a senior call-up in the not-too-distant future.

The other leading member of the back four has been centre-back Williams Velásquez (No. 2, Estudiantes de Caracas, soon-to-be Udinese, on loan from Watford) who, were it not for an accumulation of yellows that ruled him out of the Semi-final, would have also been an ever-present. As in qualifying, he was prominent at the back, repelling almost everything that came his way in what was a very tight defensive unit; against Vanuatu, he even opened the scoring with a header at the back post.

Nahuel Ferraresi (No. 4, Deportivo Táchira), Dudamel’s choice of partner for Velásquez throughout this tournament, initially came as a surprise, as Josua Mejías (No. 17, Carabobo FC) had been more than capable during qualifying. However, though the 18-year-old Ferraresi did look a little shaky in both the Semi-final as well as the Final – in which many blamed him for allowing Calvert-Lewin to manoeuvre and score – he largely acquitted himself well. He too got on the scoresheet, doubling the lead with a header against the USA. Mejías, on the other hand, only really played the Uruguay game with Ferraresi; in this encounter, there did appear to be some shakiness at the back, though given Mejías’s impressive qualifying form, it may be a little harsh to dwell on this.

Overall, though none of these centre-backs possess an imposing stature comparable to, say, Uruguay’s Agustín Rogel or the admirable ball-playing qualities of his partner Santiago Bueno, it nevertheless seems that Dudamel is blessed with some very committed and alert individuals able to carry out his instructions to the letter.

Otherwise, José Hernández (No. 5, Caracas FC), the main occupant of the left-back role, was also effective in repelling danger, if somewhat less conspicuous than his colleague over on the other flank. Hernández managed to win the position during the tournament from erstwhile regular Eduin Quero (No. 3, Deportivo Táchira), who may have had an assist to his name following a low cross finished off by Samuel Sosa against Vanuatu, but was perhaps considered a potential liability owing to his two red cards in a mere six qualifying games.

Sergio Córdova (Attacking-midfielder/Forward, No. 19, Caracas FC)

The team’s topscorer with four, all of which he netted during the Group Stage. At this point, the right-sided attacking midfielder who sometimes drifts infield appeared to be the side’s most improved player since the qualifiers (during which he put in some decent, energetic performances but only netted once in nine games). However, as the tournament wore on, though it was not for the want of trying, he could not add to his tally, with a potential hat-trick squandered during the USA clash – not to mention a presentable one-on-one against England. It is no exaggeration to say that he could have at least doubled his haul. However, as he often found himself in good positions, beat opponents with his pace and drive, if he can just develop greater composure in front of goal, he could become something rather formidable indeed. He demonstrated as much in the first three games with the quality and variety of his four goals: the first, against Germany, was a clinical low drive; in the subsequent victory over Vanuatu he was alert to head home and then, later, superbly control and poke home Lucena’s fine ball; lastly, against Mexico, he brilliantly took on Peñaranda’s chipped central ball, before holding off a defender, bypassing the goalkeeper and bamboozling another opponent on the line with his calculated finish. This goal was put forward by FIFA as one of the best of tournament.

Yeferson Soteldo (Attacking-midfielder, No. 10, Huachipato, Chile)

The fourth and final starlet of this crop to have already been capped at senior level, perhaps owing to the inclusion of Peñaranda, Venezuela’s leading attacking threat in qualifying was surprisingly less of a presence here. Indeed, of his six appearances, only three were starts and just the one of these – the Round of 16 clash with Japan – occurred in the knock-out phase. Similar to Fariñez, one of the key questions going into the tournament was whether the five-feet-three-incher destined to be forever dubbed the “diminutive dribbler” could hack it against potentially more physical opponents (at least within his own age range). As he did not feature so much, the jury is still out, though he did make some notable contributions that suggest in time he could prove to be just fine. Indeed, against Germany, he played a role in disconcerting a defender, which ultimately paved the way for the opener and against Vanuatu, he came off the bench and jinked his way along the byline before pulling back for Jan Hurtado to score the sixth. His cameos did not always reap dividends – he will still be counting his lucky stars that his Semi-final shootout penalty off the bar did not prove fatal – but sometimes they garnered him new admirers, not least in the Final. Here, his often glue-like relationship with the ball elicited excitement in the stands and in homes across the world, particularly when he shrugged off an opponent, turned and played in Córdova, who unfortunately had his close-range shot blocked.

Ronaldo Peña (Forward, No. 9, Las Palmas Atlético)

“One goal in 16 games? That’s a full-back, not a forward.” So once boomed current Scotland manager Gordon Strachan – albeit with slightly different statistics – during a spell of television punditry, bemoaning the shifting definitions and roles of those fielded up top. However, though Peña has received some justifiable criticism for failing to convert chances laid on a plate for him – particularly in qualifying, though there were also instances of this in the World Cup – he nevertheless again made some vital supplementary contributions. Indeed, he is clearly stronger than his attacking colleagues and was often utilised well shielding the ball and holding off opponents, thus creating space and making life much easier for his chums. He was also regularly the target of balls pumped upfield and, with flick-ons and passes, was sometimes able to put team-mates in advanced positions, such as when he recorded an assist with the outside of his boot for Peñaranda’s goal against Vanuatu. Also, though the floodgates did not subsequently open, he did at least get Venezuela off and running with their first goal of the tournament, a very well-taken effort against Germany, in which he bypassed both a defender and the goalkeeper before knocking home.

Best of the Rest

There were several other players granted minutes, with 17-year-old Samuel Sosa (Midfielder, No. 15, Deportivo Táchira) undoubtedly the most significant. He was not involved with either the Under-20 or the Under-17 qualifying stages earlier this year, but has already notched up a respectable number of domestic league appearances (22). Here, he came off the bench five times to rack up a mere two hours of action, yet given his age and his contributions-per-minute ratio, he is surely one to keep an eye on. Indeed, he scored from a low Quero cross in the Vanuatu rout, then later against the USA helped Peñaranda finally break the deadlock in extra-time with a fine low ball in from left. However, the moment he will long be fondly recalled for came in the first minute of stoppage-time of the Semi-final against Uruguay. Here, he struck a spectacular left-footed free-kick into the top corner, rescuing his nation from near defeat and taking the game into an additional thirty minutes.

Following some trickery at the very end of this additional period, he also set up fellow 17-year-old Jan Hurtado (Striker, No. 13, Deportivo Táchira), who was thwarted by the post. Like his club team-mate Sosa, Hurtado has also impressed in the domestic league, netting five times already in his brief career. Unlike the midfielder, however, he did play at the 2017 CONMEBOL Under-17 qualifying tournament, netting three times in nine games. Here, he gave a glimpse of what he can do, tapping home Soteldo’s cross to score against Vanuatu.

Lastly, as he failed to score in any of his six appearances (four as a starter) and found himself on the end of moves far less frequently than Córdova, Ronaldo Chacón (Forward, No. 11, Caracas FC) will surely wish he had made more of a mark. Nevertheless, given that two years ago he scored three times in four Under-17 qualification games and, earlier this year at the Under-20 preliminary tournament, netted twice in seven matches (five starts), one feels he may have more to offer in another set of circumstances.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela 1-0 Japan (AET) (Round of 16, 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, 30 May 2017)

Venezuela’s Round of 16 clash with Japan at the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup took 120 minutes to decide but ultimately Rafael Dudamel’s heroic charges emerged victorious. Below are video highlights, a brief summary of the match and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-tracking…

venezuelahapanresult

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

Venezuela 1-0 Japan (AET)

2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Round of 16, 30 May 2017 (YouTube)

After negotiating their way through an additional thirty minutes of play, Rafael Dudamel’s men were finally able to make history by becoming the first ever Venezuelan side to reach the Quarter-finals of the Under-20 World Cup.

It was an often tense encounter, in which the burgundy boys were put under more pressure than in any of their preceding games. Indeed, despite having a respectable share of the ball in the opening exchanges, towards the end of the first half, it was Japan who started to edge proceedings. They nearly found the back of Wuilker Fariñez’s cobweb-filled net in the 29th minute when Ritsu Doan curled a fine free-kick over the wall, which crashed off the crossbar, rebounding for Yuto Iwasaki to screw a shot wide of the post.

Venezuela’s hitherto steely defence was rattled by moments such as this and their Asian opponents were to continue to look the likelier to score for at least the first quarter-hour of the second half. However, as the game wore on, despite the South Americans making no changes in regulation time – by contrast, Japan had made all three of theirs by the 76th minute – they appeared more intent on winning the game without resorting to penalties. Yeferson Soteldo and, in particular, Adalberto Peñaranda, began to cause more problems with their jinking runs yet when the 90 minutes were over, the game was still deadlocked at 0-0.

The first half of extra-time was a little cagey with Venezuela nevertheless maintaining the the upper hand, though when Peñaranda was withdrawn after 97 minutes one could be forgiven for thinking that spot-kicks were inevitable. However, from a Ronaldo Lucena corner in the 108th minute, captain Yangel Herrera was the man to strike a blow against fatalistic thoughts as he powerfully headed home to send his compatriots into raptures. Subsequently, Venezuela were able to see out this euphoric, record-breaking win and thus take another almighty leap in their increasingly plausible quest to transform from dark horses into genuine contenders for the tournament outright.

Talent Tracking

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Owing to Japan’s neat, quick-paced, passing moves, goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez (No. 1, Caracas FC) had to be on much higher alert than he was in any of his previous outings. Admittedly, he was somewhat fortunate not to lose his 100 per cent clean sheet record from Ritsu Doan’s 29th-minute free-kick against the crossbar which had him beat. However, just before this he had done well to anticipate a through-ball and clear before the opponent reached it and, later on in the 57th minute, he pulled off his best save of the tournament when, following a lovely Doan pass to Akito Takagi, he solidly blocked the latter’s low effort. When a penalty shootout appeared to be looming, it looked as if there was a chance that Fariñez would grab the headlines as both converter and stopper. Instead, however, the highly-rated youngster will just have to settle for the recognition that this was undoubtedly the most impressive of his four World Cup performances so far.

Good as Fariñez was though, in both this competition as well as qualifying, he’s rarely, if ever, had his goal bombarded by opponents and for this, he owes a debt of gratitude to the outfield rearguard. Indeed, much credit for the incredible 390 minutes Venezuela have gone without conceding a goal should go to the most consistent members of the back four. Namely, these would be right-back Ronald Hernández (No. 20, Zamora FC), who cleared danger effectively, made a notable recovery challenge and also caused some discomfort going forward, as well as the centre-back pairing of Williams Velásquez (No. 2, Estudiantes de Caracas, soon-to-be Udinese, on loan from Watford) and Nahuel Ferraresi (No. 4, Deportivo Táchira). Whilst they faced their most difficult test yet in the form of the roaming playmaker Doan, these two men did well in largely repelling what was thrown at them. Furthermore, having replaced Eduin Quero (No. 3, Deportivo Táchira) at left-back for the second consecutive game, José Hernández (No. 5, Caracas FC) can also feel pleased with himself. So too can coach Dudamel, whose admirable system appears to maintain its organisation despite at least two notable changes in its personnel being made since the qualifying stage.

On a related note, the two chaps in front of the defence once again earned plaudits for their support in halting opposition forays. From an attacking perspective, both were also to play crucial roles, with Ronaldo Lucena (No. 16, Zamora FC) again a regular threat from set-pieces. One of his more notable chipped efforts into the area within regulation time fell to Ronaldo Peña (No. 9, Las Palmas Atlético) in the 76th minute and, even if play was ultimately called back, the latter did force a solid goalkeeping block with his powerful strike. However, of course, Lucena’s most vital contribution occurred in the 108th minute, soon after one of his corners had been headed over from a very inviting position by a combination of Ferraresi and a defender. His subsequent inswinger reached the penalty spot and was brilliantly headed into the back of the net by his midfield partner-in-crime and all-round captain fantastic, Yangel Herrera (No. 8, New York City FC, on loan from Manchester City).

Before this goal, the likeliest outlet for a Venezuelan opener had seemed to be Adalberto Peñaranda (No. 7, Málaga, on loan from Watford). After just five minutes, he showed his brilliant capacity for dribbling as, from the left flank, he nutmegged one opponent and then bypassed another, before striking a low right-footed effort into the side-netting. A few more tricks were demonstrated throughout his 97 minutes on the field and he also caused some more discomfort amongst the Japanese defence in the 72nd minute when he hit a low cross-cum-shot across goal.

He had been played into this promising position by Yeferson Soteldo (No. 10, Huachipato, Chile) who actually hit a similar ball into the goalmouth later on in the 98th minute. The dimunitive dribbler, who has thus far in the tournament been somewhat overshadowed by Peñaranda, nevertheless had a decent game, often maintaining good possession with his glue-smeared boots and looking to make things happen.

That said, clear efforts on target were few and far between in this contest, something which Sergio Córdova (No. 19, Caracas FC) sought to rectify in the 68th minute when he hit a fine low strike from over 25 yards which the goalkeeper had to get down low to in order to parry out. Also, much earlier in the 19th minute, the tournament topscorer had another opportunity on goal, when he ran onto a through ball which he was able to nudge ahead of the goalkeeper, though this was nevertheless blocked.

Still, though the game wasn’t always pretty, the winning goal will certainly be a thing of beauty for bleary-eyed Venezuelans to marvel over during the upcoming days. Following these motivating and inspiring repeated viewings, expectations shall surely mount. Indeed, whilst a Quarter-final on Sunday 4 June 2017 against the winner of Thursday’s encounter between USA and New Zealand will certainly pose some challenges, it is currently hard for followers of La Vinotinto‘s youngsters to imagine who could conceivably stop them. After four wins and four clean sheets, who can blame them?

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

Venezuela 2-0 Germany (Group B, 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, 20 May 2017)

Venezuela’s opening Group B game of the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup saw them sensationally see off European heavyweights Germany. Below are video highlights, a brief summary of the match and, most importantly, @DarrenSphericals armchair talent-tracking… 

groupb1

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

Venezuela 2-0 Germany

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

Rafael Dudamel’s much-admired generation of youngsters kick-started South Korea 2017 in memorable, expectation-defying fashion, defeating Germany with a relative degree of comfort. Indeed, though Guido Streichsbier’s men arguably had the upper hand during the first half, their superiority was ever so slight and consisted of little more than having the likes of Philipp Ochs aim a few extra shots from range that either missed the target or were easily stopped.

Things soon changed decisively after the break. Indeed, barely had the second period began when Venezuela had crafted the hitherto best chance of the game, which was soon followed by the opening goal in the 51st minute, scored by Ronaldo Peña. He capitalised on some defensive uncertainty on the flank before confidently waltzing with the ball past goalkeeper Dominik Reimann. Just three minutes later, the lead was emphatically doubled by Sergio Córdova, who was played into a little space on the right side within the area, before firing home low into the back of the net. Subsequently, the Europeans evidently had the wind knocked out of their sails and, as a contest, the game somewhat petered out in the final half-hour or so.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this extraordinary result for Venezuela is that both the players as well as the fans know that they can in fact play much better than this. Therefore, if to some they didn’t already, then now especially, the possibilities for this crop of cracks suddenly seem limitless.

Talent Tracking

venezuelaflag Venezuela

Though the hordes of fastidious tactics bloggers may wish to disagree, to these eyes, the best compliment that could be paid to the defence that kept this clean sheet is that, well, they weren’t very prominent. Indeed, with the exception of maybe one centre-back foot that needed to be instinctively put in to stop the ball rolling towards the wrong feet for a sudden close-range opportunity, La Vinotinto were never seriously tested. There were no last-ditch challenges, no heroic recoveries after having given away possession in the final third, no goalmouth clearances and no goalkeeping acrobatics. There didn’t need to be – and not just because the opposition were somewhat lacking as an attacking threat. Though in the initial stages, there was some midfield carelessness that allowed the Germans to roam towards the edge of the area, generally the team as a whole – and, of course, the back four, in particular – maintained their focus, kept their vigilance and tracked their rivals, rarely granting them an inch in meaningful positions.

Regarding the outfield rearguard, 18-year-old Nahuel Ferraresi (No. 4, Deportivo Táchira) was the one notable surprise on the team-sheet, as during qualifying it was the bench-dwelling Josua Mejías (No. 17, Carabobo FC) who formed one half of a much-admired centre-back partnership with Williams Velásquez (No. 2, Estudiantes de Caracas). However, the defensive record – the best in that tournament – that was achieved back then also involved a few personnel alterations necessitated largely by suspensions. Thus, it would appear that, not only did Ferraresi acquit himself well, but also that Dudamel has an impressive pool of defence-minded individuals at his disposal who are receptive to the system that has been instilled.

Furthermore in this area, left-back Eduin Quero (No. 3, Deportivo Táchira), who received two red cards in his six qualifying matches, also got booked here early on but did well to keep his cool and quell any trouble on his side. His colleague over on the right-flank, Ronald Hernández (No. 20, Zamora FC) was again the more adventurous of the pair, having Venezuela’s only real attempt on target in the first half, shooting from 25-30 yards out on the inside-right in the 24th minute, though his, admittedly ambitious, effort was comfortably saved. He did, however, also combine very well on the overlap on the right on the half-hour mark, with his nifty bit of skill ultimately leading to a lay-off to a certain individual in a good position inside the area who – to the surprise of few – skied the ball over.

This would be attacker and target man, Ronaldo Peña (No. 9, Las Palmas), who earned the ire of many fans during qualifying for his profligacy in front of goal. However, shortly after the interval, he rose to prominence, first receiving a pass from defensive-midfielder and captain Yangel Herrera (No. 8, New York City FC, on loan from Manchester City) and nudging the ball past a defender to give Yeferson Soteldo (No. 10, Huachipato, Chile) a clear, albeit brief, sight of goal. His strike was blocked by the goalkeeper but four minutes later, the diminutive dribbler – who was to later grow in confidence, enjoying short bursts with the ball – played a role in the opening goal, forcing a defender into a poor backwards header over on the right flank. This was seized upon by Peña, who gave his compatriots the gift they could scarcely have ever dreamed of as he exhibited some fine footwork, first taking the ball past another defender, then the goalkeeper, before sliding into the empty net. Cue elation.

The man who had combined well with Hernández for Peña’s first-half opportunity was right-sided attacker Sergio Córdova (No. 23, Caracas FC) and, just a few minutes after the Las Palmas youngster made it 1-0, it was he who doubled the lead. He had also struck a minor opportunity off-target in the first half and his 54th-minute goal came about following some fine work by the left-sided Adalberto Peñaranda (No. 7, Málaga, on loan from Watford). The dynamic forward who played in the 2015 CONMEBOL tournament but not the 2017 edition, showed that he can slot into this side rather neatly indeed as he dribbled from the inside-left into the dee, before sliding the ball inside the area for Córdova. The Caracas FC man thus took one touch before firing home at the near post. Cue euphoria. Overall, he showed considerable determination and ability from his right flank, impressing many back home who, in one notable online poll, overwhelmingly voted him the man of the match.

Otherwise, as is custom, midfielder Ronaldo Lucena (No. 16, Zamora FC) sprayed some good passes and put in a few notable deliveries, the best coming after 14 minutes from a set-piece which centre-back Velásquez stretched for, but couldn’t quite connect with.

Ultimately, this was a performance to serve notice to the global footballing fraternity not yet up-to-speed with the very promising developments in Venezuela. It’s especially exciting given that all Vinotinto fans know there is much more to come from their fresh-faced representatives, not least highly-rated goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez (No. 1, Caracas FC), who was never seriously troubled today. Given the organisers’ generosity of allowing 16 of the 24 group teams to qualify through to the second round, it is hard not to feel as if Venezuela already have one foot in the knock-out stage.

In the other Group B game played today, Mexico nabbed a 3-2 win at the death against Vanuatu, who will be Venezuela’s next opponents on Tuesday 23 May 2017.

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

 

 

 

 

 

2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup – Preview of the Top South American Talents

2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup – Preview of the Top South American Talents

This Saturday, 20 May 2017, ushers in the 23-day 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, held in South Korea. Following an opening stage that shall see a generous 16 nations emerge from the six groups of four teams (the top two from each, plus the four best-performing runners-up), the knock-out phase will ultimately provide a winner on Sunday 11 June 2017. Throughout all of this, @DarrenSpherical will be keeping track of the four South American qualifiers – Uruguay, Ecuador, Venezuela and Argentina – providing match-by-match updates on their most eye-catching talents. Thus, what follows below is a concise guide to a handful (or so) of players from each country to look out for. Those after a little more information on the majority of these embryonic cracks could certainly do worse than also check out this talent-spotting round-up from January/February’s 2017 CONMEBOL Under-20 South American Youth Championship.


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Uruguay

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(Uruguay’s Group D fixtures via FIFA.com; central times are GMT)

Consistently impressive at youth level, Fabián Coito’s men emerged victorious at the Sudamericano Sub-20, delighting their fans after the disappointment of finishing runners-up in 2015. They are a well-organised unit, having conceded the second-fewest number of goals in the tournament and are not short of players from all over the pitch capable of ending up on the scoresheet.

Top Talents

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

Younger brother of full international Carlos Sánchez, who displayed admirable character, composure and leadership qualities in his country’s regional Under-20 triumph and was acclaimed as this site’s Player of the Tournament. A regular at club level, where he features on the scoresheet relatively often, he is not afraid to shoot – and, perhaps, score a swerving, spectacular golazo – from range. Along with this and his free-kick attempts, expect to also see him showcase his creativity via an eclectic array of forward balls and crosses, from both set-pieces as well as open play. A move abroad surely can’t be too far off the horizon.

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

Prodigious, potentially brilliant game-changer who often roams from deep, bustling his way forward to either play in team-mates with a deft touch or – like De La Cruz – score some long-range screamers. However, though he finished as the joint-top scorer with five goals in the title win earlier this year and was possibly the most naturally gifted player in the tournament, there are serious concerns regarding his weight. So much so that not only did he never once complete 90 minutes in qualifying but immediately after lifting the trophy, his powerful agent Daniel Fonseca engineered him away from his club side to train in isolation. Amaral has since said that he has no intention of returning to Nacional and so now, the man who has already played in one Under-20 World Cup – in 2015, he heartbreakingly missed the decisive shoot-out spot-kick against Brazil – finds himself very much in the shop window.

Rodrigo Bentancur (Midfielder, No. 20, Boca Juniors, transferring to Juventus in July)

A versatile, often commanding midfielder, who frequently seeks to dispossess opponents before initiating attacks with short, precise passes, but who can also occasionally make progress upfield to inflict damage. Having already played over 50 league games for Argentine giants Boca Juniors, which has led to a €9.5 million move to Juventus, all Uruguayans will be hoping that he can play a towering role, providing the essential organisation and composure. A roamer at the centre of the park, to his left is likely to be the nifty Facundo Waller (Midfielder, No. 15, Plaza Colonia), who is poised to make some more key, understated contributions going forward.

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

Like all of his compatriots above, this 18-year-old regular in the Real Madrid B side can certainly be an asset shooting from distance. Furthermore, if need be, he can most definitely get on the scoresheet, having netted seven times for the Under-17s in 2015’s regional tournament. However, as he was not part of the squad that reigned supreme a few months ago, it will be curious to see where precisely the ex-Peñarol man fits into this attack-blessed team.

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

Playing in a more conventional striker’s role, Schiappacasse scored three times in the CONMEBOL triumph, two of his goals being rather clinical strikes; he also drew many fouls, winning free-kicks in dangerous positions as well as penalties. Just 18, he could prove to be a crucial component of the Uruguayan attack, but may also face more competition this time around from the likes of Valverde, not to mention the man a mere day his senior, Joaquín Ardaiz (Forward, No. 7, Danubio).

For more information on all of the above players (except Federico Valverde), plus some other Uruguayan talents to watch out for, click here to see how they got on at the 2017 CONMEBOL Under-20 South American Youth Championship.


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Ecuador

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(Ecuador’s Group F fixtures via FIFA.com; central times are GMT)

Ultimately denied by Uruguay at the last hurdle, Javier Rodríguez’s charges nevertheless finished a highly commendable 2nd on home soil in February. Although La Mini Tri‘s defence could do with some work – 14 goals conceded in 9 Sudamericano Sub-20 games – their plethora of bustling, forceful attack-minded players should create many difficulties for upcoming opponents.

Top Talents

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

One of the four joint-top scorers earlier this year with five tournament goals, this direct left-sided attacker has the ability to be a rambunctious nuisance for defenders, regularly unsettling them when charging his way forward. Last year, he played in the Copa Libertadores final for inspiring over-achievers Independiente Del Valle, subsequently earning a move to Atalanta. Although he has thus far only featured once as a substitute in Serie A, he surely still has a spring in his step after making his senior Ecuador debut in February. Another set of eye-catching performances for the Under-20s can only aid his club cause.

Pervis Estupiñán (Left-back, No. 6, Granada, Spain)

Nominally a left-back, the irrepressible Estupiñán is as unforgettable as his name, regularly manfully bombing up his flank and looking to make things happen in the final third. Even if three of his goals at the Sudamericano Sub-20 were immaculately executed spot-kicks, his four-goal tally was nevertheless eyebrow-raising. A solid performer at previous youth international levels – including the 2015 Under-17 World Cup – his true calling may well prove to be further upfield. Having started his first two La Liga games for Granada in April, with their recent relegation, it is rumoured that his potential is set to be nurtured outside of Andalusia next season.

Joao Rojas (Midfielder, No. 17, Emelec)

Particularly in the first group stage of the qualifying tournament, this right-sided midfielder looked to be Ecuador’s most creative attacker, regularly putting in dangerous balls from open play and set-pieces as well as not being afraid to strike. Whether for technical reasons and/or due to the demanding schedule that necessitates rotation, he featured less in the latter stages. The 19-year-old will thus be seeking to regain favour as well as show local giants Emelec – who signed him after nearly two good seasons with S.D. Aucas – why they should field him more often.

Jordan Sierra (Midfielder, No. 15, Delfin)

Though he was fielded in a more central, deep-lying role, the tenacious Sierra ultimately came to overshadow Rojas in the CONMEBOL under-20 tournament. Keen to fire from range, as well as hold off and evade challenges he, like Cabezas, made his full international debut for Ecuador against Honduras in February. If rumours are to be believed, the suitors are lining up to nab him after his Korean adventure, with Manchester City, Ajax and some unnamed Liga MX sides amongst those leading the pack.

Jordy Caicedo (Forward, No. 19, Universidad Católica del Ecuador) (& Co.)

Otherwise, La Mini Tri are certainly not short of persistent, rampaging attackers capable of creating chances as well as confusion – that is, amongst spectators as much as opponents. Indeed, both of whom may struggle to keep track of who is who. Perhaps most likely to get on the scoresheet is Caicedo, who notched three goals at the Sudamericano Sub-20 tournament and also has a couple this season in the domestic league. Other players to watch out for include the following: Midfielder Wilter Ayoví (Midfielder, No. 8, Independiente Del Valle), who will hopefully receive more opportunities this time around and who strongly believes he and his compatriots shall lift the trophy; Herlín Lino (Forward, No. 9, Deportivo Cuenca), who scored twice in the CONMEBOL qualifiers and, remarkably, won three penalties; and 18-year-old Washington Corozo (Forward, No. 7, Independiente Del Valle), who was a regular threat back in January’s group stage, gaining both an assist and a goal – had he and his team-mates been a little sharper, he could well have had more of each.

For more information on all of the above players plus some other Ecuadorian talents to watch out for, click here to see how they got on at the 2017 CONMEBOL Under-20 South American Youth Championship.


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Venezuela

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(Venezuela’s Group B fixtures via FIFA.com; central times are GMT)

Rafael Dudamel, who is also La Vinotino‘s senior national coach, guided his men through an exceptional showing earlier this year, finishing third and travelling to their first Under-20 World Cup since 2009. Meticulously organised, with the best defence in qualifying – seven goals conceded in the nine tournament games – much hope has been placed in this hard-working crop, four of whom have already received full caps in World Cup Qualifying matches.

Top Talents

Yeferson Soteldo (Attacking-midfielder/Forward, No. 10, Huachipato, Chile)

Despite being just 5 feet 3 inches tall, undoubtedly the most conspicuous Venezuelan will be this diminutive left-sided dribbler. While there are concerns that he can be a bit of a tunnel-visioned ball-hogger, of La Vinotinto‘s nine tournament goals earlier this year, he scored three and had a key role in at least another three (possibly five, if you ask his agent). Thus, much rests on this playmaker’s slight shoulders. Having already played for the senior side and managed to rack up over 100 appearances at club level, this 19-year-old possesses considerable experience within his own continent. Against the likes of Germany, however, will his petite frame hinder or aid his quest for global recognition?

Yangel Herrera (Defensive-midfielder, No. 8, New York City FC, on loan from Manchester City)

With organisation paramount to Venezuela’s prosperity, their versatile captain will seek to continue to play a major role, helping to communicate effectively with those around him and snuffing out danger. Vigilant as well as proactive, he frequently kick-starts attacks as well as gets forward himself, hitting the back of the net twice in his seven qualifying games. Also already a full international, he has impressed in his first few months in the MLS, scoring once and dislodging Andrea Pirlo from the New York City FC line-up. A regular place alongside senior captain Tomás Rincón surely beckons.

Wuilker Fariñez (Goalkeeper, No. 1, Caracas FC)

Universally lauded as the best shot-stopper in CONMEBOL qualifying, this sprightly 5-feet-9-inch ex-striker possesses great reflexes as well as a fearlessness when confronting danger. The Caracas FC No. 1 also has a knack for saving penalties, most notably denying Alexis Sánchez. Indeed, just a month after he turned 19, owing to his impressive performances for the Under-20s, Dudamel made him first choice for both senior qualifiers in March. As with Soteldo, it is only natural to wonder if his height shall limit his potential, but many onlookers will be hoping that this highly likeable chap can defy some more odds in the upcoming days.

Adalberto Peñaranda (Attacking-midfielder, No. 7, Málaga, on loan from Watford)

The prodigious Peñaranda did not feature at this year’s Sudamericano Sub-20, instead playing in the 2015 edition. Though that particular side had a forgettable campaign, the then-Deportivo La Guaira man was later ensnared by the Pozzo Triangle and, by the end of the year, was scoring goals, making headlines and breaking records with La Liga outfit, Granada. However, despite the hype that followed, his trajectory has stalled after negligible loan spells at both Udinese and, currently, Málaga. Still, all hope is far from lost: this restless, pacy dribbler returned to the senior fray in March and doesn’t turn 20 until the end of May. How he and Soteldo operate within the same line-up will be of great interest to many aficionados.

Williams Velásquez (Centre-back, No. 2, Estudiantes de Caracas, soon-to-be Udinese, on loan from Watford) (& Co.)

Though goalkeeper Fariñez deserves enormous credit for conceding the fewest goals in qualifying, he was also greatly assisted in achieving his four clean sheets by an exceptionally well-drilled defence. Indeed, arguably the most prominent of the outfield rearguard was centre-back Velásquez, who reportedly reached an agreement in February to later be initiated into the Pozzo Experience, with his destination at this moment in time said to be Udinese, on loan from Watford. As he is also likely to be in South Korea, in qualifying he was admirably partnered by Josua Mejías (Centre-back, No. 17, Carabobo FC), who got on the scoresheet in the breathtaking 3-0 win over eventual champions Uruguay. Lastly, on the right-flank will be Ronald Hernández (Right-back, No. 20, Zamora FC), who thwarted virtually all of the attacks on his side and was picked out by many as one of the best right-backs of the competition. As always with Venezuela, discipline is likely to be issue, but if those at the back, plus the likes of Herrera can maintain their cool as well as their collective shape, a history-making performance is eminently possible.

For more information on all of the above players (except Adalberto Peñaranda), plus some other Venezuelan talents to watch out for, click here to see how they got on at the 2017 CONMEBOL Under-20 South American Youth Championship.


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Argentina

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(Argentina’s Group A fixtures via FIFA.com; central times are GMT)

In early February, Claudio Úbeda’s men somehow scraped through in the fourth qualifying berth at the expense of the similarly underwhelming Brazil. As usual, Los Pibes are not short of attackers worth keeping an eye on, though their defence and collective character may be concerns. Being record six-time champions, they will want to improve on last time around, when they won 2015’s Sudamericano Sub-20 tournament, yet were embarrassingly knocked out of the first round of that same year’s World Cup.

Top Talents

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

Quite simply, Argentina would not be in South Korea without this frontman of awe-inspiring stamina and drive. Joint-top scorer in qualification, virtually all of his five goals were astoundingly vital, with three of them earning crucial points at the death of a trio of different games and his other two ensuring victory in the important final match. A clinical finisher with the ball at his feet as well as in the air, he is also adept at using his refined technique to score a pearler as well as set up a team-mate with a well-weighted pass. Since returning to Racing in February, he has scored six goals in eight league games; small wonder then, that the side most strongly linked to signing him are Real Madrid. In the week leading up to his Korean bow, he suffered an injury blow though, fortunately for all except his opponents, now reportedly has the all-clear to play.

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

A creative attacker who has been on the radar of top scouts since at least 2015 when he banged in five goals in seven Sudamericano Sub-17 games, he emerged in spells at 2017’s Under-20 tournament as an indispensible playmaker. Indeed, he scored a fine golazo, but more notably, played a role in four other goals, two of which were put on a plate for Martínez late on, with another also gaining a point at the death. Having started a mere four matches in qualifying (with four other appearances coming as a substitute) as well as only ever emerging from the bench for his club side, it will be curious to see how much he is used in the upcoming days. He must at least derive some optimism from being upgraded from the No. 20 to the hallowed No. 10 shirt.

Brian Mansilla (Attacking-midfielder, No. 11, Racing Club)

Another potentially key individual who can play either off or behind the front-line is the left-footed Mansilla. In the qualifying tournament, he was a regular threat pacing up the inside-channels past opponents, scoring two goals and gaining an assist from his nine consecutive starts. One team evidently impressed was Ajax, yet their considerable bid was rebuffed by Racing, who clearly believe that they have something very special indeed on their hands.

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

Unlike Martínez, Torres went into the qualifying tournament with little hype yet, particularly in the opening group stage, looked to be his nation’s most significant prospect. Ultimately, his more widely-touted striker-partner may have overshadowed him in the heroics department, but Torres nevertheless also finished joint-top scorer with five goals (from just seven appearances), two of which were exquisite finishes. Serie A sides are reportedly interested though, perhaps to the surprise of those outside of La Bombonera’s orbit, he is still yet to play a senior game for Boca Juniors. Thus, the World Cup could provide a perfect platform to accelerate his club career progression, whether at home or abroad. That said, we are yet to see precisely where a certain Ezequiel Ponce (Forward, No. 18, Granada, on loan from Roma) shall fit in. Nominally a striker who was prolific at youth level with Newell’s Old Boys, the attacker’s professional record has thus far been somewhat less remarkable. Nevertheless, though he wasn’t part of the qualifying squad, he scored in a recent warm-up game, having been set up by none other than Torres. Perhaps they need not draw pistols at dawn, after all.

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

Already a regular at club level and tracked by some of Europe’s top clubs, much of Los Pibes‘ success depends upon the midfield harrying and leadership skills of their captain. However, though in qualification he did display some of his passing abilities when playing a key role in two goals, defensively he and his colleagues were porous. Indeed, he was at the heart of the system that leaked three goals in three separate matches, leading him to claim that their preparation had been inadequate. Thus, personal pride and patriotism surely demands that he takes charge of ensuring that there will be no recurrence of either Ecuador 2017 or, indeed, New Zealand 2015.

For more information on all of the above players (except Ezequiel Ponce), plus some other Argentine talents to watch out for (excluding Ezequiel Barco and Nahuel Molina), click here to see how they got on at the 2017 CONMEBOL Under-20 South American Youth Championship.


To keep track of how all the South American talents get on at South Korea 2017, please follow yours truly on the Twitter account below and/or return to this website for match-by-match updates.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Top Talents at the 2017 Under-20 South American Youth Championship

The 2017 Under-20 South American Youth Championship took place in Ecuador from 18 January until 11 February. @DarrenSpherical watched all 35 games, writing reports for each encounter that detailed all the significant moments by the most talented players that were spotted. Thus, what follows below is, firstly, a brief recap of the tournament, before drifting into an outlining of some of the considerations when judging the potential of these developing players. This is followed by the main focus, a selection of 11 individuals who stood out for their respective countries; this, in turn, is supplemented by details on many more talents worth making a note of. In all, it is hoped that this serves as a useful reference guide for those interested in the emerging prospects of South America. 

If this all looks a tad overwhelming, the information has also been broken up into shorter talent-spotting articles which have been published on this site. These are for the six teams that reached the final group stage (Uruguay, Ecuador, Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil & Colombia), as well as one which selects the Best of the Early Departees (Paraguay, Chile, Bolivia & Peru) from those sides who were eliminated after the initial group stage. 

(All photographs are credited to GettyImages)

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Tournament Recap

At the culmination of 25 days of talent-heavy, topsy-turvy entertainment, an impressive Uruguay side bolstered their remarkable youth record by lifting their eighth Under-20 South American Youth Championship. They initially made it out of Group B along with Venezuela and Argentina, who all met hosts Ecuador, Colombia and Brazil from Group A in the final Hexagonal group stage. After five games against these sides they emerged victorious from their nine-game journey with a five-point gap separating themselves from second-placed Ecuador. Along with Venezuela (3rd) and Argentina (4th), these nations will be heading to South Korea in May for the Under-20 World Cup, though Brazil and Colombia will be missing out.

Talent-Spotting: Nothing Set in Stone

Over the past three-and-a-half weeks, talent-spotters who were able to put both elite-level professional football as well as their own daily lives to one side in order to watch all 35 games became well-acquainted with many of the youngsters on show. Indeed, such folk tasked with listing the most eye-catching cracks would doubtless agree with at least two-thirds of each other’s choices, as many individuals effectively picked themselves. Thus, what can be found below is a fairly representative selection of the most outstanding starlets, though owing to the nature of such tournaments as well as the author’s kid-in-a-candy-shop mentality, some concessions have had to be made.

Indeed, while there are certain players who appear to be strong candidates to prosper at top clubs, one still hesitates before proclaiming any guarantees at this stage. This is not only due to their age but also partly because of the structure of the competition, which appears to be designed to cram a high number of opportunities in a short amount of time for scouts to see and be sure of their clubs’ potential acquisitions. Consequently, though a player may merely suffer from a run-of-the-mill dip in form, this schedule can cause and/or exacerbate inconsistency in their performances. Most coaches in this particular tournament took this into account as very few notable individuals started every single game, though such rotations also took some flourishing players out of their stride. Another more general barrier to players not giving their best accounts is simply the way in which some of them were deployed (or not) by their managers and/or the limitations of some of their team-mates. Conversely, some teams prospered as a unit but gave off the impression that, in some areas at least, the sum was much greater than the individual components. Indeed, one can not help but feel that the players in several, if not all, of these particular sides will, on average, enjoy less successful club careers than those found in the collectively unremarkable Brazilian squad.

Thus, though nothing is set in stone, rather than an overall top XI, highlighted below are instead 11 players who both made vital contributions to their nations as well as stand in good stead to make a name for themselves at club and/or international levels. A modicum of restraint has been exercised with the selection of just two players per team for five of the Hexagonal sides (and just one for the off-the-pace Colombian squad) who, were you to combine them (not recommended), make for a rather uneven, goalkeeper-less, attack-loaded side. However, partly as an act of appeasement and partly to cover one’s own back in the long run, details on many more talented players for each country – including those who went home early – are included underneath.

If that sounds just a tad excessive or you just want a few useful names to remember, here are this site’s top three players:

Rodrigo Amaral (Uruguay)

Nicolás De La Cruz (Uruguay)

Lautaro Martínez (Argentina)

However, for the aficionados, after taking a quick look at the final standings of the two groups and the Hexagonal (as well as, perhaps, browsing the results and goalscorers here), one hopes you enjoy poring over this feast of potential cracks.

Final Standings

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Top Talents at the 2017 Under-20 South American Youth Championship

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Tournament Summary

Fabián Coito’s men made a cautious start to the tournament with two draws, before a couple of wins saw them breeze their way to the top of Group B. Subsequently, three impressive consecutive wins in the Hexagonal led to them being viewed by all observers as overwhelming favourites for the title and though Venezuela emphatically delayed their crowning, they nevertheless clinched the trophy with a victory against Ecuador. Overall, they undoubtedly had the most reliable side which featured two of the tournament’s very best attacking players; they utilised their squad rather effectively and have several other players worth keeping an eye on.

To view highlights as well as read more about how Uruguay got on and who stood out in each game, click here

Top Two Uruguayan Talents

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

Based on the consistency of his performances, this versatile right-footed attacking-midfielder was arguably the player of the tournament, featuring in all nine Uruguay games and starting eight of them.

Taking on the role of captain when Rodrigo Amaral was not on the field, De La Cruz actually began the tournament in less than auspicious fashion, embarrassingly seeing his dinked Panenka-esque penalty against Venezuela easily stopped by one unfooled glove of the virtually upright goalkeeper. Some felt his spot-kick approach was that of a youngster absorbed in his own hype, but instead of mentally crumbling he showed great character to confidently dispatch another penalty in the following 3-3 draw with Argentina. In the Hexagonal phase, he would go on to showcase his considerable shooting abilities by scoring a phenomenal swerving long-range strike in a 3-0 win against Argentina as well as once more keeping his nerve with a spot-kick in another 3-0 victory, this time against Colombia.  Aside from these three goals, De La Cruz came close from more than one free-kick, hitting the post against Brazil and also regularly looked to set up his team-mates via an admirably eclectic range of forward balls and crosses, from both set-pieces as well as open play. Had some of his team-mates displayed greater composure he could well have bagged far more than just the two assists. Nevertheless, the first of these was a delivery from a left-sided free-kick that was knocked home against Bolivia and the other was a cleverly dinked ball over the top of the defence which led to the second goal in the title-clinching match with Ecuador.

Being the younger brother of Monterrey’s Carlos Sánchez, earner of over 25 Uruguay caps and formerly of Argentina’s River Plate, De La Cruz comes from promising stock. Though a rumour that Luis Suárez advised Barcelona to sign him up has since been dismissed by the Uruguayan all-time top-scorer himself, this 19-year-old nevertheless stands in good stead to have a solid club career and perhaps even emulate his hermano.

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

Perhaps serving as evidence of his prodigious talent, this rampaging left-footed attacker was one of several individuals to have also played at the 2015 Under-20 tournament, when he would have been just 17 years old. Given this solid experience in what was a very disciplined and exciting Uruguay side, it was a surprise when he started on the bench against Venezuela. However, he would go on put on the captain’s armband and convince that he may just be the most naturally gifted player in the competition.

In the subsequent match against Argentina, he received a start and announced himself early on to purring talent-spotters the world over by scoring an unstoppable golazo from over 25 yards out on the inside-left. Subsequently, he found the back of the net in his next four games, with one these goals being an even more impressive long-range belter, this time coming after a turn from 30 yards out in a 2-1 win against Brazil in the Hexagonal, licking the post on the way in. His other goals were a penalty in a 2-0 victory against Peru, a close-range finish squeezed in at the near post in a 3-0 win against Bolivia and, on the first day of the Hexagonal, a low header from a cross to complete the 3-0 rout against Argentina. Ultimately, he would finish as the tournament’s joint top-scorer with five goals.

He has been compared to Wayne Rooney and it’s not hard to see why as he has a tendency to come from deep then bustle his way forward, is not afraid to shoot and is also very much capable of playing in team-mates; he’s also not bad at set-pieces, firing in several testing shots and crosses in his nine games. However, despite featuring in every Uruguay match, he only started six of these and, no doubt raising the alarm bells of many scouts, did not complete the full 90 minutes once, instead typically being on the field between 55-70 minutes. Weight and fitness issues have been consistent problems for Amaral who, despite claiming more than once during the tournament to have silenced his critics, has himself conceded that he has a tendency to over-eat and could do with losing about 3kg. Indeed, somewhat uncharitably, over the past few weeks it was common for observers, including a Venezuelan commentator moments before Amaral was set to lift the trophy, to refer to him as ‘el gordo’ (the fat one).

This may partly explain why he barely played for Nacional last season (despite regularly doing so the year before) and also why no substantial transfer rumours have been doing the rounds. However, since the tournament ended he has professed a desire to play in Italy and, very recently, moves have been made by an agent to activate his surprisingly low release clause (reportedly US$3 million). Thus, with his reputation enhanced and several new eye-grabbing highlight clips added to his portfolio, it is hard to see why many Serie A sides wouldn’t wish to take the minor risk and help him maintain an elite physique. After all, the rewards could be bountiful.

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Tournament Summary 

The hosts, who were at their most threatening when playing a fast-paced, physical brand of football, were often the most exciting team to watch, a view best supported by their 4-3 victory against Colombia in the first group stage. They ended as the joint-highest scorers and pulled off some emphatic victories in the Hexagonal, including 3-0 wins against both Argentina and Colombia, before ultimately surrendering their outside title challenge against Uruguay in the final match.

To view highlights as well as read more about how Ecuador got on and who stood out in each game, click here

Top Two Ecuadorian Talents

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

With five goals from his nine starts, left-sided attacker Bryan Cabezas finished as one of the four joint top-scorers, impressively netting four times in the Hexagonal phase. Indeed, after having to come off with a possible concussion in the opener against Brazil, he returned to net a penalty in the 4-3 win over Colombia and converted another spot-kick as a consolation in the heavy Hexagonal loss to Venezuela. It was in the subsequent two games that he really made his mark as he scored three goals (once against Argentina and twice against Colombia  – both 3-0 spankings), all of which were well-placed finishes from a position inside the area on the left. Otherwise, he set up another goal against Argentina with a fine low ball across the area which found Jordy Caicedo and, generally, was a rambunctious nuisance for defenders, unsettling them when bustling his way forward.

Though his team-mates also deserve much credit for seeking Cabezas out, with such good finishing, his direct, unsubtle approach appears to work well for him and at club level, he’s already been mixing it with the big boys at an impressively high standard. Indeed, back in July, he played in the Copa Libertadores final for Ecuadorian Cinderella story Independiente Del Valle; the following month, he agreed a deal with Serie A’s Atalanta, where he has thus far sat on the bench nearly a dozen times this season. Though they may be hesitant to risk jeopardising their outstanding campaign, perhaps when their starlet returns – after first joining up with the senior squad for a friendly with Honduras – some on-field minutes are in order.

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Pervis Estupiñán (Left-back, No. 6, Granada, Spain)

Though nominally a left-back, the man who may well come to be known as ‘Pervy Stupidname’ by morons everywhere (or perhaps just this writer) may well be better suited a little further upfield. Indeed, even though three were perfectly executed spot-kicks, it was nevertheless impressive of him to bag four goals and he was regularly a threat bombing up his flank, manfully striding past opponents. Not missing a single minute of the competition, he played a vital role for the hosts, beginning the comeback in the 4-3 win over Colombia with a low strike and putting away his three penalties in consecutive Hexagonal matches against Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina. As well as scoring, with well-weighted balls up the left he also played it forward for Herlin Lino to win the first penalty against Brazil and, after opening up some space, set up Cabezas’ second goal in the 3-0 Hexagonal win against Colombia.

Defensively, he is perhaps more of a mixed bag. Indeed, Ecuador’s record of 14 goals conceded in nine games was nothing to brag about and there were occasions when Estupiñán was clearly the culprit for defensive lapses – perhaps most notably twice from crosses against Chile, though only one resulted in a goal. However, he also thwarted many attackers with his fearsome tenacity and physicality on the left, as well cleared the ball off the line at least twice (both times in the Hexagonal clash with Brazil).

Perhaps there was little call for him to be pushed forward to the left of midfield as that position was occupied by Cabezas, but, in time, things may pan out differently at Granada, for whose B team he has been playing for since the beginning of the season. Before this move, he had been playing in the L.D.U. Quito first-team consistently since he was 17 years old. Furthermore, given that two years ago he also played (and scored) in both the Under-17 Sudamericano tournament as well as the World Cup – where Ecuador reached the quarter-final – and his uncle, Jorge Guagua, has over 60 caps for La Tri, he appears to be a man of solid pedigree. As Granada currently need all the help they can get in La Liga, they could surely do much worse than hand a first-team start to Estupiñán. Who knows, they may experience similarly exhilarating results to what occurred when their buy from 2015’s tournament, Venezuela’s Adalberto Peñaranda, was given a try later that year.

venezuelaflag Venezuela

Tournament Summary

Rafael Dudamel’s men put in an exceptional showing, qualifying for the Under-20 World Cup for the first time since 2009 and giving their compatriots much hope for the future. Yet, though always solid at the back – they would finish with the least goals conceded over nine games – they struggled for goals in the opening stage and looked like they could be heading home early, before just about scraping through with four straight draws (one goal for, one goal against). Thankfully for fans and neutrals alike, the floodgates opened in the Hexagonal when, in the second game, they thumped hosts Ecuador 4-2 and later inflicted Uruguay’s only defeat upon them (3-0), ultimately finishing a hugely commendable third.

To view highlights as well as read more about how Venezuela got on and who stood out in each game, click here

Top Two Venezuelan Talents

yefersonsoteldo

Yeferson Soteldo (Attacking-midfielder/Forward, No. 10, Huachipato, Chile)

Undoubtedly the most eye-catching individual on the field for Venezuela was diminutive left-sided dribbler Yeferson Soteldo. Indeed, at 5 feet 3 inches tall, he must have had the lowest centre of gravity in the competition yet was a conspicuous presence as he repeatedly slalomed his way past opponents with the ball seemingly glued to his boots.

This jinking playmaker also took set-pieces and frequently appeared to be running the show yet was criticised early on for his alleged poor decision-making and lack of end-product. Some perceived his relegation to the bench for the third game against Bolivia as a punishment though Dudamel may have been thinking long-term and instead saving his energy. However, after he came on in the 52nd minute, Venezuela noticeably stepped things up several gears and were it not for the hapless wastefulness of several team-mates, Soteldo would have been credited with key contributions for at least three goals. Nevertheless, after Venezuela squeaked through to the final stage on goal difference after a 0-0 draw against Argentina, the stats that matter did not look good for Soteldo.

However, shortly after the Hexagonal began, this would all be largely forgotten, as he hit the ground running in the opening game with Colombia, scoring a sensational curling free-kick. Subsequently, he was to be integral in their two breathtaking thrashings. In the 4-2 win against Ecuador, if one generously notes his pass to Yangel Herrera for the stunning opener, then he had some role to play in all four goals: for the second, he scored this himself from the penalty spot, for the third, it was his shot that deflected kindly into the path of goalscorer Ronaldo Chacón and lastly, for the fourth, he was credited with an actual assist after he followed up some good work on the left with a pass across to Sergio Córdova, who finished off. Two matches later in the 3-0 win over Uruguay if, even more generously, his free-kick which was headed onto the bar is counted as a contribution towards the first goal which came barely ten seconds later, then he had some part to play in all the goals here as well. Indeed, he scored the second himself from the penalty spot and soon afterwards, he drew the foul to win another spot-kick, which Chacón converted to make it 3-0.

Thus, overall, of Venezuela’s nine tournament goals, he scored three and had a key role to play in at least another three (five, if you ask his agent); furthermore, had his team-mates displayed greater shooting accuracy, he could well have registered contributions for several more. Whilst there may still be justifiable concerns over whether or not he can be a bit of a tunnel-visioned ball-hogger and his size does make one ponder how far he can go in the global game, the raw ingredients of a potential star are surely already there. Having staggeringly played almost exactly 100 games for domestic champions Zamora, he has now joined up with Chile’s Huachipato, a side that compatriot Rómulo Otero impressed at last year before earning a move to Brazil’s Atlético Mineiro. Otero is one of a host of other attacking-midfielders Soteldo shall face competition from in this rather unsettled line in Venezuela’s senior team, though with three caps already to his name, the future nevertheless looks radiant for the Under-20’s leading man.

yangelherrera5

Yangel Herrera (Defensive-midfielder, No. 8, New York City FC, on loan from Manchester City)

Venezuela’s captain, the holding midfielder who deserves much credit for helping to organise those around him and snuff out danger so that his side emerged with the best defensive record over the course of nine games. Primarily for these contributions, Yangel Herrera was crucial to his side’s success though, whilst he may not be as much of an attacking threat as the likes of Uruguay’s Nicolás De La Cruz, he also played his part going forward.

Indeed, in the opening 0-0 draw with Uruguay, he nearly won the match with his late goalwards nudge, but this was overhead-kicked off the line by his counterpart Rodrigo Bentancur. Subsequently, he was impossible to ignore in the following game against Peru, as he first won a penalty which he took yet failed to convert and then hit the bar with the rebound; he did not let this setback devour his drive, however, as he went on to head home an important last-minute equaliser before, barely a minute later, receiving a second yellow card and thus his marching orders. Into the Hexagonal phase, he got the ball rolling in the second game against Ecuador with a fine strike from the edge of the area for the opening goal, though it’s unclear how many of his compatriots watching at home are willing to admit it took a significant deflection. In the subsequent match against Brazil, he was unlucky not to get another goal when he struck a fine low effort from 30 yards that beat the goalkeeper but hit the base of the post before rolling across the goalmouth. Lastly, it’s also worth noting that he helped kick-start many Venezuelan attacks and often looked to play some incisive balls from a deep position.

He has already played for the senior national side and seems almost tailor-made to enjoy a formidable partnership with captain and Juventus new-boy Tomás Rincón. Signed by Manchester City during the tournament, he is perhaps the best-placed of this Under-20 team to become a regular at full international level. However, despite his importance to this campaign it can not go unremarked upon that he wasn’t on the pitch when his team-mates pulled off their most impressive victory, the 3-0 win against Uruguay. He also wasn’t present when his team-mates kept their second clean sheet against Bolivia and had seven gilt-edged chances to score. However, whilst it is worth bearing in mind, this is not intended as criticism of the man, but more praise for the system implemented by Dudamel. That said, one thing he may need to improve upon is the reason behind him missing both of those matches: his discipline. Indeed, he picked up four yellow cards and one red during the tournament, which came off the back of a season where he received 14 yellow cards and one red card for Atlético Venezuela. Given the demands of his position and with Manchester City having already loaned him out to MLS allies New York City FC, it is questionable whether he will be told to ‘Follow what I say, not what I’ve done‘ by manager Patrick Vieira.

argentinaflag Argentina

Tournament Summary

With just one win and three draws in the opening group stage, Claudio Úbeda’s men may not have entirely convinced, but given the attacking talent in their ranks (highest scorers at that point), fans held out hope that they were saving their best for the Hexagonal. However, three games in to the final stage, having endured two comprehensive 3-0 defeats – against first, Uruguay and then two games later, Ecuador – and possessing just three points, things looked bleak. In their following encounter with Brazil, they were ten seconds away from being eliminated before scoring their last-gasp equaliser; subsequently, they beat Venezuela and Brazil’s failure to beat Colombia meant that somehow they sneaked the last qualification spot.

To view highlights as well as read more about how Argentina got on and who stood out in each game, click here

Top Two Argentine Talents

lautaromartinez

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

Had he not scored twice in his final game, it’s debatable whether Lautaro Martínez would be selected in many observers’ Tournament Top Three, but taking into account his overall contribution to the cause, it’s difficult to deny him his spot.

Indeed, Argentina owe their World Cup qualification to him as not only did he end up as joint top-scorer with five in nine starts, but virtually all his goals were astoundingly vital. His first, in the opening game against Peru, was a fine last-minute strike into the corner to save Argentina’s blushes and salvage a point; subsequently however, his stature dropped as he went four games without finding the net and was somewhat overshadowed by his strike-partner Marcelo Torres. Yet, when it mattered most in the Hexagonal he displayed awe-inspiring stamina and drive to score four further goals that effectively won the points to inch Argentina through. As with the Peru goal, two of these came at the death: a cool tap-in to win the game against Colombia and, most significantly, a headed equaliser to make it 2-2 in the penultimate match against Brazil with only seconds remaining – without this, they would have gone out. Subsequently, a big win by at least five goals in the final game against Venezuela seemed the likeliest way for Argentina to progress and Martínez certainly played his part in giving his team-mates hope, as he scored twice in the opening 45 minutes: the first of these was a textbook finish following a Torres pass and the second was a surprise, looping header. Ultimately, the match may have only ended 2-0 but given Brazil’s 0-0 draw with Colombia, it proved to be enough; with the anxiety released, Martínez’s astonishing role could be fully appreciated.

Otherwise, the Racing striker set up the fifth goal against Bolivia with a cross and, several times throughout the tournament, also further displayed his eye for goal, forcing parries with testing strikes from the edge of the area. Having already featured at club level for Racing, he has been on the radar of European clubs since long before the tournament began: Valencia and Arsenal are reportedly interested, though Real Madrid appear to have come closest to acquiring his services, with a loan move having been discussed.

tomasconechny

Tomás Conechny (Attacking-midfielder, No. 20, San Lorenzo)

Five-goal Marcelo Torres lost out on being selected as one of Argentina’s top two prospects due to little more than a coin toss, but it’s difficult to deny that 18-year-old playmaker Tomás Conechny deserves some high recognition. Not only was he involved in five goals, but three of his four assists were absolutely crucial, coming towards the very end of matches and winning points for Los Pibes. Indeed, he came on as a 70th minute substitute in the second Group B game against Uruguay and superbly crossed in for two headed goals, the latter securing a 3-3 draw at the death. Later in the Hexagonal stage, he set up Martínez for two vital goals, the first a low ball into the goalmouth following some nice footwork which gave Argentina a 2-1 win over Colombia and the second was a fine cross for the header that nabbed a 2-2 draw against Brazil, heart-stoppingly keeping them in the competition.

Earlier on in the third Group B game against Bolivia, he also scored a goal, possibly Argentina’s best: he cut onto his left on the inside-right and struck home a fine effort from just outside the area. This was actually his first start of the tournament; overall, he began four matches and was subbed on a further four times, statistics which surely make the number of his contributions to goals all the more impressive.

Though he is billed by various sources as a striker, he was definitely playing behind the forward line here. However, he can certainly find the back of the net as indeed he did five times in seven games at 2015’s Sudamericano Sub-17 tournament, an achievement he celebrated on his birthday by falling 10 feet out of his hotel window whilst playing FIFA 15. Something of a child prodigy who has been on the radar of scouts at least since that particular competition, he has spoken of his desire to play in England, ideally for Liverpool or Arsenal – based on his consistent success at youth level, one would not bet against this. Currently attached to San Lorenzo, he has hardly played at club level, but expect that to change in the upcoming year.

brazilflag Brazil 

Tournament Summary

In the opening group stage, Brazil may not have emerged head and shoulders above their opponents but they did still manage to advance with a game to spare. However, those with doubts were vindicated in the Hexagonal as they were defeated by Uruguay and held to three draws – the last one against Colombia denying them a place at the Under-20 World Cup. Nevertheless, though Brazil may not have set the tournament alight, overall it can’t be ignored that they finished only one point behind three of the teams who did qualify. Collectively unremarkable maybe, but they are not without talented individuals – though whether they can help revive the reputation of the Seleção on the grandest stage is another matter.

To view highlights as well as read more about how Brazil got on and who stood out in each game, click here

Top Two Brazilian Talents

richarlison

Richarlison (Attacking-midfielder, No. 18, Fluminense)

Partly due to their unconvincing performances relative to the high standards expected of them rather than an abundance of talent complicating a final decision, there are at least several contenders for Brazil’s most notable individual. Nevertheless, owing as much to his displays as his perceived potential, attacking-midfielder/forward Richarlison has been chosen as their most impressive offence-minded player.

He was a frequent threat, particularly from the left as he showed off some neat footwork to set him free to either play in team-mates or try his luck at the target himself. Though a cold reading of his statistics will state that he only scored twice and assisted once, he did also hit the woodwork a couple of times, come close with at least one effort and provided opportunities for others who perhaps should have done better. Indeed, the lack of cohesion and consistent on-field team-mates possibly also hampered him. Still, excuses aside, with a fine first-time low cross he set up Felipe Vizeu’s goal in the opening 1-0 win against Ecuador. The 3-2 win against Paraguay yielded the first of his goals, as a route one move was headed on for him to slide home; his second came in the penultimate Hexagonal encounter with Argentina when, upon receiving a floated ball, he was able to direct home an effort – at the second bite of the cherry – to give his side an early lead.

During the competition, Ajax reportedly had a considerable bid of approximately €9 million turned down for Richarlison – his club Fluminense supposedly believe he’s worth more. Having already played over 50 professional club games and, just this weekend gone (18 February), returned from the competition to score twice in a 3-0 win, they may well be right.

lyanco

Lyanco (Centre-back, No. 4, São Paulo)

Lyanco Evangelista Silveira Neves Vojnović to give him his full name. Possessing some less common heritage from the Old Continent, this well-built centre-back was actually representing Serbia at Under-19 level less than a year ago and who can say for certain with whom – if anyone – his senior international career will be. Indeed, it’s not too late to revert back to his grandfather’s country but if the Seleção anticipate requiring more help to shore up their defensive line, it may be advisable to soon try nailing this man’s colours to the mast.

It’s debatable, but he didn’t seem to bear any glaring, direct responsibility for the nine goals his side conceded – only six of which occurred when he was on the pitch, two of these being penalties. In Brazil’s Hexagonal stage encounter with Uruguay, their opponents may have scored their winner soon after he was red-carded, but his second yellow was largely due to the strain of having to cover extra ground, what with his side already playing with ten men at that point. In all, he was the most prominent Brazilian defender and deserves credit for his role in his side’s relatively decent defensive record (just one more goal let in than winners Uruguay).

Doing so more often than the average centre-back, he was also notable for coming forward from time to time. Indeed, perhaps his most memorable contribution was a superb diagonal ball to Richarlison to then set up the winner in the opener against Ecuador; he also had the ball in the back of the net against Argentina but this was ruled out.

One of his defensive colleagues, Gabriel (No. 14, Lille), secured a move to Ligue 1 during the tournament but Lyanco’s prospects are anticipated to be grander. Indeed, amongst others, Atlético Madrid are reportedly interested but Juventus appear to be the front-runners for the São Paulo man, who possesses over 20 games of domestic experience.

colombia Colombia

Tournament Summary

In Group A, Carlos Restrepo’s men stuttered to begin with and had a memorable setback in the second game when they gave away their lead to lose 4-3 to Ecuador, but they had nevertheless shown a lot of potential along the way and ultimately progressed after winning their last two games. However, they collapsed in the Hexagonal, frequently lacking in ambition or desire; perhaps the morale-sapping concession of a last-minute goal in the defeat against Argentina didn’t help as they followed this up by being swatted aside 3-0 by both Uruguay and Ecuador. Ultimately, they finished bottom with two points and, partly as a consequence of being so off the pace as much as there being no obvious second choice, have thus only been allocated one star man here. Complaints to the usual address, please.

To view highlights as well as read more about how Colombia got on and who stood out in each game, click here

Top Colombian Talent

juanhernandez

Juan Camilo Hernández (Attacking-midfielder, No. 10, América de Cali, on loan from Granada, Spain)

A 17-year-old creative attacker who made his debut at 15 and who has already played over 50 professional club games, scoring an outstanding 20 goals in 33 league games last season. That was all for second-tier Deportivo Pereira, where his exploits came to the attention of the intrepid scouting network of La Liga’s Granada, who have owned him since September and have ordained for him to now go on loan back home to newly-promoted giants  América de Cali.

It’s because of his age, prodigious potential and drive that he has been highlighted as Colombia’s most noteworthy player. Indeed, particularly in the latter stages, it often seemed like he was his country’s main forward threat, being the most likely source of a through-ball, a pin-point cross or a sudden shot from range. Yet, with many of his team-mates faltering and putting in some rather limp performances in the Hexagonal, some observers did comment that it may be a bit much to place so much hope in someone so youthful.

Despite this, though his colleagues were sometimes not on the same page and, perhaps as a consequence, he would try to make things happen unaided, Hernández kept his head higher than most, seemingly unfazed by the role he largely fashioned for himself. In terms of concrete contributions, he drew the foul to win the penalty against Venezuela in the first Hexagonal match and then stepped up himself to convert for a draw. In the following encounter against Argentina he got his side on level terms from a knock-on that he beat the goalkeeper to in order to head home. He was also credited with an assist for the first goal against Ecuador in the opening stage, though the real praise goes to the goalscorer as this consisted merely of a chested pass before Damir Ceter struck a fine shot from 25 yards.

As noted, he could have had at least a couple more assists but it’s also true that there were perhaps two shooting opportunities he should have done better from. Nevertheless, there’s certainly a good chance of hearing more of ‘El Cucho‘, a nickname he’s had since a child as, with a shaved head, his appearance would be compared to ex-Argentina international, Esteban ‘Cuchu’ Cambiasso.


More Talented Players From the Hexagonal Sides

uruguayflag Uruguay

It was very much a team effort from Uruguay, as they comfortably finished five points clear of their nearest rivals in the Hexagonal and, overall, scored the joint-highest number of goals as well as conceded the second-lowest amount. Thus, there are many candidates who could be put forward as their third most impressive player, though not a clear choice. Nevertheless, from their well-organised, sturdy defence, towering and tenacious centre-back Agustín Rogel (No. 18, Nacional) caught the eye, even managing to knock home De La Cruz’s free-kick against Bolivia, though the five yellow cards (and thus, two suspensions) he picked up in seven games may be an aspect of his game worth working on.


It’s debatable whether the man ahead of him in a holding midfield role, Rodrigo Bentancur (No. 20, Boca Juniors, Argentina), lived up to the pre-tournament hype that stemmed from his already considerable experience at a high club level. However, though he picked up a red card in the first group stage, he also often played his part helping out the back four, notably overhead-kicking a clearance off the line in the first game against Venezuela. He formed a strong partnership with the lesser-heralded Carlos Benavidez (No. 8, Defensor Sporting) and did gradually grow into the tournament; attack-wise, he scored a cracking goal from just outside the area against Bolivia and also had a minor hand in one of the goals against Colombia. At the time of writing, he has recently been undergoing medical checks in Turin for his suitors, Juventus.


Slightly further upfield, left-sided midfielder Facundo Waller (No. 15, Plaza Colonia) also impressed in a more low-key manner than the likes of Amaral and De La Cruz and could well prove to be a very rewarding investment for any team seeking a creative workhorse with a cultured left foot. After an opening group stage in which he often put in some useful balls, it was in the Hexagonal when he really made his mark. First, he set up the two latter goals in the 3-0 win against Argentina (the first with a pass up the left flank, the second with a cross for Amaral), then in the next game he launched the ball forward for Matías Viña (No. 17, Nacional) to score the last-gasp winner against Brazil. He even got on the scoresheet himself with the opener in the 3-0 win against Colombia, scooping an effort from the edge of the area into the back of the net.


Otherwise, striker Nicolás Schiappacasse (No. 9, Atlético Madrid) impressed, though was slightly overshadowed by at least a few other players in his position from other nations. Nevertheless, he sometimes looked sharp and often got into good positions, scoring three goals (including clinical strikes against both Peru and, later in the Hexagonal, Colombia) and winning two penalties (not to mention a fair few free-kicks), one of which he took himself in the first group stage against Argentina and had saved, but was able to knock in at the second attempt. This prospect only turned 18 in January and, though he started his career at Montevideo’s River Plate, has already moved on to Atlético Madrid’s Under-19 side, where this season he has featured in the UEFA Youth League.


He didn’t receive as much game-time as Schiappacasse (who he is a mere day older than), but another attacker who may nevertheless be worth keeping an eye on is Joaquín Ardaiz (No. 7, Danubio). He was conspicuous in the group stage win over Bolivia, one of two games he started; he made a nuisance of himself from the off and perhaps could have put away at least one of his chances, one of which hit the post. However, he certainly made his mark when he was trusted to make his second start (from six appearances) in the crucial title-decider against Ecuador. He scored both goals in a 2-1 win, the first a capitalisation on a defensive howler and the second a confident finish from De La Cruz’s pass. A host of clubs, including Sporting Clube de Portugal, are reportedly monitoring him.


Briefly, left-back Mathías Olivera (No. 5, Club Atlético Atenas) often appeared rather reliable on the ball, frequently coming forward and even got on the scoresheet in the 3-0 win against Argentina; as he has recently been bought from Nacional by an agent and held somewhat curiously at a second division halfway-house, it appears a bigger move can’t be too far away.


Lastly, a note to mention that defender Santiago Bueno (No. 2, Barcelona Juvenil A) has earned a move to Barcelona out of this tournament, though he can’t really be said to have significantly stood out; indeed, he played only four games and one of these was to cover the suspended Rogel for the 3-0 hiding dished out by Venezuela.

ecuadorflag Ecuador

Particularly in the first group stage, Joao Rojas (No. 17, Emelec) looked to be Ecuador’s most creative midfielder, regularly putting in dangerous balls from open play as well as set-pieces and also not being afraid to strike. He was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet, particularly against Chile when he had a goal incorrectly ruled out for offside. Also, though he had an important role in the build-up of at least four goals, for only one of these could he be credited with an assist: a slide across the area for Washington Corozo’s opener against Paraguay. However, though he appeared to be a frequent source of trouble for opponents, following the 4-2 hiding by Venezuela in the Hexagonal, he was replaced early and left out of the starting line-ups for the final three games. Hopefully, having already regularly played for nearly two seasons with domestic side S.D. Aucas, he will be able to prove himself as a consistent threat at his new club, giants Emelec.


Rojas was one of several talented supporting Ecuador midfielders who frequently helped to create chances and confusion, with opposition defenders often struggling to contend with several bustling threats at once. One of the most significant of these was Ajax-target Jordan Sierra (No. 15, Delfin), who appeared to play in a more central, deep-lying role to Rojas and gradually came to overshadow him. Indeed, in his first two outings he was notable for some testing long-range efforts but then early on in the third game against Chile he displayed great tenacity and desire to hold off and evade the challenges of two defenders before managing to sneak in a goal that went in off the far post. Otherwise, with his dinked forward ball to Rojas, he played a key role in the opener in the subsequent game against Paraguay and later, in the Hexagonal, set up Cabezas’ first goal against Colombia. As with Cabezas and Félix Torres (No. 23, Barcelona de Guayaquil) – who played in five games but never really caught this observer’s eye – Sierra has been called up for the senior squad’s friendly with Honduras on 22 February.


To a lesser extent as he was not afforded as many chances – three starts, plus four substitute appearances – fellow midfielder Wilter Ayoví (No. 8, Independiente Del Valle) could also be a handful. Indeed, he displayed a notable capacity for driving forward, bustling and making things happens. His most notable contribution was the last-gasp cross that was nodded in by Jordy Caicedo to claim an enthralling 4-3 victory over Colombia in the opening stage. Thirty seconds prior he had a gilt-edged opportunity to win the game himself and before this had also managed to get in a couple other attempts, as he did in two other matches he featured in.


Working in close tandem with these attacking-midfielders were a range of forwards, who also impressed. Indeed, along with Cabezas, there was three-goal Jordy Caicedo (No. 19, Universidad Católica del Ecuador), who played in all nine games, starting four. As noted, he dramatically began his tally by heading in Ayoví’s cross for the late 4-3 win against Colombia, with his other two coming in the pair of 3-0 wins in the Hexagonal, firstly a tap-in against Argentina and then a clinical strike against Colombia.


With perhaps more versatility in his game, Herlin Lino (No. 9, currently unattached, though ex-Barcelona de Guayaquil; El Nacional interested) made a nuisance of himself and managed to bag two goals. The first of these was a sensational 25-yard volley against Paraguay, certainly one of the goals of the tournament, whereas the second was the last of the competition, a deft touch following a long ball from right-back Kevin Minda (No. 4, L.D.U. Quito) that halved Uruguay’s lead. He was also notable for having a curious knack of forcing opponents into fouls and winning penalties; he was fouled for the one in the 4-3 win over Colombia and, remarkably, for both in the 2-2 Hexagonal draw against Brazil, with many fans feeling he was also narrowly denied another one late on.


Last but by no means least, though with one goal he was not as prolific as he was at U-17 level (goals in 8 games at 2015’s Sudamericano tournament, then 2 in 5 encounters later that year at the World Cup), Washington Corozo (No. 7, Independiente Del Valle) made his presence known. With his fast pace, he impressed running at opponents and though he only got one assist (a short pass to Estupiñán in the opening stage win against Colombia), had some of his team-mates been a little sharper, he could have had at least a few more. His solitary goal came against Paraguay; shortly beforehand he should’ve netted with a header in space which instead hit the post, but he made no mistake for the 20th-minute opener when Rojas slid the ball to him and, unmarked, he turned to convert. Like Rojas, he either fell out of favour and/or succumbed to fatigue as, despite also starting the first six games, he was a substitute for the last three.

venezuelaflag Venezuela

Venezuela came into the tournament with three individuals already capped at senior level and, quelle surprise, they turned out to be their most important players. Wuilker Fariñez (No. 1, Caracas FC) is the third of these starlets and has deservedly been proclaimed by virtually all observers as the indisputable top goalkeeper of the competition. He conceded just seven goals in nine games (three of which were penalties), looking remarkably assured and pulling off several notable saves. From the very first game, he gained widespread attention when he kept his cool to embarrass Uruguay’s Nicolás De La Cruz by not being fooled by his Panenka chipped penalty, instead standing upright to swat it away. Other impressive saves include a last-gasp stop at close range against Peru in the subsequent game as well as two in quick succession against Argentina in the final match, which helped to quell the feared opposition onslaught.

Many would have selected him as one of Venezuela’s top two players, but with an eye towards his potential long-term future, there’s just one glaring barrier stopping this writer from doing so: he’s 5 feet 9 inches tall. During the competition, while his sprightliness and alertness ensured it wasn’t a huge issue, he did get out-jumped a couple of times and one can imagine it happening with greater frequency elsewhere. Indeed, unsurprisingly, recent history and present reality are somewhat against him attaining a regular starting position in a major European league. Given that the current senior international goalkeeper Dani Hernández (incidentally, a colossal 6 feet 5 inches) plays for promotion-chasing Tenerife in the Spanish second division, one wonders if Fariñez can possibly go any higher than this. At the moment, though speculation exists regarding a potential move this year, he has said that he plans to remain at Caracas FC – where he has chalked up over 50 league appearances – at least until when his contract expires in 2018.

Other than his height, it can’t be ignored that he did clumsily give away two penalties in the tournament (the Ecuador one was difficult to argue with, though the one against Colombia was fiercely disputed by Venezuelan onlookers, including Salomón Rondón). Furthermore, in the opening match, his arguably unnecessary parry back into the danger zone, which led to a Uruguayan penalty as well as a red card for team-mate Eduin Quero who made a last-ditch effort to prevent a goal, didn’t exactly help either.

All that being said, he is definitely a top talent and there is little doubt in this writer’s mind that he will one day enjoy a run as the senior side’s first-choice goalkeeper. Despite one’s reservations about him when confronted by more physical opponents and a greater-paced game, his career is definitely one to keep an eye on and could constitute an inspiring victory for little gloved chaps the world over.

If it doesn’t work out, he can always try to rekindle his early teenage success as a striker.


Moving on somewhat, though Fariñez deserves huge credit for the stops he made and the way he patrolled his area with a confidence belying his age, he was also greatly assisted in achieving his four clean sheets by an exceptionally well-drilled defence. Indeed, they ensured that, a few scares aside, he was never put under relentless concerted pressure comparable to, say, Tim Howard for USA against Belgium, World Cup 2014. As already noted, given that they even managed to keep two clean sheets when Herrera was suspended from protecting the back four, it was very much a genuine squad effort and thus perhaps more of a triumph for Dudamel’s system rather than any one individual. This, coupled with Venezuela’s somewhat unremarkable record of producing top-level defenders (Roberto Rosales and Oswaldo Vizcarrondo being perhaps the best in recent years), renders one hesitant to predict untold success and riches for any one of these men at club level – after all, what will happen when they are broken up and have to abide by different tactics as well as work with other players at their respective clubs?

Nevertheless, if any of these shall enhance Venezuela’s defensive reputation in the upcoming decade or so, one’s money is on the following: Firstly, right-back Ronald Hernández (No. 20, Zamora FC) who thwarted virtually all the attacks on his flank, can’t be held culpable for any of the goals conceded and also managed to go on several notable dribbles upfield in at least a few games. Secondly, the two centre-backs  Josua Mejías (No. 17, Carabobo FC) and Williams Velásquez (No. 2, Estudiantes de Caracas, soon-to-be Udinese, Italy, on loan from Watford, England). The former, who has allegedly received interest from abroad, made some crucial blocks as well as got on the scoresheet by sliding in the opener in the Hexagonal win over Uruguay. The latter, who actually looked a likelier scorer with his headers from set-pieces, impressed and has reportedly signed for Watford, who shall loan him to Udinese, though some details remain unclear at this point.


Otherwise, further upfield, midfielder Ronaldo Lucena (No. 16, Zamora FC) – younger brother of the highly-capped international, Franklin – quietly impressed, particularly from set-pieces. Indeed, while he only officially registered one assist – the free-kick cross headed in by Herrera against Peruhad a couple of team-mates kept their cool against Bolivia, he could have easily had at least two more. Furthermore, in other games, he very nearly played a role in at least two other goals which makes one wonder: had he been able to see more action (four starts, three subs) and somehow nab set-piece duties from Soteldo more often, would he have proven himself as a superior provider? Time may tell on that one.


From a somewhat more attacking perspective, out largely on the right was Sergio Córdova (No. 23, Caracas FC). He didn’t entirely convince that a full international career beckons but he nevertheless made some useful contributions. Indeed, though he possesses less physicality and bustle than some of the Ecuadorian flank-men, he was still able to take on opponents from time to time and cause problems. Following one such moment against Bolivia which culminated with him putting a ball into the goalmouth, Ronaldo Peña’s ineptitude caused them to miss an open goal. Somewhat more successfuly, he played in a low ball from the right in the Hexagonal clash with Uruguay, which led to Ronaldo Chacón being fouled and, subsequently, the lead was doubled from the spot. Throughout the tournament, Soteldo set up at least four notable chances for Córdova, though only one of the three he failed to convert – against Bolivia – could be deemed close to gilt-edged. He did, however, score from one of Soteldo’s passes, this coming in from the left flank against Ecuador, which he struck home low in the fog from inside the area.


Up top, Ronaldo Chacón (No. 11, Caracas FC) arguably had the best tournament of those nominally fielded as strikers, though he had to wait until the Hexagonal stage to make four of his five starts. This was a slight surprise to those who were aware of his three goals in four games at the 2015 Under-17 Sudamericano, though he at least picked the most memorable games to get on the scoresheet here. Indeed, in the 4-2 win over Ecuador, he scored the third goal, receiving a deflected shot from Soteldo and striking home himself. Then, in the 3-0 win over Uruguay, he not only doubled his tally, but also had a hand in all three goals: for the first, not long after he had hit the crossbar with a header, he played in Mejías to slide home; for the second, he received Córdova’s pass and was fouled in the area, with Soteldo converting the subsequent penalty; for the third, he himself scored from the spot after the roles were reversed and Soteldo had been upended. Both Chacón and Soteldo worked rather well together in this match, which may have been just the time he caught the eye of the latter’s new club, Huachipato of Chile; rumours suggest they may link up there later this year.


Lastly, the name of Ronaldo Peña (No. 9, Las Palmas, Spain) went down in most fans’ little black books after he squandered a glaring hat-trick of golden opportunities against Bolivia which seemingly jeopardised the team’s chances of progressing to the Hexagonal. There were at least a couple more decent chances in other games that he could have done better with but overall, his play had its merits and suggested that he may be more suited to a support role, holding up the ball, linking up more dynamic players, chasing loose balls, running down the clock etc. Nevertheless, his most effective attacking contributions were an early flick-on against Bolivia from which a team-mate should have scored and the penalty for which he was fouled against Ecuador, ultimately converted by Soteldo.

argentinaflag Argentina

Fans of Marcelo Torres (No. 21, Boca Juniors) can rightly feel aggrieved that he has not been chosen as one of the two stand-out Argentines; given his nation’s recent embarrassment of riches in the striker department, his performances sometimes suggested that he may be another crack off the assembly line. Indeed, for much of the tournament, the previously little-known striker turned many heads and actually looked to be on course to be Los Pibes’ stand-out player. Like the greater-hyped Martínez, he scored five goals, though these came within the first six games (and four were in the first phase), before his strike-partner returned to prominence with four goals in the final four matches. However, overall, Torres played two fewer games so can at least claim a superior goals-per-minute ratio and, given the calibre of some of his finishes, his tally can not be casually overlooked.

Indeed, he opened his account with two goals in a 3-3 draw against eventual winners Uruguay in Group B, with the first comparable to Martínez’s against Peru: he exquisitely controlled a ball on the left inside the area, before nudging it past a defender and brilliantly striking home. His second in the subsequent half came as he rose in exemplary fashion to power home a bullet-header. The following game against an admittedly poor Bolivia yielded another brace: the first a no-frills header and the second a tap-in following a goalkeeping spill. If they were not as eye-grabbing, he certainly got viewers’ attention in the second Hexagonal game when, after a mere 19 seconds against Colombia, he scored his fifth and final tournament goal; this too was a fine finish, as he received a pass and took a couple of touches before superbly curling home.

Thus, he can be rather deadly and, following that game, he didn’t entirely drift out of focus, as he also managed to gain an assist for Martínez’s opener against Venezuela (note: he was also officially given another assist for Conechny’s goal against Bolivia but those who saw that strjke know that it was all the work of the playmaker). That said, though he often appeared committed to causing trouble for defenders, aside from only scoring once in the Hexagonal, perhaps the main criticism of him is that he did go a little quiet in some games.

Nevertheless, five goals and an assist in just seven games certainly can’t be dismissed. He may have never made a first-team appearance for Boca Juniors but after this tournament it shouldn’t be long before he sees some competitive club action, whether at La Bombonera or elsewhere.


Playing in a similar position as Conechny and also impressing, albeit to a somewhat lesser degree, Brian Mansilla (No. 11, Racing Club) found himself on the radar of a European club, who must have appreciated his two goals and an assist from nine straight starts. Indeed, he was the subject of a considerable bid from Ajax during the tournament which his club turned down. Particularly in the first game with Peru, they may well have also enjoyed his ability to pace his way past opponents and move play into dangerous areas, especially when he drove through two players before setting up Martínez for the equaliser. The following game against Uruguay showcased his tendency to shoot no matter how unpromising the position may be, clipping the bar with one effort. Subsequently in the rout against Bolivia, he capitalised on a defensive error to score with a textbook left-footed strike into the corner and then saw another shot of his spilled to Torres, who tapped home. His second goal of the tournament came in the Hexagonal draw with Brazil as he instinctively knocked home a flick-on from a corner to equalise in the first half. Thus far, most of his league appearances have come in a loan spell at Quilmes (3 goals in 14 games, only 5 of which were starts), but given Racing clearly consider him an asset, perhaps he’ll soon be appearing more regularly at El Cilindro.


Sticking briefly with the attacking-midfielders, from his seven appearances (four starts), Lucas Rodríguez (No. 7, Estudiantes de La Plata) showed glimpses of his potential. He powerfully headed home to score from a Martínez cross against Bolivia and was also responsible for the corner that was knocked on and then in by Mansilla for the first goal against Brazil; at the end of the first half in that game, he was also close to registering an official assist with his fine cross on a breakaway, but Mansilla narrowly missed the target. Ultimately, he perhaps suffered from playing in a rather competitive area, but given that he has already featured in over 40 games for an impressive Estudiantes de La Plata side, he can feel more confident than most regarding his club future.


A quick mention for Ezequiel Barco (No. 10, Independiente), a 17-year-old attacking-midfielder who was adorned with a rather coveted shirt number. Like Rodríguez, he had a reduced role, with his two starts (from eight appearances) actually coming in the opening two games. It’s quite possible that his limited game-time was due to the emergence of his replacement in the second Group B match against Uruguay: Conechny. Nevertheless, though he may have not scored or assisted in this tournament, given his age and his occasional determination to drive forward and strike from both open play as well as set-pieces, he could be one worth keeping an eye on. He’s already made nearly 20 appearances in all competitions for Independiente and could well turn up again at this tournament in 2019.


Briefly moving further back on the field, defensive-midfielder and captain Santiago Ascacibar (No. 5, Estudiantes de La Plata) came into the tournament with some fanfare, already being a regular at club level and having received praise from some notable ex-pros. Comparisons to Javier Mascherano are unsurprising but this tournament can’t really be said to have done much for the profile of Ascacibar. After all, he was at the heart of a defensive system that turned out to be the joint-leakiest in the competition (14 goals conceded), with particular lowlights including letting in three against Uruguay (twice, 3-3 and 3-0) as well as once against Ecuador (3-0). Having also played last year in the Olympic side that was knocked out in the group stage, he said ahead of the final game against Venezuela that preparation for both tournaments had been inadequate a widespread opinion that his fans at club level would doubtless agree with. Nevertheless, several times, he was at least able to display some attacking ability, taking some shots from distance; mostly notably, he played a superbly well-weighted diagonal ball to set up Torres’ lightning-quick goal against Colombia and also found Conechny late on with a similar ball, from which the San Lorenzo youngster slid to Martínez for the winner.


Given the defensive shortcomings, one hesitates to offer any praise to those involved in the back four. From an attacking perspective at least, left-back  Milton Valenzuela (No. 3, Newell’s Old Boys) regularly put in some good crosses but no team-mate ever made the right connection. Right-back Nahuel Molina (No. 4, Boca Juniors) perhaps emerged with more credit and can at least buck-passingly point out that he was not involved with the 3-0 hiding from Uruguay and, furthermore, was only substituted on against Ecuador when Los Pibes were already 3-0 down. Up the other end, he also gained two assists, first with a fine long range ball which found Torres who scored in the first half of the 3-3 draw with Uruguay and, in the subsequent 5-1 win over Bolivia, when his ball again reached Torres, who nodded home for the opener.

brazilflag Brazil

If Felipe Vizeu (No. 9, Flamengo) lodges a complaint for not being listed as one of this site’s top two Brazilians, his grievances will receive some sympathy from the writer who omitted him and who will also struggle to give him an adequate explanation. Basically, he’s guilty of not being the Second Coming of Pelé – nor Ronaldo or Romário for that matter. Harsh criteria, certainly, but with Brazil’s history and, Neymar aside, less-than-remarkable recent production of goalscorers (compared with those of Argentina, at least), one can not help but be wary.

Being over six feet tall as well as more physical and less versatile in his approach than the aforementioned Barcelona striker and new-kid-on-the-block Gabriel Jesus, he is, in any case, a rather different type of attacker. Perhaps the memory of Fred is just much too fresh and Vizeu is instead precisely the kind of complementary forward figure the senior side could do with. Who knows at this stage, though to give him his due he did have many noteworthy moments in this tournament.

Indeed, he was his side’s top-scorer with four goals. His first was a clinical finish from Richarlison’s cross to win the opening game against Ecuador; his second, a tap-in against Paraguay, was less to write home about but he did also get an assist in this game by heading on a goalkeeper’s clearance for Richarlison’s goal. His third, the last-minute Hexagonal stage winner against Venezuela, was a fantastically powerful 25-yard drive from outside the area that whistled past Wuilker Faríñez; his last, in the following game against Argentina, was a penalty.

With a ratio of one goal in every two games he played, combined with his Flamengo club record of one in three (albeit with his inexperienced legs not lasting the full 90 minutes in nearly half the games), he is certainly one to keep an eye on. Despite some wariness, one would not bet against him gradually making a name for himself, whether that it be in the relatively strong Brasileirão or in a superior league.


For slightly different reasons, one wouldn’t be surprised to receive some mockery from some – probably Dutch – fans of jinking attacker David Neres (No. 11, Ajax) for not naming him as one of Brazil’s top two. However, his omission is not due to a lack of perceived talent but instead because, in terms of goals and assists – zero of the former, one (maybe two at a stretch) of the latter from seven starts and two sub appearances – his contribution wasn’t as substantial as his reported value would lead non-observers to imagine. Indeed, during the tournament he was bought from São Paulo by Ajax for comfortably the highest fee any player in the competition has moved for: €12 million, which could rise to €15 million.

That said, this writer wouldn’t be surprised if he were to become the most prominent Brazilian of the crop as, despite his key statistics, he was often his side’s most eye-catching player. Indeed, in at least a couple of the Group A games, his propensity to dribble and force keepers into parries with strikes from distance often added some much needed urgency, pressure and excitement. His best game was undoubtedly the first Hexagonal stage match against Ecuador, which occurred on the day that it was announced that his move to Ajax would be going through; no doubt emboldened by this, he was impossible to ignore, jinking with the ball, displaying some trickery and coming close with at least four impressive efforts: one of these was parried by the goalkeeper with a team-mate netting the rebound. His official assist came in the following game against Uruguay when, from a central position, he showed some brilliant vision to exquisitely find a colleague in the area, who finished off for the opening goal.

There was, however, one sour note, which came towards the end of the subsequent match against Venezuela when he clearly struck an opponent, causing him to bleed; somehow, he went unpunished for this moment of petulance. One wonders what his new owners made of this. Nevertheless, despite not really playing an integral role for Brazil here, he did display ample raw talent to suggest that, if he adapts to the right system, he could well become a quality top-level player.


The two goals Neres had a role in were both scored by the same man: left-back Guilherme Arana (No. 6, Corinthians). The first against Ecuador was a rebound but the second against Uruguay involved the defender making a fine run into the area before receiving an incisive ball, controlling and finishing off the job. Given that four of his six appearances occurred in the Hexagonal stage it’s not too much of a surprise that was when he first came to attention, not only with his goals but several testing crosses and shots from the flank. Although one perhaps shouldn’t read too much into this he nevertheless appeared solid at the back and, perhaps more so than Lyanco, can’t really be faulted for any of the goals conceded. He currently plays regularly for Corinthians and while he may not be Roberto Carlos, he was nevertheless one of the better left-backs in the competition.


One player who potentially has a big future but who may have gone under the radar a little during this tournament is holding midfielder and captain Caio Henrique (No. 7, Atlético Madrid). Without any particularly successful results, he was often on set-piece duties, but it was more his defensive role for which he was employed. Indeed, he occupied perhaps not the most conspicuous of positions, but he nevertheless carried it off with a certain confidence and class, often appearing to drift back alongside the defenders to clean up as well as start attacks. A year ago, he left Santos without playing a first-team game to sign for Atlético Madrid and has featured once in a Copa Del Rey match in November. He has clearly impressed Diego Simeone as just this Saturday gone (18 February), he was called into a first-team squad for first ever time for the league match with Sporting Gijón, where he watched on from the bench.


Otherwise, one recalls two years ago when Brazil were roundly criticised after scraping through in fourth place but then went on – admittedly with some personnel changes – to finish runners-up at the 2015 Under-20 World Cup. Thus, one can not help but feel that some individuals in this Brazil side may be capable of more than they were able to display during this tournament. The above-mentioned players were the best performers, but if anyone else is to prosper to a notable degree, it may be worth keeping an eye out for the following: right-back Dodô (No. 2, Coritiba), attacker Matheus Sávio (No. 20, Flamengo) and central midfielder Maycon (No. 17, Corinthians). Finally, though he barely did anything of note owing to his solitary start and three brief substitute appearances, Allan (No. 5, Hertha BSC, Germany, on loan from Liverpool, England) has actually made eight Bundesliga appearances this season, so can not be completely discounted.

colombia Colombia

For someone who only played in the opening two group games before succumbing to an injury, striker Damir Ceter (No. 9, Santa Fe) may be receiving undue prominence here. However, with no clear candidate to highlight after Hernández, his significance is owing to the intertwined facts that not only did he score twice in his short spell in the tournament, but without him or another decent target man, the work of Colombia’s roaming attacking-midfielders often petered out or was squandered. Indeed, with no goals in six outings, Michael Nike Gómez (No. 11, Envigado), also known as ‘Mike Nike’, struggled to convince and won’t be appearing in any globally transmitted sportswear adverts any time soon.

As if to further emphasise how different things may have been, Ceter actually came on as a substitute for Gómez in the opening game with Paraguay and though he did miss a clear opportunity, he also nudged home the last-minute equaliser. In the subsequent helter-skelter match against Ecuador, he scored a bona fide golazo as, early on, Hernández chested back to him and he struck brilliantly past the goalkeeper from 25 yards. Admittedly, he should probably have scored later on in the half when he again saw a one-on-one chance stopped, though a team-mate did at least slide home the rebound to double the lead. Perhaps, if he hadn’t got injured, he would’ve also frustrated and jaded those playing him in from behind. However, given his two goals in less than 120 minutes of play, plus his club record last season of 14 goals in 25 games for second-tier Deportes Quindío, one is keen to believe that his presence would’ve been a rather welcome asset. A promising top-flight season with new club Santa Fe hopefully awaits.


Aside from Hernández, perhaps the most promising other attacking-midfielder who could have benefited from having Ceter make runs was Ever Valencia (No. 13, Wisła Kraków, on loan from Independiente Medellín). He actually managed to score three goals himself, all in the opening group stage: the first against Ecuador was a somewhat fortuitous tap-in at the back post which involved two bites at the cherry; the second, a late winner against Brazil, was from a free-kick at an angle and probably wasn’t intended as a shot, but it surprised everyone as it took a slight deflection to bypass the goalkeeper; the third, against Chile, was more of his own doing, as he jinked forward, encroaching upon a reserved defence, before casually sliding his strike into the back of the net. In the Hexagonal, however, his main contribution was playing in the free-kick against Argentina which was knocked into Hernández’s path for the goal. Indeed, though he wasn’t afraid to get some shots away and put in some decent free-kicks, he and those positioned in the same line as him struggled to convert their nice interplay into goals. It was a pity, as some promise had been displayed by these players, such as Jorge Obregón (No. 19, Unión Magdalena), who chalked up a goal and an assist in the opening group stage.

Nevertheless, the competition has at least led to a move for Valencia: he played last season for Independiente Medellín, yet somewhat curiously was officially announced as a new signing by Atlético Bucaramanga just before the tournament began, though it’s debatable as to whether he was ever their player as he’s now been announced as a loanee for Poland’s Wisła Kraków.


Otherwise, even whilst taking into account the final-day thwarting of Brazil, given the side’s meek 3-0 capitulations to both Ecuador and Uruguay in the Hexagonal, not to mention the 4-3 defeat by Ecuador in the opening stage, one is reluctant to give much credit to their defence-minded players. Indeed, there was a bit of pre-tournament hype for captain and defensive-midfielder Kevin Balanta (No. 8, Deportivo Cali), who actually played for the senior team 18 months ago in a friendly featuring top overseas players and who has also started regularly at club level. However, whilst it shouldn’t be ignored that he could have had two decent assists had Hernández shown more composure and he could have had a goal himself had he not fluffed a header from a good position, with zero goals in over 45 club games, attacking clearly isn’t his main forte. That would instead be the ability to snuff out danger as well as protect the back four and thus, though he certainly looked like an impressive physical specimen, he could hardly be said to have patrolled the midfield well.


Balanta’s usual partner-in-crime (and captain when he wasn’t on the field), Eduard Atuesta (No. 20, Independiente Medellín), received some admiring glances in the opening stage and was able to get forward more, striking two shots from distance against the post. Defensively, it’s interesting to note that he was substituted off after Ecuador made it 2-2 in the initial defeat and he missed the 3-0 reversal against Uruguay altogether; however, though he sometimes impressed, he did also play with Balanta in the latter 3-0 defeat against Ecuador and managed to get sent off two minutes after coming off the bench against Argentina. The jury’s out on this pair; much more observation shall be required.


Lastly, a very quick word or two for the full-backs, who also had a mixed time defensively, but who displayed some promise early on and can’t be outright dismissed. Indeed, particularly in the opening game against Paraguay, left-back Anderson Arroyo (No. 5, Fortaleza), impressed with his frequent bustles up the flank, even hitting the post at one point. Given that he reportedly went on trial at Liverpool in July 2016,  is 17 years old and appears to have been playing two years in advance of himself for a while now (he also featured in most of the games at the 2015 Under-17 Sudamericano), it may be worth remembering his name. His counterpart on the right, Leyser Chaverra (No. 15, Universitario Popayán), was spotted going forward a little more as the tournament wore on; domestically, he has played, in total, over 60 club games, albeit in the second-tier.



Best of the Early Departees

Although their individual presences now feel like a lifetime ago, what follows are some details on the most talented players from the four sides who were knocked out in the opening group stage of the 2017 Under-20 South American Youth Championship. Whilst one firmly believes that the six best teams qualified for the Hexagonal, there are nevertheless a dozen or so players from nations that went home early who may still be worth keeping in mind.

Group A

paraguay Paraguay

Tournament Summary

Certainly the side featuring the best players who did not make it to the Hexagonal stage, they were ultimately one goal away from finishing exactly level with Ecuador and requiring lots to be drawn.

To view highlights as well as read more about how Paraguay got on and who stood out in each game, click here.

Paraguayan Talents

Having featured in 2015 as a 17-year-old, left-footed attacking midfielder Jesús Medina (No. 11, Libertad) was playing in his second Sudamericano Sub-20 tournament and he further bolstered his reputation in his four games in January. Indeed, a regular at a high domestic level, he was often seen taking set-pieces and looking to play in team-mates; most notably, he managed score twice late on against Brazil. He also received an assist against Chile for a forward pass to Pedro Báez (No. 9, Cerro Porteño), but it’s the striker who deserves most credit for fooling a cluster of defenders before firing home. Furthermore with regard to Báez, he would go on to score an audacious lob at the very beginning of the second half of the decisive final clash against Ecuador – as he only received two starts and a substitute appearance, two goals was a respectable haul.

Otherwise, the two full-backs are prospects whose names are worth remembering by fans of La Albirroja. Both played in all four games and were particularly notable for their attacking, with right-back Rodi Ferreira (No. 2, Olimpia) frequently seen pumping testing balls upfield as well as knocking in dangerous free-kicks. At just 18 years of age, he looks to be well on the right path, possessing an impressive youth career which includes featuring at 2015’s U-17 World Cup. He is also a regular starter at domestic giants Olimpia and can count a former team-mate of his in left-back Blás Riveros (No. 4, Basel, Switzerland), who has in the past several months already made four starts in the Swiss Super League. In this tournament, like Ferreira, he regularly played diagonal balls upfield and, with one against Colombia, was actually credited with an assist. At times, he also displayed an impressive capacity to beat opponents and get forward, most eye-catchingly so against Ecuador, when he nearly scored after blazing a trail through the centre of the pitch, finally striking narrowly wide.

chileflag Chile

Tournament Summary

Less can be said for La Rojita, particularly from an attacking perspective, as even though they were still fighting for a Hexagonal place on the final Group A matchday, they did only manage to pick up two points, scoring just two goals.

To view highlights as well as read more about how Chile got on and who stood out in each game, click here.

Chilean Talents

Coming into the tournament, Jeisson Vargas (No. 10, Estudiantes de La Plata, Argentina, on loan from Bologna, Italy) had some admirers, yet was recklessly sent off in the opening half of the first match against Brazil. He had looked like a potential threat and when he returned in the third game against Paraguay, he clearly wished to make it up to his team-mates; here, he struck numerous attempts from range and tested defenders and the goalkeeper alike with set-pieces, one of which rattled the crossbar. To a lesser extent, he was also one of the leading forward players in the crunch game with Colombia. In this match, Ignacio Jara (No. 15, Cobreloa) missed a glaring opportunity to equalise, though as he did also score against Paraguay and gained an assist in the preceding encounter with Ecuador, he perhaps shouldn’t be completely dismissed.

As their record of four goals conceded was the second best in the group, their defence – which kept a clean sheet against Brazil whilst playing with ten men for an hour – received some favourable comments. Arguably the cream of the crop was centre-back Francisco Sierralta (No. 13, Palestino, on loan from Granada, Spain), 6 feet 3 and captain of the side. He particularly showed his leadership qualities in the final match with Colombia when, somewhat curiously given his position, he regularly forced his way forward and even struck the crossbar with 15 minutes remaining. Like Paraguay’s Riveros in the last-day match with Ecuador, Sierralta picked up a second yellow card towards the end of the final encounter with Colombia, though both of these fouls can be put down to an overspill of passion and drive as these men played prominent roles in their respective countries’ struggles.

Group B

boliviaflag Bolivia

Tournament Summary

Coming into the tournament in organisational disarray, lower-than-usual expectations were defied when they beat Peru 2-0. However, a 5-1 thrashing by Argentina seemed to restore balance in the universe of footballing certainties, yet after fortunately gaining a point off Venezuela, they were in a promising position to progress, but alas it wasn’t to be.

To view highlights as well as read more about how Bolivia got on and who stood out in each game, click here

Bolivian Talents

Following the 2-0 win over Peru, it looked as if they may have a handful of players worth keeping an eye on but none of these could be said to have made any valuable contributions afterwards. Indeed, man-of-the-match Limberg Gutiérrez (No. 20, Nacional, Uruguay) – who also played in the 2015 tournament and is the son of a highly-capped international – was virtually anonymous in subsequent games, despite having displayed some skill and drive, particularly when setting up the second goal against Peru. This was scored by Bruno Miranda (No. 11, Universidad de Chile, Chile), who had another shot of note in the game; subsequently, he had two more opportunities against Venezuela and perhaps should have done better with at least one of these.

Instead, however, quite possibly the one to look out for from this crop was the youngest member of the squad, the man who came on as a substitute in the Peru win and would later earn two starts from his three subsequent appearances. Indeed, 17-year-old Ramiro Vaca (No. 10, Quebracho) emerged off the bench for a second time against Argentina and scored a brilliant free-kick; this is clearly a specialty of his as he also struck a fine 35-yard set-piece against Uruguay that required a parry in Bolivia’s final match. Had Miranda buried the first of his chances against Venezuela, he would have also had an admirable assist to his name.

peruflag Peru

Tournament Summary

Finishing with just two points and embarrassed by Bolivia in their second game, an unremarkable Peru were nevertheless somewhat unlucky not to progress to the Hexagonal, having been denied wins against both Argentina and Venezuela due to last-minute equalisers.

To view highlights as well as read more about how Peru got on and who stood out in each game, click here

Peruvian Talents

They did well defensively to largely frustrate Argentina though it can’t really be said that any defenders were able to build upon this in subsequent games. Instead, it’s perhaps towards the attackers that one must look to if anyone is to be highlighted, though even here there aren’t really any clear candidates. Perhaps midfielder Roberto Siucho (No. 11, Universitario) – who also played in 2015’s competition – deserves a mention, largely for scoring his side’s two tournament goals, despite only ever once finding the net at club level in over 50 games (in all competitions). The first against Argentina was a strike from outside the area that would never have gone in were it not for a wicked deflection and the second against Venezuela involved a defensive mix-up, though he nevertheless did well to barge in and slide home.

Otherwise, there is a striker and at least a few attacking midfielders who showed glimpses of ability, though to name all of them would be somewhat disproportionate to their contributions. Thus, just a quick mention for 17-year-old Gerald Távara (No. 7, Sporting Cristal), who, particularly against Venezuela, stood out with his crosses and shots, such as the 4th-minute attempt at a gol olímpico (from a direct corner), which had to be palmed back out. Having featured at the Under-17 Sudamericano tournament in 2015, he appears to be playing two years in advance of his age; perhaps he can get some good club experience under his belt before his potential return at Chile 2019.


Remarkably, this is the end of the article. As one does not wish to end on such a low note, here is a video of all of Rodrigo Amaral’s five goals: 

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical