The 2017 Under-20 South American Youth Championship took place in Ecuador from 18 January until 11 February. @DarrenSpherical watched all 35 games, writing reports for each encounter that detailed all the significant moments by the most talented players that were spotted. This article focuses on the most notable starlets found in the ranks of Under-20 World Cup qualifiers Argentina, who finished 4th in the final group stage (also known as the Hexagonal), having initially qualified 2nd from Group B. Before browsing below, it may be advisable to have a look at the final standings, results and goalscorers here and/or read the main reference guide published on this website, which features details on dozens of players, with every one of the ten participating nations represented.
(All photographs are credited to GettyImages)
With just one win and three draws in the opening group stage, Claudio Úbeda’s men may not have entirely convinced, but given the attacking talent in their ranks (highest scorers at that point), fans held out hope that they were saving their best for the Hexagonal. However, three games in to the final stage, having endured two comprehensive 3-0 defeats – against first, Uruguay and then two games later, Ecuador – and possessing just three points, things looked bleak. In their following encounter with Brazil, they were ten seconds away from being eliminated before scoring their last-gasp equaliser; subsequently, they beat Venezuela and Brazil’s failure to beat Colombia meant that somehow they sneaked the last qualification spot.
To view highlights as well as read more about how Argentina got on and who stood out in each game, click here.
Top Two Talents
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.
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.
More Argentine Talents
Fans of Marcelo Torres (No. 21, Boca Juniors) can rightly feel aggrieved that he has not been chosen as one of the two stand-out Argentines; given his nation’s recent embarrassment of riches in the striker department, his performances sometimes suggested that he may be another crack off the assembly line. Indeed, for much of the tournament, the previously little-known striker turned many heads and actually looked to be on course to be Los Pibes’ stand-out player. Like the greater-hyped Martínez, he scored five goals, though these came within the first six games (and four were in the first phase), before his strike-partner returned to prominence with four goals in the final four matches. However, overall, Torres played two fewer games so can at least claim a superior goals-per-minute ratio and, given the calibre of some of his finishes, his tally can not be casually overlooked.
Indeed, he opened his account with two goals in a 3-3 draw against eventual winners Uruguay in Group B, with the first comparable to Martínez’s against Peru: he exquisitely controlled a ball on the left inside the area, before nudging it past a defender and brilliantly striking home. His second in the subsequent half came as he rose in exemplary fashion to power home a bullet-header. The following game against an admittedly poor Bolivia yielded another brace: the first a no-frills header and the second a tap-in following a goalkeeping spill. If they were not as eye-grabbing, he certainly got viewers’ attention in the second Hexagonal game when, after a mere 19 seconds against Colombia, he scored his fifth and final tournament goal; this too was a fine finish, as he received a pass and took a couple of touches before superbly curling home.
Thus, he can be rather deadly and, following that game, he didn’t entirely drift out of focus, as he also managed to gain an assist for Martínez’s opener against Venezuela (note: he was also officially given another assist for Conechny’s goal against Bolivia but those who saw that strjke know that it was all the work of the playmaker). That said, though he often appeared committed to causing trouble for defenders, aside from only scoring once in the Hexagonal, perhaps the main criticism of him is that he did go a little quiet in some games.
Nevertheless, five goals and an assist in just seven games certainly can’t be dismissed. He may have never made a first-team appearance for Boca Juniors but after this tournament it shouldn’t be long before he sees some competitive club action, whether at La Bombonera or elsewhere.
Playing in a similar position as Conechny and also impressing, albeit to a somewhat lesser degree, Brian Mansilla (No. 11, Racing Club) found himself on the radar of a European club, who must have appreciated his two goals and an assist from nine straight starts. Indeed, he was the subject of a considerable bid from Ajax during the tournament which his club turned down. Particularly in the first game with Peru, they may well have also enjoyed his ability to pace his way past opponents and move play into dangerous areas, especially when he drove through two players before setting up Martínez for the equaliser. The following game against Uruguay showcased his tendency to shoot no matter how unpromising the position may be, clipping the bar with one effort. Subsequently in the rout against Bolivia, he capitalised on a defensive error to score with a textbook left-footed strike into the corner and then saw another shot of his spilled to Torres, who tapped home. His second goal of the tournament came in the Hexagonal draw with Brazil as he instinctively knocked home a flick-on from a corner to equalise in the first half. Thus far, most of his league appearances have come in a loan spell at Quilmes (3 goals in 14 games, only 5 of which were starts), but given Racing clearly consider him an asset, perhaps he’ll soon be appearing more regularly at El Cilindro.
Sticking briefly with the attacking-midfielders, from his seven appearances (four starts), Lucas Rodríguez (No. 7, Estudiantes de La Plata) showed glimpses of his potential. He powerfully headed home to score from a Martínez cross against Bolivia and was also responsible for the corner that was knocked on and then in by Mansilla for the first goal against Brazil; at the end of the first half in that game, he was also close to registering an official assist with his fine cross on a breakaway, but Mansilla narrowly missed the target. Ultimately, he perhaps suffered from playing in a rather competitive area, but given that he has already featured in over 40 games for an impressive Estudiantes de La Plata side, he can feel more confident than most regarding his club future.
A quick mention for Ezequiel Barco (No. 10, Independiente), a 17-year-old attacking-midfielder who was adorned with a rather coveted shirt number. Like Rodríguez, he had a reduced role, with his two starts (from eight appearances) actually coming in the opening two games. It’s quite possible that his limited game-time was due to the emergence of his replacement in the second Group B match against Uruguay: Conechny. Nevertheless, though he may have not scored or assisted in this tournament, given his age and his occasional determination to drive forward and strike from both open play as well as set-pieces, he could be one worth keeping an eye on. He’s already made nearly 20 appearances in all competitions for Independiente and could well turn up again at this tournament in 2019.
Briefly moving further back on the field, defensive-midfielder and captain Santiago Ascacibar (No. 5, Estudiantes de La Plata) came into the tournament with some fanfare, already being a regular at club level and having received praise from some notable ex-pros. Comparisons to Javier Mascherano are unsurprising but this tournament can’t really be said to have done much for the profile of Ascacibar. After all, he was at the heart of a defensive system that turned out to be the joint-leakiest in the competition (14 goals conceded), with particular lowlights including letting in three against Uruguay (twice, 3-3 and 3-0) as well as once against Ecuador (3-0). Having also played last year in the Olympic side that was knocked out in the group stage, he said ahead of the final game against Venezuela that preparation for both tournaments had been inadequate – a widespread opinion that his fans at club level would doubtless agree with. Nevertheless, several times, he was at least able to display some attacking ability, taking some shots from distance; mostly notably, he played a superbly well-weighted diagonal ball to set up Torres’ lightning-quick goal against Colombia and also found Conechny late on with a similar ball, from which the San Lorenzo youngster slid to Martínez for the winner.
Given the defensive shortcomings, one hesitates to offer any praise to those involved in the back four. From an attacking perspective at least, left-back Milton Valenzuela (No. 3, Newell’s Old Boys) regularly put in some good crosses but no team-mate ever made the right connection. Right-back Nahuel Molina (No. 4, Boca Juniors) perhaps emerged with more credit and can at least buck-passingly point out that he was not involved with the 3-0 hiding from Uruguay and, furthermore, was only substituted on against Ecuador when Los Pibes were already 3-0 down. Up the other end, he also gained two assists, first with a fine long range ball which found Torres who scored in the first half of the 3-3 draw with Uruguay and, in the subsequent 5-1 win over Bolivia, when his ball again reached Torres, who nodded home for the opener.
If you would like to read about the best talents from the other nations, then click on the following links: Uruguay, Ecuador, Venezuela, Brazil, Colombia & The Best of the Early Departees (Paraguay, Chile, Bolivia & Peru). All of this information is also contained in this mammoth Reference Guide.