Tag Archives: South American Youth Football

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 0-1 England (Final, 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, 11 June 2017)

Venezuela’s thrilling, inspirational and rather otherworldly 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup came to an end, with La Mini-Vinotinto falling short at the very last hurdle and an impressive England side instead taking the glory. Below are video highlights, a brief summary of the match and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-tracking…

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

Venezuela 0-1 England

2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Final, 11 June 2017 (YouTube)

So close, yet so far, Rafael Dudamel’s heroic men finally came unstuck against an often formidable England side in what was, particularly in the latter stages, a gripping tournament finale.

In the first half, Venezuela threatened twice from free-kicks, most notably one from Ronaldo Lucena, whose astonishing 45-yard effort crashed off the post. However, Paul Simpson’s chaps largely had the better of this period, testing goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez several times and, at the second attempt, making the breakthrough in the 35th minute courtesy of Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

Immediately after the break, however, the South Americans made their presence more keenly felt as, within the first ten minutes of the second half they managed at least a few attempts on goal. The most notable of these was spearheaded by substitute Yeferson Soteldo in the 53rd minute as he brilliantly swivelled in midfield before playing in Sergio Córdova, though the latter’s one-on-one attempt was rapidly blocked. However, despite this promising shift in proceedings, just a couple of minutes later, England came extremely close to doubling their lead when Joshua Onomah’s ferocious long-range strike hit the crossbar before bouncing down on the goal-line.

Subsequently, though it was a well-contested affair, actual chances were in short supply. That is, until Adalberto Peñaranda won a penalty, yet in a moment that may haunt him for some time, his 74th-minute spot-kick was well-saved by the trailing glove of goalkeeper Freddie Woodman.

For the remainder of the game – including some six minutes of stoppage-time – though Venezuela attempted to seek an equaliser – with even goalkeeper Fariñez attempting to get a shot in – they ultimately struggled to create any real chances of note.

Thus, when the final whistle blew, a dream was dashed and it is instead England who have been crowned champions, winning their first World Cup at any level since that rarely-recalled senior victory in 1966.

Talent Tracking

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Wuilker Fariñez (No. 1, Caracas FC) missed out on the tournament’s Golden Glove trophy to his English counterpart, yet put in another impressive showing – quite possibly his best. Indeed, he can’t really be faulted for the goal he conceded – just his third in seven games – as this came as a consequence of centre-back Nahuel Ferraresi (No. 4, Deportivo Táchira) getting out-jumped and out-fought by Calvert-Lewin, who then had his first shot well-saved by Fariñez, before nabbing the rebound. Overall, the five-feet-nine-inch goalkeeper’s most eye-catching moments included the following: a 10th-minute close-range save after Dominic Solanke was played through in a very inviting position in the area; a 22nd-minute parry wide from a very well-struck, swerving Ademola Lookman effort; and, a 40th-minute alert rush off his line to beat an attacker in what was a rather close race to a forward ball. On occasion, Fariñez also demonstrated his sprightliness as well as joined in at the other end for a couple of last-ditch attacks.

These were set-pieces from Ronaldo Lucena (No. 16, Zamora FC), who was his side’s most likely provider of a goal. Indeed, in the 24th minute, he surprised everyone by striking a phenomenal 45-yard central free-kick from just outside the semi-circle, which dipped over everyone and smacked the left-sided post. His most frequent method of causing scares amongst the opposition, however, came from his set-piece deliveries intended for team-mates inside the area. Perhaps his two most notable crosses were those that targeted Yangel Herrera (No. 8, New York City FC, on loan from Manchester City) just after the restart, both of which went through to the goalkeeper, neither admittedly causing a great deal of trouble. Lucena also did well with his defensive duties – putting in a notable last-gasp tackle at the death – as did Herrera, though the latter was unable to exert as much attacking influence as he has in previous games. Nevertheless, the captain’s had a very impressive World Cup and was rewarded after the game with the Bronze Ball, for being adjudged to be the tournament’s third best player.

Even more so than any of his team-mates, Adalberto Peñaranda (No. 7, Málaga, on loan from Watford) won’t be forgetting this game in a hurry. His nation’s leading attacking threat for much of the tournament, though he did cause some problems here, he was also a little wasteful, single-minded and, of course, squandered a golden opportunity from the spot to take the final into extra-time. Still, even if this as well as some of his cul-de-sac runs and selfishness may be more firmly ingrained in the spectators’ minds, he surely deserves some credit for winning the penalty as well as a first-half free-kick which curled ever-so-marginally wide of the near post.

Nevertheless, he was to be somewhat overshadowed by substitute Yeferson Soteldo (No. 10, Huachipato, Chile), who came on in the 51st minute and was soon gaining admiring praise from the stands as well as from commentators and observers the world over. His presence and vitality seemed to immediately help spur his team-mates on and, after less than two minutes on the pitch, with panache he turned some heads as much as he did an opponent, before playing a fine through-ball to Sergio Córdova (No. 19, Caracas FC). However, Venezuela’s four-goal topscorer was unable to get level with the tournament’s Golden Boot winner – Italy’s Riccardo Orsolini (5 goals) – as his first touch enabled Woodman enough time to peg it out and block the shot from very close range.

Still, though ultimately it ended in heartbreak and a genuine sense of “What could have been?”, Venezuelans as well as the entire world who tuned in during this tournament will know that the footballing future appears to be beaming very bright indeed for this troubled, yet endearing, nation. Hopefully, Rafael Dudamel can integrate the cream of this exceptional crop with their many disparate, more experienced senior talents and then seriously challenge for a place at Qatar 2022.

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

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

In their final match at the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Uruguay were unable to claim third place, succumbing to defeat on penalties by an Italian side that they had beaten long ago on their opening day of the group stage. Below are video highlights, a brief summary of the match and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-tracking…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talent Tracking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talent Tracking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

 

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…

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(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

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

Following a brief tournament overview of Ecuador’s performance at the FIFA 2017 Under-20 World Cup, below are some summaries of several players worth keeping an eye on. As La Mini-Tri struggled to give the best account of themselves, those seeking more information on these individuals may wish to also take a look at their respective exploits in qualification as well as, perhaps, this site’s preview for the Under-20 World Cup.

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Bryan Cabezas celebrating with Pervis Estupiñán following the former’s second goal against the USA (GettyImages)

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Ecuador

Tournament Overview

Seven minutes into their opener with the USA, Javier Rodríguez’s men were 2-0 up and looked to be on course to not only win the game but also do some serious head-turning at the tournament. However, they were pegged back and, despite regaining the lead, were thwarted at the death, gaining a solitary point in a 3-3 draw. They lost further ground in the subsequent encounter with Saudi Arabia, going down 2-1 and yet, despite entering their final game with their fate still in their hands, could only manage a drab 0-0 draw against Senegal. Thus, the team who began Group F all guns blazing ultimately suffered the ignominy of being the only side not to progress.

Overall, though the leakiness of their defence was again on display, La Mini-Tri did also show that they possess some strong and/or pacy attackers. However, while it should not be forgotten that simply qualifying for the World Cup is an impressive achievement in itself, the forwards and attacking-midfielders – particularly after that dream start against the USA – will surely go home feeling that things could have been quite different indeed.

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

Top Talents

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

As with the other Ecuadorian attackers, the former Independiente Del Valle man may feel he was unable to give a true demonstration of his abilities, though at least in his case he can say that he certainly had his moments. Indeed, he scored twice against the USA, the first involving some nice control and a rapid stepover, culminating with a rifled shot past the goalkeeper; the second, on the other hand, was a punishing low strike following some amateurish dilly-dallying from goalkeeper Jonathan Klinsmann. Along with the goals, he also impressed on his left flank, charging at defenders and putting in balls. He continued in this vein against Saudi Arabia yet, after he failed to convert from the spot at the end of the first half, his influence began to wain, both in this game as well as in the tournament as a whole. Nevertheless, having also scored five goals in qualifying, two from three games is not a bad haul and one can only hope he enjoys more domestic action next season after a year largely on the bench in Serie A.

Herlin Lino (Forward, No. 9, Deportivo Cuenca)

Aside from Cabezas, there were a number of other attackers vying for attention and, though some may disagree, it seemed to these eyes that Lino came away with most credit. Indeed, he played every minute of the tournament and scored his nation’s opening goal against USA, a strike into a virtually unguarded goal following a cutback. In this as well as the subsequent game against Saudi Arabia, he had other strikes on target and also helped set up at least one opportunity of note for a team-mate. However, perhaps most notably, in this second match he exhibited his remarkable propensity for winning penalties, with the one he gained for Cabezas coming off the back of three he impressively forced out of opponents in qualifying.

Pervis Estupiñán (Left-back, No. 6, Granada, on loan from Watford)

It was Estupiñán who picked up the loose ball helped on by Lino in the area against Saudi Arabia, which he struck against the post. However, overall, it really was a tournament to forget for the rampaging left-back as not only did he get forward far less than in qualifying – during which he scored an eye-catching four times – but he also provided more evidence that perhaps that defending lark isn’t really for him. Indeed, for every single one of the five goals his country conceded, he was in some way at least partially culpable, either by being bypassed, not closing down an opponent who put in a decisive ball and/or huffing back in vain unable to halt the inevitable. Despite this eyebrow-raising record, he is still a player to watch out for, but needs to muck in more at the back and/or ask to be fielded further up the park.

The Rest

Otherwise, there were several more players in the Ecuadorian ranks who showed glimpses of their potential, but were unable to play particularly decisive roles.

There was the captain Jordan Sierra (Midfielder, No. 15, Delfin), who got forward less than he did in qualifying, being instead more preoccupied with trying to halt opponents from making inroads centrally.

Joao Rojas (Midfielder, No. 17, Emelec), who impressed in the early stages of qualifying before being benched, was a substitute for the the first two tournament games. However, he did occasionally cause problems – it was he who closed down USA goalkeeper Klinsmann to hurry him into the error which led to Cabezas’ second goal – and thus he was rewarded with a start in the final game, where he had the best chance to score with a low shot from the edge of the area.

Rojas’ position on the right of midfield was initially occupied by Wilter Ayoví (Midfielder, No. 8, Independiente Del Valle), who was a lively presence in spells during qualifying, yet his World Cup only lasted 57 minutes of the opener plus a further five minutes of the final encounter.

The most notable moment from the pacy Washington Corozo (Forward, No. 7, Independiente Del Valle) – who started all three games – came after five minutes of the opener when he beat a man on the left before setting up Lino to make it 1-0.

Lastly, Jordy Caicedo (Forward, No. 19, Universidad Católica del Ecuador) got on the scoresheet against Saudi Arabia with a back post tap-in and also had other opportunities in that match. Having scored three times in qualifying as well as already netted several times at club level, it will be interesting to see where his career takes him but he’s certainly got some task on his hands if he is to emulate his more illustrious namesake.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

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

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

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

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Argentina

Tournament Overview

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

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

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

Top Talents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical