Tag Archives: South Korea 2017

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

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

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

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

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Uruguay

Tournament Overview

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

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

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

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

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

Top Talents

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

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

The Defence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

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…

venezuelaenglandscore

(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

venezuelaflag Venezuela

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…

uruguayitalyscore

(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

uruguayflag Uruguay

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

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

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

uruguayportugal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talent Tracking

uruguayflag Uruguay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela 2-1 USA (AET) (Quarter-final, 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, 4 June 2017)

Like Venezuela’s preceding encounter, their Quarter-final clash with the USA at the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup took 120 minutes to decide, but ultimately Rafael Dudamel’s breathtaking men got what they deserved. Below are video highlights, a brief summary of the match and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-tracking…

venezuelausa

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

Venezuela 2-1 USA (AET)

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

Though it took them in excess of 90 minutes, Venezuela’s dominance eventually paid off as they sensationally carried their history-making mission into the Semi-finals.

The chances La Mini-Vinotinto created are too innumerable to recall in full, yet as each minute passed with the scoresheet still blank it looked as if it could end up being one of those days. Indeed, within the first minute, they came close from a Nahuel Ferraresi header and also in this half both Adalberto Peñaranda and Sergio Córdova had chances, with the latter actually thinking he had scored in the 21st minute. Alas, his strike was belatedly ruled out for offside.

Just three minutes into the second half, Ronaldo Lucena’s corner was greeted by the head of Ronaldo Chacón though, unfortunately for him, his powerful effort rattled the crossbar. Lucena was to put in more than a few dangerous balls and another of these, in the 61st minute was headed by Córdova, yet again, this rebounded off the bar. Córdova, the tournament’s joint-top scorer with four goals, was to have more – some, rather gilt-edged – opportunities to score in both regulation- as well as extra-time, yet ultimately departed the field without having added to his tally.

Amongst others, Peñaranda also failed to convert a couple of opportunities – one, a particularly galling miss – yet, at the very end of the 90 minutes, both he and Córdova only narrowly avoided going home with guilty consciences. Indeed, at the death, USA had a clear chance to steal the victory yet, despite beating Wuilker Fariñez to a chipped ball from the left, Erik Palmer-Brown’s header went agonisingly wide.

Thus, for the second Venezuela game in a row, a further 30 minutes were required. Having looked destined to squander every chance that they could conjure, even they must have been a little surprised when Peñaranda opened the scoring just six minutes into the first additional half, sliding home substitute Samuel Sosa’s left-sided cross. Later, with just five minutes remaining, their lead was doubled when Ferraresi rose high to head home Lucena’s corner. Game over – or so it seemed. Indeed, barely two minutes later, partly capitalising on some Venezuelan joy-infused slackness, the USA pulled a goal back when Jeremy Ebobisse headed in a Brooks Lennon free-kick.

Nevertheless, though there was a nervy end to the game, Rafael Dudamel’s men could breathe a sigh of relief at the final whistle, which was swiftly followed by some elated celebrations of their astounding achievement of reaching the final four of the greatest competition for their age group.

Talent Tracking
venezuelaflag Venezuela

Thankfully, someone broke the deadlock and, perhaps fittingly, it was to be Venezuela’s best attacker of the tournament, Adalberto Peñaranda (No. 7, Málaga, on loan from Watford), who did the honours.

Previously, he had been involved in several notable attacks, such as in the 13th minute when his low right-footed shot was parried out wide. Then, in the 24th minute, he played a fine pass to Ronaldo Peña (No. 9, Las Palmas Atlético) whose left-footed shot went only just wide of the post. Later on in the 73rd minute, he had a golden opportunity to score when, from an acute angle within the area, he fired a ball into the goalmouth, where it took three pinball-esque ricochets before returning to him in a promising position with the goalkeeper floored. However, instead of allowing for some composure to lead him through the situation, he instinctively swung his left boot at the ball and was to somehow watch his shot evade the gaping net.

Two minutes from regulation time, he almost had another good chance when Yangel Herrera (No. 8, New York City FC, on loan from Manchester City) played one of several incisive through-balls from largely deep positions that he was to distribute throughout the game. The captain was again to have an impressive game, also helping to ensure that the back four had very little to do over the 120 minutes. Regarding this particular pass, however, almost as soon as it found Peñaranda, a defender was close enough to be able to quickly block the shot.

Nevertheless, the Málaga loanee was not to be denied and, six minutes into extra-time, he side-footed a good left-sided cross from Samuel Sosa (No. 15, Deportivo Táchira) into the back of the net, thus scoring his second goal of the tournament.

Had Peñaranda not scored, one wonders if Venezuela would have made the breakthrough as frustrations were mounting with every miss from their many opportunities – not least following those that fell to Sergio Córdova (No. 19, Caracas FC). Indeed, he did manage to get the ball in the back of the net after 21 minutes with a low strike, though this was ruled out for offside and. subsequently, the four-goal striker’s composure was to repeatedly desert him as on another day he could have easily bagged a hat-trick.

It was in the second half, in particular, that his crimes in front of the opposition goal were committed. Firstly, in the 54th minute he had a virtually free header in the centre yet glanced it wide. Seven minutes later, he was slid through following a great pass by Herrera, yet despite being practically one-on-one with goalkeeper Jonathan Klinsmann, his low shot lacked placement and was comfortably blocked. A couple of minutes later, he was perhaps unfortunate when he rose well to head powerfully against the crossbar. Then, almost immediately afterwards in the 64th minute, Córdova fashioned a chance of his own from the inside-right edge of the area, curling a left-footed effort a couple of yards wide of the far post.

So many opportunities in what was barely ten minutes of action garnered him some unwanted attention and judgements. Much later on in the first minute of extra-time, he was to have another good chance when Herrera’s superb ball from deep was controlled by the forward yet, before he could pull the trigger, Klinsmann was there to nab the ball off him. Lastly, soon after Peñaranda gave Venezuela the lead, the scorer nearly turned provider when he dinked a fine central ball which put Córdova one-on-one yet, frustratingly, he nudged the ball far too gently at the goalkeeper, with his shot also lacking direction.

Had he put a couple of these opportunities away – the 54th-minute free header and the 61st-minute nod against the bar – Ronaldo Lucena (No. 16, Zamora FC), in particular, would have been a satisfied man as he set them up. The ever-impressive midfielder with his lofted balls could well have had even more assists to his name. Indeed, it was he who also crossed into the area in the 48th minute for Ronaldo Chacón (No. 11, Caracas FC) to batter the bar with a header. Lucena’s crosses were a threat from the off, with one that drew a fine save from Klinsmann coming after less than minute. The man who headed this was centre-back Nahuel Ferraresi (No. 4, Deportivo Táchira) and, some 114 minutes later, he was to ensure that Lucena was not to be denied his assist when he towered high from his team-mate’s pinpoint corner to nod home Venezuela’s second goal.

Overall, though they somewhat sloppily conceded their first goal some 507 minutes into the tournament, this was an otherwise impressive performance from Venezuela, even if they could have been a considerable bit more clinical. Though the USA did not offer much going forward, the defence nevertheless did well not to allow the four-goal Josh Sargent a sniff. However, owing to an accumulation of yellow cards, two of their number will unfortunately be suspended for the Semi-final: the impressive centre-back Williams Velásquez (No. 2, Estudiantes de Caracas, soon-to-be Udinese, on loan from Watford) as well as left-back José Hernández (No. 5, Caracas FC). That said, Dudamel does possess two back-up players with more than enough experience – particularly in qualifying – to suggest that they possess the abilities to do effective jobs within this rather well-drilled system.

Uruguay, their opponents in the South American battle on Thursday 8 June 2017, will certainly provide a stern. However, given all that Venezuela have achieved as well as the knowledge that they were the only side to defeat the CONMEBOL champions in qualifying, they have every right to believe that they stand a strong chance of making the Final. Now, wouldn’t that really be something?

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

 

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

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

uruguaysaudiarabia

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

Uruguay 1-0 Saudi Arabia

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

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

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

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

Talent Tracking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical