South American U20 Championship In Review

You may have missed it. If I were a betting man I'd feel safe popping a fiver down on you opting to watch 108 yard touchdown returns and 60 year old men looking faintly embarrassed as their 60 year old wives made rock star signs and yelled ‘GO RAVVEEENS’ from behind a purple wig into a camera, rather than checking out what South America’s knobbly kneed, oily faced youths were up to on Sunday night. But the jokes on you; there was high intrigue, great football, officials getting yelled at, laughter, sulks, strops and all sorts in Mendoza. 


Columbia went on to snatch the South American U20 Championship after beating Paraguay 2-1. Those two will be joined in Turkey at the U20 World Cup by Uruguay and Chile, who saw off Ecuador and Peru respectively to secure themselves a plane ticket to the big event. 


So no Argentina and Brazil! What went on there? 


Three weeks ago footballing giants Brazil and Argentina were sharpening their teeth, preparing to gnash their way through the minnows of the continent as a nice warm up to dominating the World Cup. For the first time in footballing history though, neither of these two nations will be represented at a major FIFA tournament; it turns out their razor sharp's were more comfortable with mini-milks than the jugulars of supposedly inferior teams. While they were preening from the pedestal they had been popped on, youngsters from Paraguay, Peru, Chile, Colombia, Uruguay and Ecuador were busy stockpiling egg which they then proceeded to hoik about the place, catching 99% of us square on the chin. 


But we're English, and therefore used to high expectations based on a couple of star players, being dashed by some frightful usurpers who turn out to be better than us. Let's wipe ourselves down and examine the thing. Yes the hosts and the holders were deeply shoddy, but that should take nothing away from the other nations who turned up, and the four who qualified did so deservedly. Brazil are a difficult one to explain, perhaps the rot has been there for a while - the Brazilian FA has been accused of neglecting the U20’s for a number of years but this has been papered over by Neymars and Oscars coming through. Unfortunately this year no one stepped up, revealing a pressing need for attention in this area. 


Argentina boss, Marcelo Trobbiani, could be considered at fault for trying to play all of his 'star players' at once, meaning an exciting attacking spearhead but sod all protection for the back four. His team were also shown to be mentally immature when they came up against Chile, who at 1-0 up, went a man down at half time. With 20 minutes left Argentina were still drawing blanks before Chile gave them another leg up, their left-back Manuel Bravo earning himself a red card, leaving The Reds nine men to defend their lead with. They held out bravely till the final whistle, whereupon the Argie youth minced around looking a bit baffled, considering whom to blame. 


So what's the problem? Anyone who has watched a River v Boca game in the past few years will have noticed that sexy football is not forthcoming. It oozes the sex appeal of a Britain's Got Talent contestant and you find yourself enjoying the sight of the three fingered, four toothed Boca fan widdling in to his cup to throw onto River fans below infinitely more interesting than what's happening on the pitch.


Maxi Rodriguez returned to his boyhood club, Newell’s Old Boys last year, after 10 years away, and was not met with the standard of football he remembered. Maxi lamented of Argentine football, "The level of play has fallen in the last 10 years, the matches are ugly, without flow. Players are running and battling, and aesthetic considerations are no longer a priority. There's so much fear of losing." 


Perhaps the local press can be dragged into questioning here too for piling pressure on their youth. They assumed, without question that their attack, dubbed the 'Fantastic Five' would break down any defence, overcome any obstacle they came across. Months of being told you are better than you are can (I imagine, never yet been a problem for me…) lead to over confidence; the players believed it, even the coaches may have believed it, and in doing so vastly underestimated the idea of playing as a team. 


Boring, having to share the headlines with 10 others, but teams like Chile have done so. At times, such as their match against the Argies, they showed such guts and togetherness it was impossible not to warm to them. They were the epitome of teamwork, attacking together, defending together, eating together - their hotel refused to disclose sleeping arrangements but from their football and celebrations I imagine it was pretty bloody teamy in there too.


Anyone watching their early games would have been reminded of Chile in the 2010 World Cup group stage - exciting football, throwing men forward and tireless running. Unfortunately they dipped off a little and went close to emulating their senior player's fortunes at the World Cup, but did well to beat a difficult Peruvian side and qualify for Turkey. 


Two players have really stood out from the impressive group, Bryan Rabello of Sevilla and Nicholas Castillo of Universidad Catolica. Rabello's movement and passing has been outstanding, especially in and around the opposition's area when seemingly boxed in, and he's shown a talent for scoring goals as well. Look at the state of this belter:



Castillo has shown plenty of the attributes required of a successful European striker - difficult to mark, good with the ball at his feet and powerful in the air - he nearly took the golden boot with 5 goals. European clubs have pricked their ears up since he announced himself in the competition, Juventus and Napoli have had a goosey at him and perhaps just as excitingly he's been dubbed the 'Chilean Zlatan' by Spanish paper Marca. 


Runners-up Paraguay saw their direct style of play bear fruits, especially in the final games. Just edging into the final round, they went from strength to strength and, despite just missing out on winning the thing, they guaranteed themselves a spot in the World Cup thanks to a string of impressive performances, notably a 3-1 win against Chile. They’ve thrown up a number of exciting players in this competition - top of the list must come Jorge Rojas, a pacy right winger who has styled himself on his favouriteplayer, Stoke's leg-biter, Andy Wilkinson, mirroring his bald scumbag look. 


Thankfully Rojas doesn't style his football on our Andy and is an exciting player to watch. Pugnacious and tricky, he likes to take on defenders, blinding them with his bald bonce and fancy footwork. He gave Columbian's a stressful end to the competition when he pulled one back in the 88th minute, leaving Los Cafeteros with a nerve-racking injury time, knowing that a draw would win the cup for Paraguay.  


Colombia have produced the most interesting player of the tournament in Juan Fernando Quintero. Only 5"7, he has tremendous ball control, organisesthe midfield well, links up with the strikers and can pick out a pass from anywhere with such incision it's hard not to compare him with a certain Spaniard. He looks very likely to be picked up by a big club in Europe after this competition. Up front Colombia have used to great effect the pace and power of Jhon Córdoba. 6"2 and well built, he is a real presence on the pitch packing a powerful shot and excellent pace. He scored some nice goals in the competition and, if he can find more consistency, could live up to his (local) comparison to Didier Drogba. 


Uruguay came good on their promise of goals, with striker Nico Lopez winning the golden boot with 6, and Diego Rolan wellying in 4. Lopez has shown Roma did well to sign him, and Diego Rolan has impressed so much that early this week he agreed a move to Bordeaux. If, like me, you're a fan of Edinson Cavani lookalikes then enjoy this chap - Ruben Bentancourt.



We bigged up Peru's Cristian Benavente before the competition and he didn’t disappoint. Benavente's skill was certainly appreciated by his striker Yordy Reyna, who finished alongside Quintero and Castillo with 5 goals. Currently collecting his paycheck from Alianza Lima, he has made a name for himself in this competition and if he keeps it up could soon be pocketing much bigger ones in Europe. He has yet to work out a decent celebration and does seem a bit of a plonker, but they don't mind them in football, especially if you score goals like this.



And that's that. We're over the disappointment ladled out to us by the miserable Argentina and Brazil, and there was more than enough talent on show to make up for their lack of it. There are plenty of names for you to look out for in the future, you may come to know a few of them sooner than you think.


Freddie Jacobsen

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