Argentina, the holders and perennial contenders for the World Youth Cup, came up short in the South American Under-20 Championships.
By Tim Vickery in Rio de Janeiro
Reigning champions of the World Youth Cup and winners of five of the last seven tournaments, Argentina will not be in Egypt this September to defend their crown.
In the South American Under-20 Championships, held in Venezuela, coach Sergio Batista’s side managed just one win in nine games, leaving them well short of the continent’s four qualifying places.
As usual they fielded lots of short youngsters and tried to play their patient passing game. This time there was not enough quality to make it work. The absence of Franco Di Santo, not released by Chelsea, was keenly felt. If, at senior level it is hard for a team with the likes of Messi, Aguero and Tevez to operate without a target man striker, with this side it was asking the impossible.
Brazil struggled through the group stage, but once the decisive phase got underway their game came together and they were comfortable winners. Striker Walter was perhaps the outstanding player on show, Douglas Costa looks a bit like a jerky left footed version of the young Ronaldinho, and Brazil can go to Egypt with confidence. Of more long term importance, though, is the fact that the country is producing more versatile midfielders, well exemplified in this tournament by the all round skills of Sandro and Giuliano.
Brazil, then, were clear winners, finishing the final round four points clear – but in two games against runners up Paraguay they were held the first time and beaten the other, with Paraguayan centre back Ronald Huth superb both times. There was plenty for Paraguay to celebrate; not only have they made it to the World Youth Cup for the first time since 2003, they have also unearthed some interesting players – right sided midfielder Hernan Perez was exceptional, and they had a good strike partnership between the battling Federico Santander and the nippy Robin Ramirez.
Uruguay, though, could claim to have played some of the best football. They scored the most goals, while rotating their team to give everyone playing time. They have a very interesting generation. Two were already based in Europe, one has since been snapped up and more will surely follow. Uruguayan club football, then, will probably benefit little from the work being done at youth level, with its very encouraging emphasis on skilful attacking. But on this evidence, the future of the senior international team looks bright.
Assured of qualification, Uruguay eased up and lost their final game to hosts Venezuela, who thus booked their first ever place in the World Youth Cup. They have a promising keeper in Rafael Romo, and can be dangerous on the counter-attack, and their victory meant that a last day 1-0 win over Argentina was not enough to send Colombia through.
The Colombians, big and strong but not overly inspired, only made it through to the second phase on the toss of a coin after finishing the group phase with a record identical to that of Ecuador – who were eliminated unbeaten, but can take heart from the progress made by some of the generation who won the 2007 Pan-American Games.
Also out early were Chile, very disappointed after coming third in the last World Youth Cup. They were, though, in by far the stronger of the two groups, and have found a promising defender in Carlos Labrin. Bolivia were quickly dispatched, but came with a very young side – several of them, including classy captain Samuel Galindo, are even eligible for this year’s Under-17 Championships.
Which leaves Peru as the team who can look back on the tournament with least pleasure.. This was Peru’s great hope, the generation that did well two years ago in the World Under-17 Cup. They were to have hosted this competition, until the row between their FA and the Sports Institute forced a late change of venue. In Venezuela, Peru lost all their games, a clear demonstration that football in the country is going through hard times on and off the pitch.