Is South American football in decline? The indubitable brilliance that has encircled Brazilian and Argentinian sides of the past is slowly fading and a new breed of unlikely heroes are emerging from the continent renowned for flair and panache in both name and nature over the past century.
Traditionally those sides have been and gone, but left a splash of magic on their successors who have thrived and aptly taken their irresistible, influential place in world football.
Ranked 18th in the latest official FIFA World Rankings and having just been knocked out the South American Youth Championship at the first group stage – is this the end of Brazil’s artistic, meritorious and much-coveted history? They’ve just failed to qualify for the FIFA Under 20 World Cup for only the second time in their history – the first being 1979. The signs grow stronger.
And it’s not just Brazil in a state of decline. Argentina were knocked out the same tournament on home turf. They deservedly reached the quarter finals of the 2011 FIFA U20 World Cup but failed to qualify for the one previous – this sort of thing doesn’t happen to the six-time champions.
But this decline in the two giants of South American football is leading to the rise of the chasing pack.
After the two favourites exited at the group stage, six teams vied for the desired title. Uruguay, Paraguay, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Colombia all took battle in the hexagonal final group stage of the recent tournament.
Colombia eventually triumphed, but faced stiff competition from Uruguay and Paraguay all the way. Chile joined the threesome in qualification for the FIFA U20 World Cup and deservedly so.
The Youth Radar takes a look at some of the talent that was on show at this year’s tournament, which makes for finger-licking promise that will be sure to set alight the flame of South American brilliance once again.
Colombia’s senior side are revelling in the world-beating form of star striker Falcao and their Under 20s are optimistic that he’ll soon be joined in a star-studded squad by Juan Fernando Quintero. The player of the tournament was one of the main reasons Colombia triumphed in this prestigious competition. From midfield, Colombia’s chief leader has netted five times and will be another one trying to make his mark in Serie A during the remainder of this season. The 19-year-old Pescara playmaker has already played 12 times in Italy’s top division and is widely known for his technical ability. His dribbling and ball control are likened to that of Messi whilst his lethal set-pieces gives him a clinical edge on the rest of the field. Jhon Cordoba joins Quintero on the list of players given the task of building on their current foundations and guiding a future Colombia side to a first FIFA World Cup. The muscular striker, who is a regular for Mexican side Jaguares, has been repeatedly compared to a Colombian version of Didier Drogba – alongside Falcao, they could form a mixture that would ignite the nation’s sanguine hopes in years to come. Praised for his physicality as well as his speed, Cordoba is dangerous with both his head and his feet and his four goals in the tournament proved a winning formula for the Colombians.
Uruguay sat as the tournament’s top scorers after the first group stage but held up fire in the final phase. That group stage form was mostly thanks to ten goals in four games which led to their much-craved three points over reigning champions Brazil, but their defensive weaknesses have been exposed and three draws in four games throughout the group stage made for solicitous reading for Juan Verzezi’s side. Their impressive strike-rate however was accounted by 19-year-old Nicolas Lopez. The tournament top-scorer has returned to Serie A, where he will now be making a major case to Roma manager Zdenek Zeman. Scoring the final-minute winner against Brazil, he is no stranger to last-gasp goals. His one previous Serie A appearance came as he replaced Francesco Totti in the dying seconds against Catania and true to form netted to secure all three points. Another cause of their scintillating goal scoring form came courtesy of Diego Rolan, who chased Lopez all the way to the wire, finishing the tournament on four goals. The 19-year-old Defensor Sporting forward earned his place in Verzezi’s squad thanks to his glittering club form in Uruguay’s Primera Division, where he’s showing all the signs that he could easily thrive at European level. Deadly from the spot – he scored his first Under 20 goal just two months after his 18th birthday in Uruguay’s Suwon Cup match against New Zealand.
Chile’s Nicolas Castillo stood as one of the main reasons that they won four out of four games in the group stage. Their defeat to Paraguay in their first match of the hexagonal final was their first defeat of the tournament – and Castillo even prospered then. The 19-year-old has a cutting, professional edge that many players lack. He’s a set-piece demon, exemplified by his stunning free-kick in that defeat to Paraguay where his effort sliced through the defending wall and deflected off the post past the goalkeeper. He’s already a veteran of the Under 20 side with 11 goals in 14 appearances and he’s slowly becoming more and more noticeable at club level too. He won his first major trophy in 2011 as he lifted the Chilean Primera Division title with Universidad Catolica, where he’s netted eight times in 24 appearances since. He has said he wants Catolica to achieve big things before he makes the move to a European club – a move that is almost certain as he development flourishes.
Ecuador have possibly unearthed one of the most promising and youngest stars to come from the tournament. At just 16-years-old, Miguel Parrales has had an unbelievable 2012 and is looking odds-on to make 2013 even more extraordinary. After scoring a debut goal for his Ecuadorian Serie A club Manta, he was immediately called into Julio Cesar Rosero’s Under 20 international side that would train towards the current competition. Parrales couldn’t have done more to impress and netted twice in the tournament, despite being the only 16-year-old, and therefore youngest player, involved.
Peru topped Group B on their way through to the second stage of the competition owing their performances to Cristian Benavente. Real Madrid are already the gratified owners of the 18-year-old, who currently represents their ‘B’ side in the Segunda Division. They signed him in 2002 and the Spanish-born midfielder’s rise through the ranks shows no sign of cessation. He qualifies to play for Peru due to his mother’s nationality but due to his Peruvian appearances only coming at youth level (U17 and U20), he is still eligible to represent the Spanish national side in the future. He is primarily a central midfielder but favours the attacking role and prides himself on versatility. He claims he has a good eye for goal and has proved himself correct as he has netted twice already for Peru in the tournament.
After the elimination of Brazil and the host nation, Paraguay were looking like one of the favourites to lift the tournament trophy. Their cause was vastly aided by the outstanding performances of Matias Perez. Their recently-turned 19-year-old centre back is widely renowned as one of the most promising defenders in the Paraguayan game and remarkably netted three goals from the back throughout the competition. He plays his club football at Primera Division side Nacional, where he has already established himself as a first-team regular. He is rapidly making his way through the international steps and is rumoured to be on the radar of senior coach Sergio Markarian. Derlis Gonzalez also aided the cause of Paraguay as he struck four times on their way to second place. The 18-year-old moved to Benfica in 2012 after playing 50 games for his hometown club Rubio Nu, where he debutized as a 16-year-old and immediately made an impression in their first-team. He has also represented Paraguay at lower youth levels and much like Benavente, will want to work his way through the grades of his top European club.
With the FIFA U20 World Cup just around the corner, and Colombia qualifying alongside Paraguay, Chile and Uruguay, it won’t be long until we hear much more of these upcoming talents and possibly see another big-money move to Europe in transfer windows to come.