The much-anticipated South American Under-20 Championship kicks off on Wednesday. Followers of the South American leagues are afforded the chance to see if players they have earmarked for a glittering career live up to their billing, while new names can announce themselves as stars.
Many players will have already gained significant league and continental experience, with South American side courageous/desperate in throwing baby-faced talent into the heated atmospheres that the continent throws up.
The tournament is a hidden gem according to Tim Vickery, and with four teams qualifying for this year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup it is a tournament looked upon seriously by all competitors.
However, the importance of the tournament in the South American football calendar is not shared by those at FIFA, therefore club sides are not required to release their players. This ruling has annoyed those in Chile with the news that Ángelo Henríquez will not be at the tournament in Argentina – much to his dismay. Instead he has joined Wigan Athletic from Manchester United on loan until the end of the season; Sir Alex Ferguson with the notion that a loan spell would be better for his development.
That has not been the only problem for Chile in the build-up to the tournament. Mario Salas replaced Fernando Carvallo as the new coach of the side last month after Carvallo left his position due to his allegiance to Claudio Borghi, who was sacked after a tame defeat to Serbia in a friendly.
By the time Chile get their campaign under way against Argentina ex-Barnechea coach Salas will have had only 38 days to prepare for the tournament, where they have one aim: qualify for the Under-20 World Cup in Turkey to be held during June and July.
Yesterday (January 3) Salas announced his 22-man squad from a shortlist of 29. The biggest decision surrounded the goalkeepers, with a recent surprise call-up of Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Lawrence Vigouroux who has a Chilean father and Jamaican mother. One short appearance in a recent draw was enough for the rangy goalkeeper to be chosen as one of the three ‘keepers.
Chile contests a group with Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia and Paraguay. The top three progress to the hexagonal final.
The 22-man squad:
Daniel Melo (Palestino)
Bryan Cortés (D.Iquique)
Lawrence Vigouroux (Tottenham)
Felipe Campos (Palestino)
Igor Lichnovsky (U. De Chile)
Válber Huerta (U. De Chile)
Manuel Bravo (Colo Colo)
Andrés Robles (S.Wanderers)
Alejandro Contreras (Palestino)
Mario Larenas (U.Española)
Ignacio Caroca (Colo Colo)
César Fuentes (O’Higgins)
Claudio Baeza (Colo Colo)
Sebastián Martínez (U. De Chile)
Franco Ragusa (Everton)
Bryan Rabello (Sevilla)
Diego Rojas (U. Católica)
Cristian Cuevas (O’Higgins)
Nicolás Maturana (U. De Chile)
Nicolás Castillo (U. Católica)
Felipe Mora (Audax Italiano)
Diego Rubio (Sporting Lisbon)
Igor Lichnovsky 18 Centre Back Universidad de Chile
This name may be familiar to those that do not watch the Primera División regularly. That is because he has recently appeared on In Bed With Maradona’s wonderful ‘The 100’ – a selection of the 100 most promising world football talents to look out for in 2013. Although it may have been a surprise to some (including myself) that Lichnovsky was chosen ahead of Sebastián Martínez and Ángelo Henríquez there is no doubt that Chile could potentially have one of the world’s finest centre backs amongst their ranks.
He, like so many of the young players that make their way into Universidad de Chile’s team, has a calmness in possession; imperative for a defender playing in the defence of La U’s. He has attracted reported interest from both Internazionale and Juventus and it is easy to see why. For such a young head he is composed and mature on the field, strong and steady. But it has not been all plain sailing. After making a number of appearances early on in the 2012 Clausura he faded and was removed from the team by Sampaoli, featuring intermittently in the later months. He will be expected to lead the defence and a strong tournament could set him up for a strong year with a new man at the helm of La U – Darío Franco.
Sebastían Martínez 19 Central Midfielder Universidad de Chile
The choice could quite easily have been the exciting Bryan Rabello who has had recent game time in the first team of Sevilla since his summer move from Colo Colo. Instead I have opted for the player that new Chile boss Sampaoli labelled as the long-term heir to La U’s former midfield maestro Marcelo Díaz. After Díaz’s move to Basel in the summer Martínez was ushered in to play an important role in La U’s midfield after summer signings faltered.
Originally the changing between defence and midfield seemed to restrict his output, but a continued run as the deepest midfielder as the season progressed seemed to galvanise the player. He is comfortable playing in a midfield four and midfield five and in front of a defensive three and four. Long-term, a place at the base of a diamond in front of a back four may see the best of Martínez as he’d be able to drop between centre backs forming a back three and instigating moves from deep. He does not quite possess the range of passing Díaz had and perhaps the dynamism that allows him to occasionally support the defence. But, similar to Lichnovsky, he is a calm and measured presence in midfield, and one that can battle and fight when the game gets physical. Likely to be captain others will look to him to provide influence with and without the ball.
Nicolás Castillo 19 Striker Universidad Católica
Again, a player plying his trade abroad could have been chosen but the decision was made to single out Castillo ahead of Sporting Lisbon’s Diego Rubio, who incidentally featured in In Bed With Maradona’s 2012 list. The decision was based on Castillo’s excellent form in Universidad Católica’s run to the semi-finals of the 2012 Copa Sudamericana.
The striker was in and out of the team under Mario Lepe and often ignored in the early stages of Martín Lasarte’s reign. However, a good performance against Brazilian’s Atlético GO in the last-16 of the Copa Sudamericana signalled a run of 10 games until the end of the season, in which he scored seven.
At times under Lepe Castillo would look cumbersome but in the second half of the year he seemed to be supplementing his physical attributes with technical quality, none more so than on the continental stage, leading the line on his own in tough away games on occasions. What marks the three players mentioned out is there maturity at such a young age and that was in evidence in games against quality opposition in the Copa Sudamericana. Castillo provided self-less and intelligent running in attack, hard work and a directness with the ball that frighteneded opponents. He is not a clinical finisher like Henríquez but he is strong and fast and has a left foot that will get goals for Chile and Católica.
For those that watch the Primera División regularly the choices may seem a bit obvious. There are a number of less obvious players that could have been chosen but I wanted to choose players that I had seen regularly. Diego Rubio and Bryan Rabello have been mentioned, but other players I am looking forward to seeing having caught glimpses or read promising reviews: Valber Huerta, Manuel Bravo, César Fuentes, Diego Rojas and Cristián Cuevas.