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.
After a stay of execution afforded to him in the aftermath of the defeats to Ecuador and Argentina in the last batch of World Cup qualifiers, Claudio Borghi knew he and his Chilean side had to deliver a performance of significant improvement in the friendly with Serbia.
Ninety torrid minutes later and Borghi had departed, or has he told the media sacked. Ninety insipid minutes; the match clock not acting as a timer for the game but a countdown until La Roja were Borghi-less, something which fans up and down the Chilean peninsula were eager to see.
South America is a haven for football scouts from all across Europe and further afield. Cast your gaze across European football’s landscape and most clubs posses a South American playing a prominent role in their team. Barcelona and Lionel Messi, Manchester City and Sergio Agüero, Napoli and Edison Cavani AC Milan and Thiago Silva to name but a few.
And one South American nation, more than most, are making extra room for scouts as interest in their players increase. But it is not the traditional giants of Brazil and Argentina or even Uruguay who have achieved so much with such a sparse population. It is Chile. The land of Marcelo Salas and Ivan Zamarano, the Andes and Atacama, Colo Colo and Universidad de Chile.
It is a breeding ground of talented – and temperamental – footballers. The success of the Chilean national team in the last few years and more recently Universidad de Chile has brought attention to the world’s longest country. And within it there are a number of talented footballers waiting to break-out and join Mauricio Isla, Mauricio Pinilla, Alexis Sánchez, Arturo Vidal, Jean Beausejour, Sebastián Pinto and more in the epicentre of football.
It was billed as one of the games of the year. Argentine champions versus all-conquering Chilean champions. Pragmatism versus exciting fluidity. Defensive organisation versus exhilarating attacks. But what transpired was Boca Juniors showing world football that there is more to their game than organisation and counter-attacks.
And once more Universidad de Chile is left with it all to do in the second-leg of their Copa Libertadores semi-final tie. In the previous round they scraped past Paraguay’s Libertad on penalties while the tie before that saw El Chuncho overturn a 4-1 first-leg deficit with a 6-0 victory in Santiago.
But this time it is different. This time they trail 2-0 to Boca. A Boca side who have conceded just 20 goals in their previous 36 league matches. A Boca team who give off the aura of perennial winners.
It was expected that Boca would defend deep and attack the spaces La U left behind with swift counter-attacks. Yet Julio César Falconi and his side took a risk – with Juan Román Riquelme in tow – pressing La U high which led to both goals; scored by Santiago ‘El Tanque’ Silva and Juan Sánchez Miño. Counter-attacking weapon Clemente Rodríguez missed out at left-back and was replaced by Sánchez Miño while Pablo Mouche started up front . . . and had the game of his live.
La U, lining up in their usual 3-4-3 variant, was visibly shaken to the point they failed to emerge from their slumber, constantly losing possession and lacking in any defensive organisation. The latter a problem that is becoming all too frequent for Jorge Sampaoli.
Marcelo Diaz: La U’s heartbeat (image: El Grafico)
In Europe’s Champions League overturning a three goal deficit in the knock-out stages is seen as unlikely. But in South America’s equivalent, the Copa Libertadores, things are little crazier, a little more hectic and a little more manic. Due to the vast distances teams have to travel and the differing altitudes games are played at the home teams are often handed an advantage. Overturning a three goal difference in South America is seen as entirely possible.
Universidad de Chile travelled to Ecuador two weeks ago this Thursday to play Deportivo Quito in a city – second to La Paz – infamous for its altitude; some 9,200ft above sea level.
La U had dealt with Quito’s altitude before. Only in December past did they win against LDU Quito. And then you factor in their young, fit, dynamic and talented squad as well as Chilean teams adaptability at playing at altitude.
The last few weeks has seen me take a hiatus from the Primera División due to busy weekend schedules. But I was back watching on Sunday night as Universidad de Chile trounced hapless arch-rivals Colo Colo in el Superclásico.
So here is a run-down of what has gone on recently and how the league is shaping up with only three rounds remaining before the play-offs commence.
*Expect mentions about perfect Universidad de Chile, Matías Rodríguez, Ángelo Henríquez, el Superclásico, Eduardo Berizzo, Adrian Ramos, José Luis Sierra, Mario Lepe, rejuvenated Audax Italiano, rubbish Colo Colo, Cobreloa’s new coach, slipping Wanderers, Huachipato and those going nowehere.
Mauro Diaz evades the challenge of Luis Mena as Union Espanola prevail in a classic (image: unionespanola.cl)
A quiet week in Chile? No not really. So what is in store for Week 11. Unión Española and Colo Colo took part in arguably the game of the year so far and one of the best games anywhere The Red One has witnessed this season. High-tempo football? Check. Goals? Check. Unreliable defences? Check.
Elsewhere Cobreloa suffered a Nelson Acosta hangover in Santiago while Santiago Wanderers of Valparaíso were brought back down to Earth with a bump in Santiago, blue is colour in the top places of Apertura and there was varying degrees of success for new (and relatively new) managers.
Off the field there is a worrying situation developing at Colo Colo between certain players and fans while we look ahead to the first big Santiago derby and share some transfer news surrounding two of Chile’s most promising defenders.