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.
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.
The past weekend saw the commencement of the Apertura play-off semi-finals, and there were surprises in store with the top two of the regular season losing their first-legs without registering a goal.
On Saturday O’Higgins lost 1-0 at Unión Española thanks to a goal from the impressive Emiliano Vecchio and 24 hours later Universidad de Chile succumbed 2-0 to Colo Colo in an empty Estadio Monumental in a surreal encounter with a sodden pitch and two red cards . . . for Colo Colo.
It concluded a miserable week for La U who arguably put in their most insipid display under Jorge Sampaoli at La Bombonera against Boca Juniors in the Copa Libertadores semi-final first-leg. La U are now required to overturn two two goal deficit’s this week in two separate competitions.
In more positive news San Marcos de Arica triumphed in the Primera B Apertura to collect their first divisional title since 1981 and confirm their place in the end of season promotion play-offs.