Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sudamericano Sub 17: Team of the tournament

Sudamericano Sub 17: Team of the tournament.
Earlier this month Iquique, Chile played host to the 2009 Sudamericano Sub 17 and the finest youngsters on the continent turned up to showcase their talents. Despite the hosts bowing out in the first round group stage the tournament’s momentum carried through to a pulsating clasico final which saw Brazil beat Argentina after a marathon penalty shootout. Scouts from all of Europe’s top clubs were in the stands as well as representatives from the U.S.A., Japan and everywhere else which knows where the best crop of new talent can be found. Brazil’s left-back Dodo secured a dream move to Manchester United after impressing during the competition and will no doubt line up against his teammate Philippe Coutinho of Inter Milan in the Champions League someday soon. Here is my team of the tournament, names that will no doubt be impressing in international competitions for the next 15 years or more.

GK: Damian Martinez – Argentina - C.A. Independiente

This trusty custodian must have spend a fair time of his adolescence in the grow bag because before a ball was even kicked his 1.82 metre frame had him marked out as a goalkeeper of some repute. It was when the action started however that Martinez really began to establish himself as one of the finds of the tournament. In Argentina’s win or bust final group game against Uruguay two remarkably brave saves at the feet of Gonzalo Barreto kept his side in the box seat as they went on to claim the points. In the final he was unstuck by two Brazilian strikes that grazed the post before going in, seemingly the only place in the goal that remained outside his gargantuan reach. Martinez also distinguished himself in the deciding penalties that followed, particularly with one midair diving save to deny Philippe Coutinho. Unfortunately for the glovesman and his team Martinez’s efforts were in vain as Wellington won it for Brazil with the 18th spotkick of the shootout. Still the Independiente man can look back on a tournament of personal achievement and it is only a matter of time now until his club start to receive some mouth watering offers for his services.

RB: Renato Zapata – Peru – Universitario

Peru’s captain Renato Zapata has been pulling on the red sash of his country since the age of 14 and was the driving force in his team’s campaign which ultimately ending in tears. Countless interceptions and lung busting drives up the right flank got Peru out of trouble time and time again during the tournament. Another aspect of Zapata’s game that helped his side in advanced positions was his throw-in technique which involves tossing the ball in the air, catching it and pelting it into the box from anywhere inside the opposition’s half. After starting the competition with two bruising defeats it was Zapata who stroked in from 12 yards against Bolivia as Peru toppled one of the tournament’s most stingiest backlines. Zapata made his presence felt in every third of the pitch during that game, organizing the defence, creating in midfield and coolly slotting home his penalty when the time came. As with Damian Martinez however Zapata will look back on his final game with regret as he was penalized rather harshly for a handball in the box against Colombia as Peru fell to a defeat which spelt their elimination. Zapata will be back and if his development continues at the present rate he will be a force to be reckoned with when the Sudamericano Sub 20 rolls around.

CB: Diego Polenta – Uruguay - Genoa (ITA)

Another player who oozed leadership during the tournament was Uruguay’s skipper Diego Polenta. Well before the tournament Polenta had already secured his move to Europe as he linked up with Serie A outfit Genoa. The Italians have certainly brought well if Polenta’s seven games at this year’s Sudamericano Sub 17 are anything to go by. Positionally aware, robust in the challenge and dominant in the air Polenta is a stopper who loves the art of defending. Occasionally he will join the attack for set plays but as a rule Polenta treats the halfway line as his own personal electric fence and is happy to bring the ball out from the back and lay it off to a teammate rather than whacking a panicked clearance up front. There was the odd occasion when Polenta went in a tad recklessly but surely this is something that will be taught out of him as he spends more and more time in Italy. The captain’s settling effect on his teammates was all the more evident when he was withdrawn for the final minutes in their opener against Chile. Uruguay went from bossing the game 3-0 to leaking like a sieve at the other end and could have easily surrendered their handsome lead had the game continued any longer. It is doubtful that we will see Polenta in competitive action for Genoa anytime soon but he is held in very high regard in his homeland with a future with the senior side already mapped out.

CB: Yeison Murillo – Colombia – Soacha F.C.

Most successful centre-back partnerships combine brains and brawn and Yeison Murillo’s no nonsense approach stood Colombia in good stead as they booked their place at this yea’sr Sub 17 World Cup in Nigeria. Colombia is currently enjoying a bumper crop of talented stoppers and Murillo looks like he will follow in the footsteps of Ivan Cordoba and the like as he continues to progress. Starting alongside next to Colombia’s ball playing skipper Juan Camilo Saiz it was left to Murillo to stick to the bulky strikers who tried knocking on the door of the Colombian goal. Murillo had no problem sticking the likes of Gilbert Alvarez of Bolivia or Luis Celi of Ecuador in his back pocket and snuffing out their threat. Even more encouraging however was the way he and Saiz dealt with Brazil’s constant threat in their first round encounter. Stars of the tournament and eventually winners Joao Pedro, Felipinho, Coutinho and Wellington were all denied by the muscle and intelligence of Murillo and his colleagues as Colombia secured a well earned 2-0 victory. If Colombia can keep this solid platform together at the back there is no reason why they cannot push on at the World Cup and fans can be sure that these boys will not let down the senior team when their time comes.

LB: Dodo – Brazil – Manchester United (ENG)

Brazilian full-backs will always whet the appetite of football fans, picture Carlos Alberto in Mexico 1970 or even Rafael Da Silva scoring for Manchester United against Arsenal this season. Everybody knows they are going to give just as much, if not more, going forward as they will in defence. Sir Alex must be happy with his Da Silva twins because now he has waded back into Brazil for his latest recruit. Needless to say Brazil’s left-back did get amongst the goals during the tournament and his height made him a constant threat from set-pieces. He did appear defensively solid when called upon and physically is a much different than the Da Silva twins, stocky body and about as tall as Fabian sat on Rafael’s shoulders. He will not officially become a Manchester United player until his 18th birthday next year but will be invited to train at Carrington from time to time as he makes the transition. With the trend to get the Brazilians over at a younger age hopefully their attacking instincts will not give way totally to European discipline. That being said Dodo is putting himself in one of the safest pairs of hands going by making the switch to Old Trafford.

RM: Philippe Coutinho – Brazil – Inter Milan (ITA)

A few people left Chile a little disappointed with what they had seen of Philippe Coutinho such was the hype surrounding the player. The burgeoning reputation meant he was paid close attention by opposition managers, often having three players stuck to him as he tried to muster a piece of magic. One moment that will restored belief to fans of Brazil and Inter Milan was a superbly taken strike against Argentina in the final. That he chose the final to produce his best moment suggests that he not grow into the type of the player who goes missing at the critical time. A label which at least one superstar will inevitable be bestowed with on the final whistle in Rome on Wednesday. Even with distinguishing himself with the curled finished in the final Coutinho was by no means a passenger in the Brazilian team, chipping in with his fair share of goals and Wellington in particular benefiting from the extra space the close marking of the Inter player allowed. With Jose set to stay on at Inter it will not be long now until he will start to blood this promising Brazilian who watches his countryman Kaka wowing the San Siro every other week.

CM: Samuel Galindo – Bolivia – Real America

Samuel Galindo is far too stylish a player to dubbed a hatchetman but his bulk had opposition midfielders quaking in their boots and their managers asking for a look at the 16-year-old’s birth certificate. With his gaping stride eating up the turf Galindo was central to all of Bolivia’s outstanding play during the tournament which saw them agonizingly miss out on a World Cup final spot after defeat to Uruguay in their last game. Galindo’s box to box running caught the eye as he disrupted attacks and launched his own team forward by taking games by the scruff of the neck and never shirking his responsibility as captain. As well as providing the bullets for lone frontman Gilbert Alvarez he also showed the kind of composure in front of goal which his teammate lacked on so many occasions. Galindo personified his manager Oscar Camara’s philosophy on the pitch as he used superior technique and tactical awareness to roll over inferior opposition. Galindo best individual performance came in the final group stage as he mastermind his team’s 4-1 annihilation of Ecuador. Hopefully the team as a whole can put the disappointment of Iquique behind them as they graduate through the ranks because a talented bunch have a awesome talisman in Galindo.

LM: Zezinho – Brazil- E.C. Juventude

The invisible man who kept Brazil ticking throughout the tournament showed himself very early in the competition’s final. An opportunistic strike off his cultured left peg put Brazil into the lead against Argentina in the first five minutes as he set his country on course for victory. Invisible is perhaps an unfair term for the midfielder but it is true that Zezinho does most of his good work away for the epicentre of the action with tireless running and constantly creating space for others to play. He does have a deadly weapon attached to his left leg as he not only scored a spectacular strike in the final abut also in Brazil’s opener. Again a thunderbolt from outside the box left a hapless goalkeeper flapping at thin air as he found the onion bag in Brazil’s 4-0 demolition of Paraguay. For his combination of tenacious tackling and sparks of genius around the box he is compared favourably with Anderson who also excelled at this level even thought the Manchester United man was in far more evidence in the final third in his younger days. It maybe a sign of what these boys believe Europe’s top clubs are looking for that Zezinho was more than happy to show off the uglier aspects of his game rather than concentrate on the goalscoring talent he clearly possesses.

RF: Wellington – Brazil – Fluminense F.C.

Arsene is interested was the word on the street as Wellington’s reputation grew and grew with every minute he spent on the pitch. After playing his part as Brazil scored seven in their first two games of the competition Wellington himself had to wait for the lucky number seven to get his own name on the scoresheet. He found the Peruvian keeper wanting from 25 yards out to give Brazil a 3-0 win and joy was evident not only on the diminutive striker’s face but also on his teammates and the bench who all spilled on the pitch to congratulate Wellington. Clearly well liked in the camp he plays his football like a cheeky whippersnapper, occasionally over elaborate but always with a smile his face. In Brazil’s only defeat of the tournament against Colombia Wellington was withdrawn after 15 minutes with the scores level and his team simply did not look like threatening without him on the pitch. Wellington was back in the next game, drawing a number of fouls in dangerous positions which led to more chances for his team and scoring from close range himself. His crowning glory came by dispatching the 18th and winning penalty of the shootout which decided the final and gave Brazil their 9th Sudamericano Sub 17 championship. Once again he found himself at the bottom of a ruck of teammates and coaching staff.

CF: Sergio Araujo – Argentina – C.A. Boca Juniors

The big man up top was employed by a number of teams at this year’s tournament but none was more effective than Argentina’s Sergio Araujo. Throughout the championship Araujo offered his team a Plan B as he hassled and harried defences into making mistakes and created his own chances when called upon. With Argentina employing wing-backs in the tournament plenty of width meant crosses for Araujo to feed off and that is how he bagged his first two of the tournament. These two headers came in the games against Venezuela and Chile, both coming at vital times to take the pressure of Tata Brown’s team. His next strike in the crunch game against Uruguay showed there was more to his game than heading as he stroked home a cute finish from just inside the box. Araujo showed big heart in stepping up to take Argentina’s first penalty of the shootout against Brazil but unfortunately spooned his shot over the bar. Now back with the Boca Juniors’ academy he will being primed to make his impact on the first team and eventually his move to Europe for the benefit of both him and his team’s balance sheet.

LF: Edwin Cardona – Colombia – Atletico Nacional

Without doubt the star man of the tournament, Edwin Cardona netted seven in as many games despite regularly starting on the left-hand side of midfield. In a frantic half hour period he helped himself to a first-half hat-trick against Ecuador in the second group stage to edge his team towards a World Cup qualifying spot. He was lively from the start in that game as he charged down a defensive clearance, drove into the box and netted with precision into the far corner. Soon after that he was lining up a freekick closer to the corner flag than the box and surprised everyone by bending the ball past the backpedalling goalkeeper and into the net. He rounded off his hat-trick with a spotkick, taking his penalty tally to three from three for the tournament. Even at the tender age of 16 Cardona has the physical attributes to play in any of the world’s top leagues as well as the undeniable talent. With scouts from all the top European clubs present at the tournament surely an offer or two will be coming Atletico Nacional’s way before long. If he can keep up this level of performance at the World Cup in Nigeria it will be good news for him and teammates such as Yeison Murillo and Wilson Cuero who are themselves already very much on the radars of Europe’s elite.

Copyright © Tim Sturtridge & Soccerphile.com

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