Wednesday, 25 July 2007

U-20 World Cup - 10 players with big futures

With the U-20 World Cup coming to its conclusion this past weekend, I thought a list of the top ten young Latin American players not currently plying their trade in Europe, but destined for big things would be in order. So here we go:

Maxi Moralez - Argentina/Racing Club

Whilst Sergio Aguero took all the post-tournament plaudits, Maxi Moralez played as big a part as any in Argentina's attacking brilliance during the tournament. The small attacking midfielder is a total livewire, always making runs and wanting the ball at his feet. His pace, coupled with a surprising strength on the ball allowed him to run past opposition players with ease and he showed a keen eye for goal too, netting four goals in Argentina's run to the final.

Ever Banega - Argentina/Boca Juniors

Banega provided the beat to the rhythm of the Argentine play throughout the tournament. Sitting at the back of their midfield, he picked the ball up off of the defense and sprayed passes around all over the field to grateful teammates. He showed great skill on the ball in tight situations, constantly turning players and creating that little bit of space to size up defense splitting passes. Despite his build, he also showed himself to be good in the tackle, winning many unlikely challenges with larger players. His only flaw is a tendency to take players on deep inside his own half, potentially giving the ball away in dangerous areas. He is only 18, so he has plenty of time to eliminate that flaw, and if he does, he is potentially one of best midfielders in the world.

Angel Di Maria - Argentina/Rosario Central

Arsenal are thought to be heavily interested in signing Di Maria and its not hard to see why. A tall, skillful, left footed striker, Di Maria is equally adept in the floor as in the air and his presence proved difficult for many teams to deal with during the tournament. He scored three goals before coming off injured in the semi-final, forcing him to miss the final. He was missed by Argentina in the final, and despite a lack of pace, is sure to have a big future in front of him.

Alexandre Pato - Brazil/Internacional

All of Europe's big clubs are already on the trail of Pato, who, like the Brazilian side around him, somewhat flattered to deceive during the tournament. He showed flashes of his talent, two goals against Korea Republic in the group stages showing that his pace and finishing ability are top notch. Unfortunately for him, he tended to drift in and out of games and rarely lived up to the hype that surrounded him going into the tournament. He is still only 17, and clearly has the correct attributes to be a success, but on this showing a move to Europe this year may be too much too soon for the Brazilian. Long term though, he is a still a great prospect.

Luizao - Brazil/Cruzeiro

It might seem strange to highlight a Brazilian defender as being one to look out for, but Luizao looks set to follow the footsteps of fellow large athletic defenders, such as Alex and Juan, into Europe, and the full national side. He showed a good reading of the game which instantly elevates him above the Roque Junior type defender that has been commonplace in Brazil sides over the years. This coupled with his impressive build definitely make him one to watch out for.

Nicolas Medina - Chile/Universidad de Chile

A lively, skillful forward, Medina was at the heart of the Chile attack that ripped through their first two group stage opponents and did the same to Nigeria in the quarter finals. He was always a threat, looking the most likely against the Argentines and with Osasuna in Spain already sniffing round, it will surely not be long before he is playing in Europe.

Nicolas Larrondo - Chile/Universidad de Chile

Chile were a side that not only attacked well, but also defended superbly throughout the tournament. Larrondo was the most impressive figure in their defense, both technically and from a leadership perspective, always pulling him teammates into position and barking out orders. Without him, it is unlikely they would have made it all the way to the semi-final before conceding a goal.

Patricio Araujo - Mexico/Guadalajara

Although many praised the Mexicans for their expansive play in the final third of the pitch, they were also a defensively sound team, mainly thanks to the organisation skills of captain Araujo at the back. He put in assured performances in every single game they played and it is not coincidence that some of England's top sides are now very interested in taking Araujo to the Premiership.

Alfonso Blanco - Mexico/Pachuca

Blanco played like the typical expectation people have of a Latin American goalkeeper; good shot stoppers, but a little suspect on high balls. However, to describe Blanco as simply a good shot stopper would be criminally unjust. Throughout the tournament he produced a string of world class saves, his acrobatics more akin to the Olympics than a football tournament. If he can tighten up his game on crosses and set plays, then he definitely has the potential to be a world class keeper.

Luis Meija - Panama/Tauro

Another keeper to round off the list. Pretty much everything I said about Alfonso Blanco above applies to Meija, demonstrated mainly through his virtuoso display against Korea DPR in Panama's first game of the tournament. Although the goals against column may not read in his favor, there was only so much Meija could do with such an inadequate defense in front of him. He will be hoping that the Korea performance has been enough to get him noticed by scouts in South America or Europe, as you can't help but feel that another few years in Panama can only hurt his growth as a player.

Overall, the tournament was a great success and I'm sure there will be many scouts returning to Europe with names of players they feel are good enough to make the grade in the top leagues.

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