Ecuador in, Argentina out of final four
After the first round of games at the South American U-17 Championship in Venezuela, the field has been reduced from ten sides to four. Brazil, Ecuador, Uruguay and Colombia are the sides still standing, and now play each other in a mini-league format with the top two sides qualifying for the category's FIFA U-17 World Championship this September.
The surprise story from Venezuela was the elimination of Argentina, the third placed side at the FIFA U-17 World Championship in Finland in 2003. Miguel Tojo's talented crop of youngsters arrived in Venezuela as tournament favourites but fell at the first hurdle and will now miss the showpiece tournament for only the third time in their history.
The salient feature of the competition so far has been the free-scoring antics of the continent's finest young marksmen. In just 20 games, they have racked up 82 goals at an impressive average of 4.1 goals per game. Paraguay, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Chile all return home empty handed, while Peru, who qualify for the World Championship as hosts, also bowed out, but not before they sealed the fate of Argentina.
Group A: Brazil deliver while Ecuador surprise
Once again, Brazil showed just why there are the reigning world champions in this category, topping their group and progressing smoothly to the next phase. Nelson Rodrigues' side lit up the city of Maracaibo with a mix of high-tempo football and prolific scoring that was too much for almost all their rivals.
Their travelling supporters certainly had plenty to celebrate: 18 goals in five games and three of the team among the tournament's top scorers: Kerlon (6), Anderson (4) and Marcelo (3). For the record, they trounced Bolivia (4-2), Ecuador (5-1) and Venezuela (7-1), suffering a solitary defeat against Paraguay (2-3).
The second team to come out of the group were Ivan Romero's Ecuador, who had to sweat to the very end to see off Paraguay. The Albirroja, with Carlos Acuna in unstoppable form, finished level with Ecuador on points and goal difference, but lost out to Romero's side by virtue of their 3-1 defeat when the teams met in the second game.
Despite the disappointment of a first round exit, Cristobal Maldonado's young charges can hold their heads high knowing they gave it everything. They also had the consolation of being the only side to beat Brazil in one of the best games so far in the tournament. If only they had scored one more goal…
Venezuela, for their part, could not take advantage of their status as hosts, going down in all four of their matches. Lino Alonso's men scored five goals in all but shipped an eye-watering 18 to become one of the first sides to bow out. Bolivia shared the same fate, although they had the merit of winning one of their games.
Group B: Uruguay and Colombia at the cost of Argentina
The biggest surprise in Group B was Argentina's first round elimination after defeat to one of the continent's lesser lights, Peru - who, ironically, were under the tutelage of Argentinian Jose Pavoni.
Hours before the departure of the Albiceleste, Gustavo Ferrin's Uruguay booked their place in the next round on the back of some exemplary defending. They conceded just one goal in the opening four games, and even that was an own-goal. At the other end, the Celeste managed to score eight, with four coming in their last game against Chile.
Second spot went to Colombia, who had Peru to thank for their progress after the Andean side beat their group rivals Argentina. Despite not being as impressive as their U-20 counterparts, Eduardo Lara's side took full advantage of their consistent and well-ordered play - qualities that few other sides could muster. Scoring just four goals, but more importantly conceding just two, the Cafeteros marched steadily on.
The final phase will be decided on a league basis from April 13-17.