The South American U-20 Championship has just reached its conclusion after three weeks of intense competition, providing plenty of talking points along the way. Brazil retained their continental crown with ease, clinching a ticket to the FIFA U-20 World Cup Egypt 2009 before any of their rivals. Joining A Seleção in Africa will be Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela, who will be competing in their first FIFA finals.
Argentina surprisingly finished last in the final, six-team group and will not be defending the title they won at Canada 2007. In the absence of the Albiceleste, who will be crowned their successors in the Land of the Pharaohs?
After finishing third in Group B, Brazil turned on the style when it mattered most, so much so, in fact, that they booked their place in the world finals in the third round of matches and made sure of the continental title in the fourth. Not even defeat by Paraguay in their final match took the gloss from a hugely impressive performance by Rogerio Lourenco's side. Overall they won six of their nine games, drawing one and losing two. And while their attack was only the third most potent with 17 goals, the Brazilians conceded only nine, fewer than any of their rivals.
Paraguay were the last of the four qualifiers to secure their berth, but victory over champions Brazil allowed the Albirroja to finish South American runners-up for the first time since 1967. Organised, well balanced and effective up front - the selfsame attributes that have helped the senior national team to the top of the South Africa 2010 qualification standings - the Guaraníes are back in the finals for the first time since 2003.
After a flawless first round, Uruguay surrendered their unbeaten record on the opening day of the final phase against Brazil. The Celeste picked up maximum points in their following two games, though, and made sure of their place among the qualifiers by drawing with Paraguay in their penultimate outing. Diego Aguirre's charges shone up front, registering 21 goals in all to end the tournament as top scorers, showed their powers of recovery by coming from behind in five of their six matches, and also went through the entire competition without receiving a single red card. Although a first continental championship since 1981 eluded them, the Uruguayans proved their trip Canada 2007 was no flash in the pan.
Last but not least, Venezuela enjoyed a tournament to remember, confounding the pundits by qualifying for the finals despite heavy defeats by Brazil and Paraguay. Victory over Uruguay proved decisive, a triumph that had Cesar Farias, the only senior national team coach on duty at the championships, in raptures: "This has always been our dream. Our players showed what they are made of today. It's like something out of a film."
The biggest shock of all, however, was Argentina's failure to reach the finals for the first time since 1987. Coached by Sergio Batista, the Argentinians never got into their stride and won only one of their nine games. "If you look at what was expected of us, there's no doubt we failed," said Batista. "We had the team to win the tournament but lots of things were lacking."
Colombia paid for their inconsistency and missed out on qualification for the tenth time in all and the second in a row. The Cafeteros played well at times but were, in truth, lucky to reach the final phase, only edging past Ecuador on lots. The Ecuadorians, themselves, failed to string together the results they needed, a fate that also befell Chile, while Peru and Bolivia have even more to ponder after losing all their games.
Brazil's Walter, Uruguay's Abel Hernandez and Robin Ramirez of Paraguay ended the competition as joint top-scorers with five goals apiece. Among the other players to shine were Brazilian midfield duo Sandro and Giuliano and their team-mate, Douglas Costa.
Lending valuable support to Paraguay's Ramirez were Federico Santander and attacking midfielder Hernan Perez, who both chipped in with four goals, while Ronald Huth impressed in defence.
The stars of Uruguay's show were Nicolas Lodeiro, Jonathan Urretaviscaya, Tabare Viudez and Santiago Garcia, while Venezuela's historic achievement was founded on the solid backbone formed by goalkeeper Rafael Romo, midfielders Rafael Acosta and Jose Manuel Velasquez and centre-forward Jose Salomon Rondon.