Joy for hosts as surprises abound
© AFP

The South American U-17 Football Championship Argentina 2013 threw up more than a few surprises and provided a full spectrum of emotions before confirming the four continental participants at the FIFA U-17 World Cup United Arab Emirates 2013. The hosts, who improved as the tournament progressed, took the title for the third time, breaking Brazil’s vice-like grip on the trophy after four consecutive triumphs.

Surprise runners-up Venezuela qualified for the global showdown for the first time, while Brazil also booked their place at the tournament despite failing to shine, with Uruguay grabbing the final spot. FIFA.com rounds up all the action from San Luis and Mendoza.

The qualifiers
Argentina
were slow out of the blocks in the group stage, losing their first two games to Ecuador (2-0) and Paraguay (3-1). Humberto Grondona’s young charges appeared afflicted by the weight of expectation after the country’s U-20s had crashed out of their championship on home soil two months previously. However, the side rallied and did not lose again, beating Venezuela 3-0 and Colombia 3-2 to advance to the six-way final. There, two further victories and three draws - as well as a superior goal difference - ensured Argentina lifted the trophy for the third time in their history, following triumphs in 1985 and 2003.

Grondona was pleased with his side, commenting that “over the course of the tournament Argentina were the best team. The boys put in a huge amount of effort. We scored a lot of goals, we never lost our focus and we always tried to play our game, whether we won or lost.” Indeed, La Albiceleste netted 17 times, just three fewer than Uruguay.

Venezuela pulled off the biggest surprise of the tournament. Not only did they finish as runners-up for the first time in the continental competition, but they also achieved an inaugural qualification for a FIFA U-17 World Cup. After a patchy showing in the group stage, where La Vinotinto only found the net once, Venezuela subsequently unleashed their full potential to finish the Hexagonal unbeaten. “These kids gave us a lot of joy,” said coach Rafael Dudamel. “They played at an extremely high level and we’ve just finished a South American Championship that will shape the rest of our lives as well as the history of Venezuelan football.”

Brazil achieved their objective of qualifying and only lost out on the title on goal difference. They eased through the group phase and drew just once, against Uruguay, never losing throughout the entire competition. While A Seleção may not have emulated past generations by taking the title as well, the fact that they conceded the fewest goals and have now reached a FIFA U-17 World Cup for a 14th time - the only blot on their record is their absence from Japan 1993 - is at least some consolation.

Uruguay experienced mixed fortunes and despite emerging from the group phase undefeated in second place, Los Charrúas struggled in the six-team final, only securing their ticket to United Arab Emirates with victory over Peru in their last match. Nevertheless, Uruguay will take positives from top-scoring in Argentina and qualifying for the FIFA U-17 World Cup for the third consecutive time, and sixth in total.

The other pretenders
A Paraguay side boasting Barcelona youth team striker Antonio Sanabria started the tournament brightly and topped Group A en route to the final round. However, there they ran out of steam and lost three out of five matches in the final round. Peru struggled to make their mark on the proceedings and only won once over the course of the event, despite reaching the hexagonal phase.

Ecuador also started with a bang and defeated hosts Argentina. Yet they were unable to reproduce that performance and were eliminated at the group stage, failing to qualify for a second successive a FIFA U-17 World Cup after their appearance at Mexico 2011. Chile and Bolivia had difficulty asserting themselves and both fell at the first hurdle after ending the group stage winless. Neither side has appeared at a global tournament at this level since 1997 and 1985 respectively.

Ones to watch
Several players stood out in Argentina’s championship winning team, chief among them five-goal Sebastian Driussi, as well as Leonardo Suarez, who fired a brace in their final match, and defender Emanuel Mammana. Andres Ponce was undoubtedly Venezuela’s star, netting seven of his side’s eight goals in the competition, while Jose Marrufo and Franko Diaz provided a solid back line for La Vinotinto.

Uruguay’s Franco Acosta finished as the tournament’s top scorer with eight strikes and his compatriot Kevin Mendez also caught the eye with four goals. Both the aforementioned Sanabria and Brazil’s Kenedy shone, each hitting the net on six occasions.

Final standings:
Argentina 9 *
Venezuela 9 *
Brazil 9 *
Uruguay 8 *
Paraguay 4
Peru 0
* Qualified for the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013

Top scorers
8 goals: Franco Acosta (Uruguay)
7 goals: Andres Ponce (Venezuela)
6 goals: Kenedy (Brazil), Antonio Sanabria (Paraguay)