Colombia crowned, surprises abound
© AFP

The South American U-20 Championship Argentina 2013 will live long in the memory, not least for Colombia, who won their third continental title and qualified for the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013. Paraguay, Uruguay and Chile will be the region’s other representatives at FIFA’s flagship event in this category.

Yet the tournament will go down in the history books as the occasion neither six-time U-20 world champions Argentina nor five-time winners Brazil made it out of the group stages. The latter will therefore be unable to defend their crown, earned in Colombia two years ago.

FIFA.com rounds up the action from the competition, which took place in the cities of Mendoza and San Juan.

The qualifiers
Following a disappointing first stage, in which Colombia ended up six points behind Chile to finish as runners-up in Group A, Los Cafeteros turned on the style in the six-team round-robin final qualifying phase. There, Carlos Restrepo’s young charges won three consecutive games to secure their ticket to Turkey 2013, which will be their eighth appearance on the world stage at this level. Not content with mere qualification though, Colombia overcame Paraguay in their final match to win the title for a third time, and the first on foreign soil after triumphs in 1987 and 2005.

“Winning the South American championship is something very valuable,” said Juan Quintero, who finished as Colombia’s top scorer with five goals. “The time will come to think about the World Cup, as long as we always keep our feet on the ground. But right now it’s time to enjoy this,” the Pescara midfielder continued. Of the six finalists, the Colombia boasted the meanest defence - conceding just eight goals in nine games - and one of the fiercest attacks alongside Paraguay, scoring 16.

Paraguay came third in their group in the opening phase but were at the top of the standings going into the last round of matches in the final phase. However, Los Guaraníes were ultimately unable to secure their first title since 1971. Nevertheless, after failing to reach Colombia 2011, they repeated their runners-up success at the 2009 continental competition to return to the world stage. “I’m sad that we didn’t win, but that sadness stops now. We need to start preparing ourselves for the World Cup,” said coach Victor Genes, who will lead Paraguay to a ninth tournament appearance.

Uruguay were the only side to reach Turkey 2013 from Group B, despite finishing second behind Peru. Of the four qualified teams, Juan Verzeri’s troops not only won the fewest matches (four), but also conceded the most goals (12). Nonetheless, La Celeste were able to deal with the pressure when it mattered most and secured a twelfth FIFA U-20 World Cup participation after beating Ecuador in their final match. “Working in a well-organised, professional manner has allowed a country with such a small infrastructure and population to achieve something so valuable,” said Verzeri, who also took Uruguay to Colombia 2011. In addition to winning the Fair Play award, striker Nicolas Lopez was the tournament’s top scorer with six goals.

Chile arrived at the final qualifying round after topping group A with a perfect record. However, while unable to reproduce such fine form in the decisive phase, La Rojita still had enough in the tank to cement their place in Turkey after drawing against a Peru side that also had a chance of claiming the last remaining tournament berth. “I was left with a sour taste because we wanted to finish in one of the higher places, but we achieved our aim,” said coach Marcelo Salas, who will lead Chile at their first FIFA U-20 World Cup since Canada 2007.

The other pretenders
Peru
were without doubt the surprise package of the tournament. Not only did Los Incas top Group B, they came within a whisker of securing a maiden qualification for a FIFA U-20 World Cup, only to lose out to Chile after a draw in their final encounter. Peru were also responsible for eliminating Brazil, whose only previous absence from the world stage at this level was at Japan 1979.

Ecuador raised more than a few eyebrows in reaching the six-way final phase, although they went on to lose every match there. A further shock was the early departure of Argentina, who will miss a FIFA U-20 World Cup for only the sixth time in their history, but a second time in the last three editions. Finally, neither Venezuela nor Bolivia were able to improve on their displays at the previous Sudamericano.

Ones to watch
Aside from the aforementioned Quintero, goalkeeper Cristian Bonilla as well as strikers Mauricio Cuero and John Cordoba (four goals) stood out for champions Colombia. Paraguay custodian Diego Morel also shone, while midfielder Matias Perez and striker Derlis Gonzalez (four goals) put in towering displays.

In addition to the talents of Lopez, Uruguay were fired on by the performances of defender Fabricio Formiliano and winger Diego Rolan (four goals). Defender Valber Huerta, playmaker Bryan Rabello and striker Nicolas Castillo (five goals) were the leading lights for Chile.