Four places at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013 will be the considerable prize on offer at the 26th edition of the South American U-20 Championship, which takes place in Argentina between 9 January and 3 February.
The city of Mendoza will play host to a Group A featuring Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Paraguay and Bolivia, while San Juan welcomes the Group B quintet of Uruguay, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela and reigning champions Brazil. The top three from each section then advance to a six-team final qualifying phase also in Mendoza, where a round-robin format will decide the four sides to represent the region at Turkey 2013 next June/July. FIFA.com looks ahead to the impending continental showdown.
One favourite but many contenders
With six world titles to their name in this category, Argentina are widely tipped to emerge from Group A and contend for the title, despite not having won the Sudamericano since 2003. Coached by Marcelo Trobbiani, a FIFA World Cup™ winner with La Albiceleste back in 1986, the hosts again have a talented pool of youngsters to choose from, not least forward Juan Iturbe (FC Porto),, and midfielders Federico Cantabria (Valencia) and Ricardo Centurion (Racing Club). “Home advantage is not a source of pressure but rather a responsibility,” said Trobbiani, before clarifying that “our first goal is qualification; the second is the title”.
Cristian Bonilla and Sebastian Perez (Atletico Nacional) are the sole survivors of the Colombia team which reached the quarter-finals of the FIFA U-20 World Cup on home soil in 2011. That experience could well prove key for Carlos Restrepo’s men, who head into this Sudamericano keen to add to the country’s two U-20 regional titles, achieved in 1987 and 2005.
Travelling with similar aspirations will be Chile, despite the absence of striker Angelo Henriquez (on the books of Manchester United, but on loan at Wigan Athletic). However, La Rojita, who have not graced a FIFA U-20 World Cup since a third-place finish at Canada 2007, will be able to call on the services of midfielder Bryan Rabello (Sevilla) and striker Diego Rubio (Sporting Club). For his part, coach Mario Salas was very clear about his team’s objective in Argentina, saying: “Our goal is to perform well and reach the World Cup.”
Paraguay, likewise, have made no attempt to disguise their ambition, with coach Victor Genes saying: “We have players with top-flight match experience, and we’re prepared physically, tactically and emotionally. Some of the more senior players the coach was referring are midfielders Derlis Gonzalez (Benfica) and Angel Lucena (Libertad), and forward Brian Montenegro (Tacuary).
Bolivia for their part, will be looking to the four members of their foreign legion for inspiration –goalkeeper Guillermo Viscarra (Vitoria, Brazil) and strikers Carlos Paniagua (Sevilla), Ricardo Vaca (Recreativo) and Alex Pontons (Provercelli, Italy). “We can spring a surprise or two,” said their coach Marco Barrero, who will hoping to take La Verde past the opening group stage for the first time since 1983 in their quest for a maiden appearance at a FIFA U-20 World Cup.
Brazil are unquestionably a force to be reckoned with in this category, as evidenced by their five world titles – they won the last edition in 2011 – and 11 South American crowns, including the last three. And while coach Emerson Avila can no longer call on big-name stars like Neymar, Lucas and Oscar, he does have attacking midfielder Rafael Alcantara (Barcelona B), the younger brother of Spain international Thiago Alcantara and son of former Seleção world champion Mazinho. “Brazil are always favourites and this tournament is no different. We need to keep on top of our opponents,” said Rafinha.
Another side who should also be in the mix are Uruguay, who will be showcasing seven members of the side that reached the Round of 16 at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Mexico 2011, including goalkeeper Jonathan Cubero, winner of the adidas Golden Glove. However, some disappointing results during the team’s preparations for Argentina set alarm bells ringing for coach Juan Verzeri. Much will therefore depend on the form of strikers Dante Lopez (Roma), Ruben Bentancourt (PSV) and Gonzalo Bueno (Nacional).
Ecuador can also call upon seven players who took part in Mexico 2011, where El Tri also reached the last 16. With the country also competing at the FIFA U-20 World Cup two years ago, coach Julio Cesar Rosero feels an obligation to get there again. “This group are convinced it’s possible,” said the strategist, who will be putting his faith in experienced campaigners like wing-back Marcos Lopez (Deportivo Cuenca), central defender Pedro Velazco (Barcelona de Ecuador) and forward Jose Cevallos (Liga de Quito).
For Venezuela, meanwhile, striker Josef Martinez (BSC Young Boys, Switzerland) could be the trump card for coach Marcos Mathias as he tries to steer Los Vinotintos to a second FIFA U-20 World Cup, following their historic appearance at Egypt 2009.
Peru, in contrast, have yet to grace FIFA’s flagship event in this category. “We’ve been drawn in a complicated but not impossible group,” said midfielder Edison Flores of Spanish outfit Villarreal B. Los Incas last finished among the top four of a U-20 Sudamericano back in 1975, two years before the inaugural FIFA U-20 World Cup.