Uruguay looks set to be a global force in the game for some time to come when Luis Suarez and Diego Godin hang up their boots
For the first time since 1981, the Uruguay U20 side got their hands on the prestigious Sudamericano trophy. The journey that preceded was nothing short of sensational, leaving all their peers with much to reflect on and improve.
Before Uruguay found their feet, two laborious draws vs. Argentina (3-3) and Venezuela (1-1) meant the team managed by Fabián Coito started off rather lethargically. Subsequently, things were changed up a bit as Coito opted for different personnel in midfield. Defensor Sporting youth graduate Carlos Benavídez (18) came in and brought some much-needed stability to the Uruguay team. Carlos Benavídez – a confident cookie on the ball – formed a very fruitful doble cinco with Juventus-bound Rodrigo Bentancur for the remainder of the campaign.
The new midfield setting helped facilitate Uruguay’s attacking players, which was clearly noticeable in the final two group games. 2-0 and 3-0 wins over Peru and Bolivia, respectively, determined the qualification for the final group and ensured La Celeste would arrive with great momentum.
The final phase of the South American U20 Championships initiated with the Clásico del Río de la Plata. Old rivals Argentina and Uruguay met in what was a tight game up until Argentina got a man sent off. From then on Uruguay dominated the game and eased their way into a comfortable 3-0 win. The highlight of the game was Nicolás De La Cruz’ long-range effort that was simply unstoppable for the Argentina goalie.
It wasn’t just that strike that caught the eye, however, as the Liverpool midfielder was Uruguay’s and the tournament’s best player. The 19-year-old is an unbelievably talented and versatile youngster. His dribbling combined with his speed makes him a nightmare for defenders. His work off the ball is remarkable as well, most notably; his high pressing which resulted in several chances for Uruguay during the tournament.
Another starlet up there with the best in his age category is the Sudamericano top scorer (5 goals), Rodrigo Amaral. The Nacional player – who received criticism for his weight – silenced his critics in style. His beautiful close control and stunning left foot produced some of the tournament’s finest moments.
One of those moments came in Uruguay’s second game of the final group vs. Brazil. A wonderfully struck left-footer hit the post and then disappeared into the net. In typical fashion, Amaral had equalized for Uruguay. Against a 10 – and later on even 9 – men Brazil, Uruguay even went on to claim all three points thanks to an injury-time winner by Matias Vina to make it 2-1.
— Warriors of Uruguay (@UruguayanHeroes) February 12, 2017
Uruguay were well on their way to secure a ticket for the U20 World Cup in May and a 3-0 win in the following game vs. Colombia took away any doubt. For the sixth time in a row, the Uruguay U20 team qualified for the World Cup. A great accomplishment for a country with a limited pool of players compared to some of its continent’s other countries.
So, qualification for the World Cup was in the bag, now the Sudamericano title was the only thing on the players’ minds. In the penultimate game vs. Venezuela, a sixth consecutive win would see Uruguay lift the trophy. Venezuela were not having it, though, as they put a hold to Uruguay’s unbeaten run with a convincing 3-0 victory.
Uruguay still had the fate of the title in their own hands, however. The silverware would be theirs if the last game vs. hosts Ecuador was won, or even a draw would be enough in some scenarios. Two first-half goals by Danubio forward Joaquín Ardaiz (18) gave Uruguay the lead, a lead that was threatened but never canceled out.
A squad full of talent and heart have made their country proud. Good football was shown but most importantly, when the chips were down Uruguay stood their ground and found a way. The qualification for the World Cup presents this generation an opportunity to gain some experience where they can really benefit. Óscar Tabárez’ Proceso goes on.