Although Uruguay arrived at the U-20 World Cup as one of the favorites, the South Americans failed at the semifinal hurdle. But not all was lost…
Arriving as South American champions for the first time since 1981, the expectations were high for Uruguay at this year’s U20 World Cup hosted by South Korea. Along with France, La Celeste was seen as one of the favourites to lift the trophy. It didn’t quite pan out that way, however, as Uruguay were knocked out in the semi-finals, having never reached their full potential.
Coincidentally, Uruguay’s opponents in the battle for bronze – Italy – were also their rivals in the first group game. It was a game wherein Uruguay started off really well, creating lots of chances in the first half. The side managed by Fabían Coito didn’t capitulate on their dominance and looked to pay the price as Italy became stronger in the second half. It was Rodrigo Amaral who came on after an hour and changed the game with a wonderful free-kick to win his country the game.
Rodrigo Amaral's stunning free-kick vs. Italy was chosen as one of the best 10 goals of the U20
World Cup. pic.twitter.com/F8HA7ilF8u
— Warriors of Uruguay (@UruguayanHeroes) June 12, 2017
In the second group game, Uruguay faced Japan, who also had three points in the bag after match day one. Uruguay continued their defensive solidity, keeping another clean sheet but failing to find attacking fluidity despite scoring twice.
After two wins, Uruguay had ensured qualification for the knockout phase. Only a game vs. already eliminated South Africa remained, which turned out to be a difficult match for Uruguay. It was an encounter wherein South Africa had nothing to lose and so they could play freely. It resulted in an open game that should’ve been won by the African side. 0-0 it ended nevertheless.
Three goals scored, zero conceded and seven points in the bag meant Uruguay would advance to the next round as group leaders. Up next was Saudi Arabia.
Uruguay in the 2017 U20
World Cup group stages.
Goals scored | 3
Goals conceded | 0
Wins | 2
Draws | 1
Group leaders🇺🇾 pic.twitter.com/kxQrKgR4SM
— Warriors of Uruguay (@UruguayanHeroes) May 27, 2017
Once again, Uruguay was hard to break down but failed to impress in the attacking third. A Nicolás De La Cruz penalty was enough for Uruguay to enter the quarter-finals.
In the last eight, Uruguay would experience their first real test as they met with Portugal. A test that was made even tougher as Uruguay were chasing their European counterparts, having fallen behind after less than a minute. Uruguay bounced back quickly, however, with Santiago Bueno heading home the equaliser 15 minutes into the game. A wonder goal by Goncalves of Portugal just before the break meant that Uruguay was back to square one, though.
But again, Uruguay made a rapid comeback thanks to a Fede Valverde penalty just after halftime. The game was now tied and the score of 2-2 was also the score after 120 minutes of play. Penalties had to decide who would be among the best four U20 teams in the world. A nail-biting shootout was eventually decided by Uruguay goalie Santiago Mele who saved three (!) consecutive penalties to send Uruguay to the semis.
Santiago Mele, absolutely sensational! pic.twitter.com/JWUpgtr86S
— Warriors of Uruguay (@UruguayanHeroes) June 4, 2017
In the semi-final, an all South American clash was about to take place as Uruguay would face Venezuela. La Vinotinto were the most impressive side in the tournament up to that point, scoring for fun and defending expertly. Uruguay drew first blood as Nicolás De La Cruz slotted home from the spot after 50 minutes. Venezuela was visibly shocked and looked unable to overcome the deficit. Thankfully for Rafael Dudamel’s side, a 92-minute free-kick saved the day and kept them in the game.
For the second time in a row, Uruguay’s destiny would be decided by penalties. This time around it wasn’t Mele that turned out to be the hero but it was Venezuela goalie Wuilker Faríñez that received all the plaudits instead. Uruguay was knocked out of the World Cup and the only thing that lasted was a game for bronze vs. Italy three days later – which La Celeste lost on penalties as well.
Reaching a semi-final is by no means a disappointing campaign. However, the performances by the side were at times underwhelming, certainly attacking wise. Defensively, Uruguay stood firm but going forward Uruguay looked weak, which was mainly down to key attacking players underperforming at the tournament.
In any case, having not reached their full potential and still reaching the semi-final says a lot about the capability of this team. Uruguay manager Óscar Tabárez has a talented group of players coming through. Let’s hope he won’t neglect them like he did with previous Uruguay U20 graduates.
Santiago Mele: 22 saves, 3 goals conceded and penalty shootout heroics make Santiago Mele one of the best goalkeepers at the 2017 U20 World Cup. Uruguay might have found their next Fernando Muslera. 8/10
Mathías Olivera: A typical modern day full-back. Mathías Olivera goes up and down and never seems to tire. The aggressive edge to his game makes him a bit rash at times but has also won him many battles in South Korea. 7/10
Agustín Rogel: No-nonsense defender is the best way to describe Agustín Rogel. The Nacional player was arguably the best defender of the tournament due to his dominant play, giving the attackers no space and sensing danger in a split second. 8/10
Santiago Bueno: Next to Rogel, Uruguay has another promising CB coming though in Santiago Bueno. The Barcelona youth player is more of a ball-playing defender but also showed his toughness in South Korea. 7/10
José Luis Rodríguez: J.L. Rodríguez was nearly always involved when Uruguay was causing danger. His ability on the ball is superb for a full-back and it made him one of the best players in the tournament. Defensively Rodríguez was solid as well. 8/10
Federico Valverde: Being named the tournament’s second best player was a great acknowledgement for Fede Valverde’s outstanding tournament. His playmaking abilities combined with his impressive rushes make him a real talent. 8/10
Rodrigo Bentancur: The Juventus-bound midfielder is probably the most familiar name in the Uruguay U20 squad. Bentancur did disappoint in this tournament, though, as he was careless in possession at times. 6/10
Nicolás De La Cruz: As Uruguay’s best player of the Sudamericano, much was expected from captain Nicolás De La Cruz. The youngster didn’t quite live up to the expectations and was a bit underwhelming. 6/10
Nicolás Schiappacasse: Nico Schiappacasse showcased his tremendous striker’s movement and exquisite pace in South Korea. His finishing wasn’t that great, however. Schiappacasse should have scored at least three times, given the chances he had throughout the tournament. 6/10
Agustín Canobbio: Facundo Waller’s injury gave Canobbio the chance for some more game time. The attacker did cause danger occasionally but couldn’t really make a name for himself. 6/10
Carlos Benavídez: Benavídez lost his place to Fede Valverde after being one of Uruguay’s best players in the Sudamericano. When he did play, Benavídez did a good job both in defence as well as in attack. 6/10
Marcelo Saracchi: Uruguay did not cause very much danger going forward but when Saracchi played they had one weapon, which was his crosses from the left. Saracchi should have featured more often. 7/10
Rodrigo Amaral: If Amaral didn’t pick up an injury Uruguay might have been better in attack. When he played you could see things clicked and a certain chemistry in Uruguay’s front line came to the surface. 6/10