It’s in front of Quito’s chicest mall, the mythical Atahualpa Olympic Stadium. Which is chic, it doesn’t really have anything about it. A colonnaded entrance outside, the sign of the times, inside. Chipped corners, worn floor, a few too many strands exposed. Immediately to the right, the entrance to the press room, the only new area of a facility that was supposed to undergo modernization according to the plan of the last mayor of the Ecuadorian capital: his non-election blocked everything, and the Atahualpa remained a historic facility, with all the signs of old age.
Of course, the mystique returns emotion, and when you enter, after an endless flight of stairs, not exactly easy especially for those who, quorum ego, are not used to frequenting the more than 2800 meters of Quito, the soul moves remembering the battles seen via streaming, from home, in this stadium.
After the ordeal of the stairs, and before taking a seat in the bare press box, you pass in front of some boxes. One is very lively, from the very first day. Inside you meet the scouts of many prestigious European teams (many of them English), representatives of players’ agencies from all over the world and characters who are difficult to fit into any role but who are a bit halfway between clubs and players. The stands of the stadium, almost empty. The South American Under 20 championship was not advertised at all and we at
, who followed the Hexagonal Final which was played exclusively in Quito live (the only Italian newspaper present), did not notice even a single sign promoting it. Most taxi drivers and in general almost all taxi drivers quiteños They didn’t know anything about it or had just heard something about it in the media, which was decidedly occupied with the presidential elections that took place on February 19, the first in ten years that will lead to the Carondolet Palace, seat of the Ecuadorian government, a new president after Rafael Correa.
Absences in some areas of the stands, but many many presences, on the pitch, on a unique playing field, one of the most miraculous in the Subcontinent: it withstood three daily matches, multiplied by five days, without suffering too much real apocalyptic deluges.
The future of South American football, so much so that the name that sticks to Campeonato Sudamericano Sub-20 is “Juventud de America”.
Apart from a few injuries, in the six teams that participated in the final tournament, we decrypted the football horoscope of a continent, and it seemed really fruitful to us. We decided to compose three teams, pointing out the best, aware that each Top 11 will be discussed, also because we have already disassembled and reassembled it several times when building it. Here are our picks.
The Venezuelan goalkeeper didn’t do anything wrong (he’s a ’98), as well as his teammate Velásquez, who had already been booked by the Pozzos, showed great attention, as well as physical and decent technique. Romero is perhaps not the best defender in the tournament, but it was right to include an Argentine also in the first XI, given how the little Albiceleste has recovered in recent games, playing them with a great sense of attachment and desire, despite being almost eliminated (and in fact deserved qualification). Romero has always proved to be an intelligent player, and with a continuous performance throughout the final tournament.
They played in pairs or in threes in the middle, giving each other cover in the defensive phase and never failing to accompany the action: the real great strength of a magnificent generation that will renew, giving prestige to the timeless myth charrúa.
The Uruguayan substance (and let’s also add the right-back Rodríguez, good use of the left foot, and ability to return to the field) produced a base that provided the opportunity to shine a light on the flair of players such as De La Cruz (The little brother of Carlos Sánchez: right, left, movements, outside shooting, creativity) and Rodrigo Amaral, a magical left-footer on an extra-large body, all right, but what a quality play!
The quality that the little Venezuelan Soteldo has also produced (we also met him in training: it is hard to measure him above 160 cm. What is his future among the greats?). He played a great South American Sub-20 TheEcuador: had beaten theUruguay In the very last match of the tournament, they would also take home the title: the fans who flocked to theAtahualpa On the last day they accompanied them with chants of support, but it was sad to hear the boos after the 90th minute: the sporting culture of the Ecuadorians has yet to grow. Thanks to this exploit, the players on the wings: the left chain formed by Estupiñán, beautiful left and continuous presence on the overlap (cold from the penalty spot), and Cabezas is fabulous.
The Boy Owned by theAtalanta, who has gone from a flamboyant blond hair to a more natural black color over the course of the tournament, has the ability to plant scorching shots continuously, with or without the ball, and in front of goal he has finished with great effectiveness (he is among the top scorers of the tournament with 5 goals).
Probably the most talented eleven of the tournament, but with protagonists who showed, at the Atahualpa stadium, many ups and downs.
Almost all of them got off to a great start, the Brazilian winger bought from Ajax David Neres, the very young (’99) Colombian striker Hernández (owned by Granada) produced the best plays of the tournament, in terms of quality. They have dropped significantly at the distance, but you can safely bet on them.
As well as on the solidity of the midfielders: Herrera, Ascacíbar and Waller have made an excellent Sub-20, each with their own characteristics and the Uruguayan is out of the first top 11 only because there were too many colleagues in the Celeste shirt. Ascacíbar confirmed the good things that have been said about him: he is already a player. The potential of the Venezuelan Herrera is immense, who even on his worst offensive days (and he knows how to give the ball) has shown great concentration in the ball recovery phase, with truly superior readings. Quality also for the Racing Mansilla boy: he scored, played as an attacking winger and, in the last, decisive match, against Venezuela, he put himself at the service of the team by operating on the full flank, first on the left and then on the right, with deep returns.
Returns that are not the strong point of Guilherme Arana, the Brazilian winger who, however, has great intensity and quality when he has to fit in: he shoots, scores, crosses.
Qualities that the Seleçao’s centre-back, Lyanco, also has, along with physical strength and elegance.
Very attentive, physical but above all cerebral, recognizing his dynamic limitations, is Rogel.
Don’t you think he looks like Godín?
said an observer from an English team. I don’t think he could have been given a better compliment. And it’s not just thrown in there at random. We put Arroyo on the right, the Colombian who has always played on the left with his Sub-20 team. He has the physique, the foot and the knowledge to play in the middle of the pitch as well, where he evolved in the last game against Brazil.
A bit of a gamble (the two Colombian goalkeepers: Arias decidedly modern, García, who played the last game, confident in his exits and careful between the posts), a bit of undefined horizons, in this top 11.
The three midfielders can do everything, but how much will they also be able to make an impact among the big boys: a lot, a lot, a little, very little?
However, we like all three, just like Fluminense attacking winger Richarlison. On the pitch he was very often seen only in the first 30 minutes, but showing an uncommon talent: will he add at least another 30? We put him behind the two strikers, Lautaro Martínez and Caicedo. Players who see the goal, but will they be able to be so incisive even among the greats?
Doubts and certainties overlap with each play, time will tell. I have little doubt about Mathías Olivera. I hope it will be confirmed at a high level.
Cover © photo Dolores Ochoa/AP