For the past couple of years, I’ve been completely down on the present and future of the Argentina national team, as well as the overall state of soccer in the country. Not only was the AFA proving inept at doing simple things such as organizing the Superliga; the well of talent appeared to be running dry due to a neglection of the youth teams at the international level.
Everywhere I would turn to when watching high-profile matches, Argentinian stars were scarce. Sure, Lionel MESSI, Sergio AGÜERO, Paulo DYBALA and a few others popped up. But when I scoured through the rosters of big clubs, there were at most one or two Argentinian players showing up, while countries like Brazil, Spain and France littered these big clubs with incredibly talented players. While that’s still the case, Argentina seems to be on the upswing.
Giovani LO CELSO has been one of the best players in La Liga and the Copa Del Rey since joining Real Betis. Leandro PAREDES just made a huge move to PSG and will soon be a fixture in the starting lineup once he gets acclimated. Joaquin CORREA continues to make a lasting impression for a Lazio side fighting for a European spot and a spot in the Coppa Italia Final. Lautaro MARTÍNEZ has begun forcing Luciano Spalletti’s hand, as he’s been frequently used as an impact sub and should really be a staple in the starting eleven considering their offensive struggles.
What’s exciting about all of those players is that they’re all in their early- to mid-20s, and they still have their best soccer ahead of them. If we go even younger and focus on the players under 20 years old that Argentina is producing, the excitement grows even more. The Sudamericano Sub-20 has accentuated that.
Last night, the Argentina squad took down Venezuela with a convincing 3-0 victory. The win moved Argentina to second place in the final stage standings, comfortably ahead of the bottom two teams – Colombia and Brazil – who are five points back with just two match days left. A spot in the top four would ensure Argentina’s passage to the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Poland, while a spot in the top three also guarantees a spot in the 2019 Pan American Games. But this group appears hungry right now for the Sudamericano title, having rattled off two straight victories following an initial loss to Ecuador.
In yesterday’s 3-0 victory, San Lorenzo forward Adolfo GAICH netted a hat-trick. A 6’3″ aerial threat with plenty of skill on the ground, GAICH put it all on display; he used his power, heading ability and finishing prowess to put three in the back of the net. The final goal was set up with a brilliant through ball from midfielder Aníbal MORENO, a 19-year-old Newell’s Old Boys product whose game is reminiscent of Luka Modric (at least last night).
Mid-tournament, Atletico Madrid announced that center back Nehuen PEREZ would be joining the first-team following his return from the Sudamericano. The 18-year-old pitbull defender had been loaned out to Argentinos Juniors from Atletico, but they’ve been very impressed by him and need center back depth so they felt compelled to bring him back. The River Plate attacking duo of Julian ALVAREZ and Santiago SOSA has been a staple for sub-20 manager Fernando BATISTA. ALVAREZ is just 19 and made a substitute appearance in the Copa Libertadores Final. And then there’s Pedro DE LA VEGA, a 17-year-old wunderkind who has already established himself as a key contributor for Lanus in the Superliga and has been one of Argentina’s players of the tournament so far.
Even more encouraging than the play of all of those young talents is the fact that several highly touted prospects haven’t been able to break into the squad due to the performance of others. Facundo COLIDIO (who was the player of the tournament in last year’s COTIF Tournament), Thiago ALMADA and Jeronimo POURTAU are all highly regarded in Argentina and internationally, yet they weren’t included in yesterday’s starting lineup.
That sign of impressive depth should be a beacon of hope for Argentina fans who had grown skeptical about the incoming national team talent over the past several years. A Sudamericano title would just be the cherry on top.