The South American U-17 Championship begins on 21 March as the best under-17 players in the region square off in Lima. The 2017 edition of the tournament saw Real Madrid’s Vinicius Junior take home the golden boot. Surely another youngster will capture our attention in 2019. With that in mind, this tactical analysis will use statistics to highlight the top five players to watch over the next few weeks.
This Brazil squad isn’t as hyped compared the 2017 version that featured Vinicius Junior, but there are still some promising players on this year’s team. Yan, Coritiba’s 16-year-old right-back, is among them.
The young full-back is currently with the club’s U-20 team and is the second youngest member of that squad. Like most modern defenders, he loves to contribute to the attack and it shows.
Despite those attacking tendencies, Yan is an astute defender. His positioning and anticipation are very strong for such a young player. He also seldom goes to ground. His reading of the game is so pristine that it’s not necessary to execute a sliding tackle.
As for Yan’s distribution, he’s not a marauding full-back who will burst down the flank and attempt crosses. He’s far more crucial to his team’s build-up play and it showed in a few international friendlies with Brazil’s U-17 squad towards the end of 2018.
He might end up being the most underrated Brazilian player, but Yan deserves more attention.
Fernando Ovelar (Paraguay)
Fernando Ovelar made worldwide headlines in October after debuting with Cerro Porteno’s first team as a 14-year-old, becoming the youngest-ever player to participate in a Paraguayan Primera Division match. One week later, on 4 November, Ovelar recorded his first professional goal and became the youngest scorer in league history as well.
Ovelar impressed enough to earn another five appearances to close out the season. Manchester City even sent scouts watch him play.
The Man City scouts must’ve enjoyed what they saw. Ovelar immediately captures fans’ attention with his quick change of pace, dribbling and vision. He’s predominantly a No. 9, yet he’s already a well-rounded player. He can distribute cleanly and execute intelligent runs off the ball as well.
The only weakness Ovelar possesses at this stage is his actual age. With time, he should gain more control of his body and potentially gain strength, although it doesn’t seem to affect him playing against grown men.
Carlos Ruiz (Peru)
Arguably the most exciting player in Peru’s squad, Carlos Ruiz represented Peru’s U-15 squad and has dominated in Sporting Cristal’s youth setup since joining the club in 2017. Now he’s ready to make a significant impact on a bigger stage.
Despite his smaller stature, Ruiz is a complete forward in every sense. He bagged 10 goals in 14 matches with Sporting Cristal’s U-16s, U-17s and U-18s last season, averaging 0.89 expected goals (xG) per 90 minutes in that span. The 17-year-old is a very clinical finisher, which is obviously crucial for any No. 9.
In addition, Ruiz is a tireless worker off the ball. He averaged 1.5 interceptions and 2.6 recoveries per match with Cristal’s youth teams in 2018, the majority of which were generated in the final third. That might work to Peru’s advantage on counter-attacks during the tournament.
Juan Alegria (Colombia)
Juan Alegria dominated the 2017 South American U-15 championship with Colombia and he might be poised for another breakout performance with the U-17s. The 16-year-old striker has debuted for Deportes Tolima’s first team and could prove to be a handful for opposing defences at the tournament.
Alegria’s most recognizable attribute is his eye for goal. If he’s in the penalty area, there’s a strong chance he will score.
Additionally, Alegria possesses a strong frame, which allows him to hold up the ball and distribute to his teammates. The Tolima striker tends to win a lot of aerial duels due to his size as well. But Alegria’s physicality can be misleading because he is a fast runner, which makes him a real threat in the final third.
If there’s one clear weakness in Alegria’s game, it’s his left foot. If defenders simply show him onto his left, then he becomes less effective in the box.
However, his athletic qualities – coupled with his positioning and composure – makes Alegria one of the top strikers at the tournament.
Matias Palacios (Argentina)
The last six months have been productive for Matias Palacios. He became San Lorenzo’s youngest player to ever play in a league match for the club, now he’s been touted as Argentina’s future No. 10 by some supporters of El Ciclon.
He’s yet to earn another appearance since his first-team debut on 21 September, but Palacios could be one of the stars of the South American U-17 Championship. He’s got the flair, vision and the eye for goal that every No. 10 possesses, and it’s wonderful to watch.
With some luck, this tournament could help Palacios earn more matches with San Lorenzo in 2019 and beyond. If that occurs, then he could be a star in the making.