6 of the Best South American Players You Possibly Haven't Heard of Yet

Alex Richards@@AA_RichardsContributor IJuly 4, 2013

6 of the Best South American Players You Possibly Haven't Heard of Yet

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    South America has long been a tremendous breeding ground for some of world football's finest talent and with the likes of Neymar, Radamel Falcao and of course Lionel Messi, it continues in that manner.

    Over recent years the likes of Porto, Benfica and Udinese have used the South American market to snap up some real gems, bringing players to Europe early before selling them to one of the European powerhouses for a considerable profit.

    As such, the successes of those clubs, and the offset of sporting globalisation, have seen more and more scouts flock to the Americas looking for an increasing number of rough diamonds.

    With all that in mind, here's a look at six of the best youngsters currently plying their trade in South America that, if you don't pay much attention to South American football, you possibly haven't heard of just yet.

Manuel Lanzini: River Plate (Argentina)

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    Nicknamed La Joya—The Jewel—River Plate's uber-talented Manuel Lanzini is very much a modern-day attacking midfielder.

    Diminutive and quick with no shortage of technical ability, he was sent on loan to Brazilian club Fluminense in 2011-12 following the Argentine club's relegation to the second division. He would make 28 Serie A appearances (three goals) before his return to Los Millionarios.

    While his time in Brazil was hampered by inconsistency—although he did win a championship medal—his return to El Monumental has seen Lanzini kick on, particularly in the 2013 Torneo final under manager Ramon Diaz.

    Previous incumbent Matias Almeyda used him in a variety of different roles during the Torneo Inicial, but under Diaz he has been housed largely in his preferred No. 10 position and has shown why his nickname is potentially a fitting one. Added levels of consistency have seen him flourish, and eight goals in 26 league appearances has been a good return.

    With confidence high, some of his little touches and clever passes are a joy to behold. But he still remains very much a work in progress, as the tendency to go missing in matches still returns to the surface on occasions, while there is also the need to perhaps bulk up.

    Now aged 20, time is very much on his side to continue his improvement, but eventually there will become a need to begin dominating matches, rather than merely decorating them.

Eder Alvarez Balanta: River Plate (Colombia)

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    20-year-old Colombian defender Eder Alvarez Balanta was a revelation for River Plate during the 2013 Torneo final.

    An imposing central defender also at home at left-back, Balanta made just nine outstanding performances, but they were enough reason for the player to pen a new three-year deal with the club, with a reported buyout clause of $30million, according to the Buenos Aires Herald.

    Strong, quick, good both in the air and on the ground, few players have even come close to getting the better of Balanta since his arrival in the River Plate first team.

    Moreover, he reads the game very well for a defender so young and his flexibility has allowed coach Ramon Diaz to switch between a three- and a four-man defensive line.

    His rise to prominence has been meteoric, and the Colombian youngster must now prove that it isn't merely a flash in the pan. If he does just that, expect him to have an extremely bright future.

Igor Lichnovsky: Universidad De Chile (Chile)

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    Just 19 years of age, Igor Lichnovsky has been making a name for himself over the course of the past 18 months, plying his trade with Universidad de Chile during a period where they have been playing some of South America's best football.

    A bit-part player as a 17-year-old in their 2011 Copa Sudamericana success, the club's run in the following year's Copa Libertadores gave him more glimpses of first-team action, particularly in Chile's Primera division.

    Nonetheless, he is still very much in the process of transitioning into a fully-fledged first-team regular.

    During 2012 the former La U boss Jorge Sampaoli—now Chile's national boss—did take him out of the firing line at different periods, so as not to over-burden the young defender by exposing him to too much, too soon.

    However, the tall centre-back continues to flourish, particularly at junior international levels, and he is currently captaining the Chile under-20 squad at the World Cup in Turkey.

    A good reader of the game, uncompromising in the challenge and with a composure that belies his tender years, Lichnovsky has the makings of a fine centre-half, a position where Chile have arguably struggled in recent times. As such, senior international honours may not be too far away.

Sebastian Perez: Atletico Nacional (Colombia)

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    A 20-year-old holding midfielder full of promise, Sebastian Perez has the honour of being the youngest player to win the Colombian Liga Postobon when he was an 18-year-old regular for Atletico Nacional during their 2011 success.

    Since then he has gone on to make 75 appearances in all competitions for Los Verdolagas, playing a key role in his sides Copa Colombia victory and their passage into the last 16 of the Copa Libertadores, both in 2012.

    Now 20, Perez is a key member of the Colombian national side currently in Turkey for the Under-20 World Cup, where his performances to date have been very impressive.

    Anchoring the midfield, Perez is very much in the Javi Martinez mould of a defensive midfielder who is both adept at breaking up play from a defensive standpoint as well as swiftly starting his own side's attacks.

    Positionally and tactically intelligent, a good passer and decisive both aerially and in the tackle, Perez plays like a veteran rather than an up-and-coming youngster.

    If there are any European scouts currently keeping tabs on Perez, he could prove a more than sound investment.

Andy Polo: Universidad San Martin (Peru)

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    Aged just 18, young Andy Polo has already made quite the name for himself in Peruvian football.

    Having made his debut in April 2011 as a 16-year-old for Universitario de Deportes, the explosive young forward would also lead the club's under-20 squad to success in that year's inaugral Under-20 Copa Libertadores.

    Small and powerful, Polo mixes clever dribbling with intelligent passes and an eye-for-goal, while he is comfortable both playing in a central forward role or from the flanks. In terms of likeness, he isn't dissimilar from fellow Peruvian Jefferson Farfan, currently plying his trade with distinction in Germany with Schalke 04.

    With Universitario experiencing financial difficulties, Polo left the club in January, after 59 appearances and eight goals, to join Italian club Genoa.

    However, after just two months and amidst much wrangling, his contract was broken off and Polo returned to Peru with Universidad San Martin, where he has since made three starts and four substitute appearances.

    His Italian sojourn may have left a sour taste, but Polo has time on his side to continue improving his game and to eventually return to European football, more capable of making his mark.

Doria: Botafogo (Brazil)

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    A third defender on this list is the Botafogo youngster Matheus Doria Macedo, better known simply as Doria.

    Just 18, the 6'2' defender made 20 appearances for his club in the 2012 national championship (Serie A) and has gone on to make a further 11 in the 2013 Carioca state tournament.

    More than that however, Doria has become a staple of the Brazil under-20 side—recently playing a major role in their 2013 Toulon Tournament success—while he also made his senior debut as a late substitute in April's 4-0 friendly win over Bolivia.

    Strong, athletic and quick, he has all the defensive tools at his disposal, while he has also proven himself a capable passer from the back. To say that he is highly rated would be something of an understatement.

    The Daily Mirror's Ed Malyon has recently touted him as a potential target for Tottenham Hotspur, with a fee of €9 million mooted, and the belief that the club's new sporting director Franco Baldini believes him to be a greater prospect than AS Roma's highly-rated centre-back Marquinhos seeing the North London club's interest piqued.