5 Young South American Talents Who Look Perfect for European Football

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterFebruary 15, 2019

Venezuela's Jan Carlos Hurtado celebrates after scoring against Brazil during their South American U-20 football match at El Teniente stadium in Rancagua, Chile, on February 1, 2019. (Photo by Claudio REYES / AFP)        (Photo credit should read CLAUDIO REYES/AFP/Getty Images)

When it comes to securing top, young talent, South America has always been a happy hunting ground for Europe's top clubs.

From Ronaldo to Neymar, Lionel Messi to Paulo Dybala and Radamel Falcao to James Rodriguez, some of the world's very best have hailed from the continent. It will continue to produce world-class stars too, and clubs know it. That's why their search for those players goes on without pause, turning over every stone along the way.

One of the key stopping points in this quest is the Under-20 South American Youth Championships. Held every two years (this time in Chile), it's a chance to watch many of the continent's best young players just as they approach maturity. 

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The 2019 edition finished on Sunday, with Ecuador surprising many by taking the crown ahead of traditional powerhouses Brazil and Argentina, exciting upstarts Venezuela and respected names Colombia, Uruguay and Chile.

You can bet almost every club had a scout or two furiously scribbling notes on the talent on show, and luckily for you, so were we. We've picked out five players who will have Europe's top teams seriously considering an approach.


Important: We've limited our selections to those still playing in South America. Some players (such as Christian Makoun (defender, Venezuela), Nicolas Schiappacasse (attacker, Uruguay) and Rodrygo Goes (attacker, Brazil) are already on the books of European clubs, so aren't eligible. Some were also signed by European sides midway through the tournament (such as Gonzalo Plata, the talented Ecuadorian winger who signed for Sporting CP on January 31).


Samuel Sosa, 19, Winger

Club: Talleres / Nation: Venezuela

Brazil's Marquinhos Cipriano (L) vies for the ball with Venezuela's Samuel Sosa during their South American U-20 football match at El Teniente stadium in Rancagua, Chile on January 21, 2019. (Photo by CLAUDIO REYES / AFP)        (Photo credit should read

Venezuela's youth teams are a lot of fun to watch, and that's primarily because of the exciting attacking talents they possess. Samuel Sosa is one of the crown jewels in the system, and he's spent the last month showcasing why.

A fairly squat but quick winger, Sosa relished the physical battle South American football often presents, negotiating thumping challenges with strength and fast feet. He's not the fastest over long distances, but he has quick bursts in him that can take him past would-be tacklers.

Credit: TyC Sports

His greatest asset is his incredible set-piece delivery—something Venezuela exploited liberally. Both of his goals during the tournament came from direct free-kick situations—the one against Colombia was incredible—and one of his two assists did too. His inswinging, whipped delivery reminds of a left-footed Christian Eriksen. 

To top it all off, Sosa worked hard to track back and help his full-back defensively, giving some of the aggression he received back in the form of sliding tackles.

Ideal fits: Napoli, Arsenal, Borussia Monchengladbach


Jan Carlos Hurtado, 18, Striker

Club: Gimnasia / Nation: Venezuela

Venezuela's Jan Carlos Hurtado celebrates after scoring against Brazil during their South American U-20 football match at El Teniente stadium in Rancagua, Chile, on February 1, 2019. (Photo by Claudio REYES / AFP)        (Photo credit should read CLAUDIO

Sosa was good—a vital part of Venzuela's fizzing attack—but the true focal point was Jan Carlos Hurtado. Without him, they looked half the force. This was problematic given that he managed as many red cards (two) as goals in the tournament.

"Bustling" is probably the word for him. An incredible blend of physicality—6'0", well-built and extremely agile—he put his body to good use, chasing every ball, hitting the channels and backing into defenders.

He made every type of run and move, marking himself out as a complete striker who you could happily field up front on his own and not worry about him disappearing from the game. He also dribbled well, changed direction on the ball and showed an ability to combine with midfielders making runs. There were some messy bits—the ball getting caught under his foot or being left behind—but at 18, it's natural to be imperfect.

Christian... Duarte @Christiands11

@stighefootball But with the commentator https://t.co/n92269ghNc

One particular highlight of the tournament was Hurtado's ridiculous run, starting deep inside his own half and taking him past three or four markers before seeing his shot superbly saved. The commentator gave up trying to describe what he was seeing with words and settled on making race car noises instead.

Despite netting only a couple of goals, he was constantly involved, created chances and made Venezuela a nightmare to play against.

Ideal fits: Roma, RB Leipzig


Thiago Almada, 17, Attacking Midfielder/Winger

Club: Velez Sarsfield / Nation: Argentina

Paraguay's Marcelo Rolon (L) vies for the ball with Argentina's Thiago Almada (R) during their South American U-20 football match at La Granja stadium in Curico, Chile, on January 20, 2019. (Photo by CLAUDIO REYES / AFP)        (Photo credit should read C

Argentina were careful with Thiago Almada throughout the tournament, utilising him off the bench for the most part, starting him in just two matches (and bringing him on in four) of a possible nine.

Presumably that was age- and size-related, rather than anything to do with his talent. At just 17, he was one of the youngest participants and a slight one too; sending him into fierce, physical contests against players two years older than him every three days probably wouldn't have been wise. 

We only saw him in spurts, but those spurts were mightily impressive. A dribbling machine with an eye for a killer pass, he created high-quality chances and stretched the game for Argentina when called upon.

Credit: ECDF

He picked out one particularly brilliant pass for Adolfo Gaich in their first game against Ecuador, creating a chance that should have been buried (and drawn Argentina level). He did the same thing against Brazil, and Gaich missed again.

The agility and change-of-direction Almada flashed left plenty of defenders offering legs at thin air as he skipped past. Argentina combined that with Gonzalo Maroni's more direct, robust dribbling style to good effect in a tournament they really grew into—and could well have won had they found their stride a little earlier.

Ideal fits: Barcelona, Man City, Paris Saint-Germain, Borussia Dortmund


Carlos Cuesta, 19, Centre-Back

Club: Atletico Nacional / Nation: Colombia

Colombia's Carlos Cuesta (L) vies for the ball with Uruguay's Darwin Nunez (R) during their South American U-20 football match at El Teniente stadium in Rancagua, Chile on February 10, 2019. (Photo by CLAUDIO REYES / AFP)        (Photo credit should read

Offensively, Colombia were a little dry. Netting just four goals in nine games—and only two in the final stage—they leaned heavily on a well-marshalled defence in order to even mount a challenge in any game.

The best performer in that line was undoubtedly Carlos Cuesta, who dominated games from centre-back despite lacking the traditional size associated with the position (he's registered as 5'10").

Credit: ECDF

He displayed several dominant traits: anticipation, aggression and tackling; his sense for when to lunge forward and intercept (and when not to) was excellent, and he stepped out of the line often and to great effect. He also showcased a canny knack for knowing which way an opponent would turn and positioning himself accordingly, making dispossession easy.

On the ball, he was a mixed bag. There were some beautiful long-range balls (one against Uruguay was particularly good), but also some hacked clearances under phantom pressure. His build, anticipation and mobility may tempt some managers to try him in midfield later down the line, but he'll only carve out a niche there if his ball work improves.

Ideal fits: Atletico Madrid, Valencia, PSV Eindhoven


Tomas Alarcon, 19, Defensive Midfielder

Club: O'Higgins / Nation: Chile

Chile's Tomas Alarcon celebrates after scoring against Venezuela during their South American U-20 football match at El Teniente stadium in Rancagua, on January 19, 2019. (Photo by CLAUDIO REYES / AFP)        (Photo credit should read CLAUDIO REYES/AFP/Get

The saddest part of Chile failing to make it to the final stage of this tournament was that our time to watch Tomas Alarcon was cut short.

He did his best to keep a dysfunctional side somewhat presentable, putting out fires in midfield frequently, single-handedly stopping too many counter-attacks to count, dropping into the defensive line when required and even chipping in with a goal and an assist apiece.

You wouldn't necessarily call him a complete midfielder, but the list of tasks he completed and roles he played in his four games point to something approaching it.

Credit: ECDF

A snappy, aggressive tackler, your first impression of Alarcon is that he is your typical South American defensive midfielder. But keep watching and his use of the ball will impress you: He creates great angles for himself to pass forward, moves into wider areas to expand play and showed a fearlessness under pressure at times.

There's some exuberance in the tackle to be curbed—he needs to figure out when he can win the ball and when it's best to wait, rather than go for it every time—but he projects to be a prolific ball-winner and versatile piece at the top level.

Oh, and he takes a mean penalty too.

Ideal fits: Bayer Leverkusen, Sevilla



All statistics via WhoScored.com.


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