The 2017 South American U20 Championship kicked off in Ecuador on Wednesday evening with Paraguay taking on Colombia (a 1-1 draw) and Brazil playing the hosts. Both games took place back-to-back in the Estádio Olímpico de Riobamba, about 200km south of the Ecuadorian capital Quito.
The best represented clubs in Brazil’s squad for this year’s tournament are Corinthians (4 players), São Paulo and Flamengo (3 each) and each provided two players for the opening game’s starting line-up.
Centre-back Léo Santos and left-back Guilherme Arana of Corinthians, centre-back Lyanco and winger David Neres of São Paulo and forwards Felipe Vizeu and Lucas Paquetá of Flamengo were joined on the pitch by Coritiba right-back Dodô, central midfielders Douglas Luiz and Caio Henrique, Fluminense’s left-winger-cum-forward Richarlison and giant Vitória ‘keeper Caique.
The opening couple of minutes saw Ecuador on the front foot, as you would expect from a home side playing their first game in an international tournament. Jordy Caicedo, the Ecuadorian centre-forward, managed a shot after an early corner fell kindly to him near the edge of the area, but his effort was weak and did not trouble Caique in goal.
After the lively opening Brazil settled and started to control the ball and Lucas Paquetá, the Seleção’s number 10, started to search for the killer pass to Richarlison, David Neres and Felipe Vizeu.
The best chance of the first period came after 15 minutes when Paquetá played a beautiful through-ball into to left channel for Richarlison to chase. The rapid Fluminense player was able to find a low cross, only for Vizeu, who scored eight goals for Flamengo in last year’s Brasileirão, to shoot wildly over the bar from six yards. The ball bobbled on the sub-standard pitch but, with the net gaping, the number 9 should really have converted.
From then until half-time there were very few chances as Brazil struggled to move the ball forwards from the back. Caio Henrique of Atlético Madrid was charged with the task of receiving the ball from the defenders and playing it through the midfield but more often than not he found his exit blocked by the industrious Ecuadorians.
The home side’s best opportunity of the half came as a Lyanco mistake played in Ecuador’s star-man and Copa Libertadores finalist Bryan Cabezas, but he was unable to convert from an ever tightening angle.
At half-time Brazil’s manager Rogério Micale, who won the Olympic gold medal with the U23 side in Rio, made one change, bringing on SC Braga’s Lucas Cunha in place of Léo Santos.
The second half got off to an extremely heated start as Ecuador’s right-back William Vargas was sent off for a second bookable offence after a particularly rash challenge on Richarlison.
Moments later there was a large ruck in the middle of the field after an unnecessarily physical Lyanco challenge on the wonderfully named Pervis Estupiñán. Sensibly the referee decided simply to dish out a yellow to either side and the matter was resolved. A further sending off may well have led to the game becoming uncontrollable.
Brazil quickly took advantage of their extra man. Lyanco launched a long pass into the space where Vargas would have been had he not been dismissed and Richarlison met it with a fine first-time cross towards Vizeu on the edge of the six-yard box. He was not going to miss a second time, putting the ball calmly past Cevallos with his left foot.
From that point on Brazil controlled the game and applied pressure without creating a great deal. Several substitutions disrupted what little flow the game had had up until that point.
The only other really clear opportunity fell once more to Vizeu, a player who finds himself in the right positions far more often than one can put down to mere chance. Dodô put in a dinked cross from the byline but the Flamengo forward could only head over the bar.
It was certainly not the most convincing performance from Micale’s side. After a bright spell in the first half, when they managed to get Paquetá on the ball several times in the space of a few minutes, Brazil struggled to work the ball into dangerous positions through the middle of midfield.
There is certainly some work to do on the training pitch but three points against the hosts in the opening game has to go down as job done. Hopefully, as happened with Micale’s side at the Olympics, the team will improve as the tournament progresses and we will see some real standout performances from this talented group.
Standout player: Quick, rangy forward Richarlison created both of Brazil’s best chances before being substituted with 20 minutes left on the clock.