All the players are eligible to play in the Olympic football tournament (born on or after 1 January 1993) and do not have to be playing their club football in Argentina. Debate between several of the Hand of Pod team has narrowed it down and as we get deeper into the countdown, some expert opinion will throw a bit more light on choices.
Feel free to comment as this is not a definitive list by any stretch of the imagination. There are some obvious names, hopefully some not so obvious names and probably double the amount that were mentioned but had to be cut.
Boca Juniors icon, Mauricio ‘Chicho’ Serna knows a thing or two about defensive midfielders after anchoring two Copa Libertadores winning sides. The combative Colombian visited La Bombonera last year and cast an eye over a young player who many claim is the new Chicho and his appraisal was glowing: “I was really excited; he is a guy that has no ceiling. He is heading to be part of the history of Boca.”That guy is 19-year-old Adrián Cubas and the diminutive number five could be on the brink of a breakthrough year.
Hailing from the province of Misiones, Cubitas also qualifies to represent Paraguay and the Albirroja have attempted on several occasions to persuade the midfielder to switch allegiance. Thankfully, Cubas has rejected any advances to this point and has been a regular fixture through the Argentina youth system.
One of the brightest prospects to have emerged from Boca’s academy in recent years, Cubas has captained the youth sides since joining the club at the age of twelve and since making his first team debut in 2014 has gradually been gaining more playing time. The path to a regular place in Rodolfo Arruabarrena’s double-winning side has been invariably blocked but an injury to Cristián Erbes at the start of 2016, could see an extended run in the starting eleven.
A cultured ball winner in the middle, Cubas more than makes up for his slight frame with his busy pressing style and excellent passing. Much like Matías Kranevitter, Cubas has an awareness of space and his teammates that is often lacking in young players but unlike many archetypal number fives, whose sole purpose is to destroy, Cubitas is capable to join in and help link the attack from deep.
It is no surprise that when Juventus were negotiating with Boca over the purchase of Carlos Tevez, a first-option on Cubas was added by the Italian champions as they were all too aware that Los Xeneizes could have a very special player on their books. Certainly when Tevez arrived back in Buenos Aires, El Apache was more than impressed: “The player who surprised me since I came back, and that if he continues will be a great player is Cubitas. He is a phenomenon and gives me the feeling that there is no limit to what he could achieve.”
Rupert Fryer – Brasil Global Tour/The Guardian/ESPN/Eurosport@Rupert_Fryer“The 5’s just keep on coming. For all the ills of Argentine football, the production line is still churning them out. While there’s been inevitable comparisons to Boca’s last great 5, Sebastian Battaglia, 19-year-old Cubas is a little smarter on the ball then his illustrious predecessor. Though he stands about half the size, he is gradually bulking up and makes up for any lack of size and strength by showing the sort of tenacity so revered by the Boca faithful. in his short time as a pro he has introduced an impressive economy to his indefatigable running off the ball, pressing more intelligently than he when first burst into the side. He is also moving the ball quicker, vital for any 5, in the modern game, but still has some way to go before being ready for a proposed move to Serie A.”
Over the second half of 2015, under new manager Mauricio Pellegrino, Martín Benítez suddenly burst into life and began to fulfill so much of the potential that had previously been so frustratingly elusive. Prior to Pellegrino putting faith in El Topo and playing him behind the striker or on the left of his 4-2-3-1, the youngster had made do with fleeting substitute appearances and all too often failed to impress. Ten goals in his 66 appearances to date do not really capture the progress that the academy product made last season. The talent was obviously there but at times, Benítez would play with his head down, too eager to impress and ultimately make poor decisions.
That changed last season and in his final 14 appearances of the season, Benítez scored six times and created a further four as the central figure in Independiente’s attack, while they were the form side in the Argentine Primera.
With a low centre of gravity and superb balance, Benítez is a handful of defenders even when playing with his back to goal as he expertly twists and turns out of trouble before accelerating away. His pace and skill have provided the versatility to play across the attack, in addition to as a number ten or alongside a centre-forward and with this faith placed in him by Pellegrino, goals have followed.
The Misiones-born forward signed a new deal with the club that runs until 2019 but a stay that long looks highly doubtful. El Rojo are loathed to lose the 21-year-old as Pellegrino spies a title challenge with Benítez central to his plans but with the club still entrenched in financial difficulty, selling the prime asset looks likely. El Topo has been described by Pellegrino as the type of academy product that comes round once a decade, and as such should raise a decent amount but Independiente will be hoping they do not have to wait that long for another talent such as Benítez.
Tom Robinson – Outside of the boot/Just Football @tomrobbo89“An explosive patch of goalscoring form at the tail end of last year marked the emergence of Benitez as the top talent we all hoped he would become ever since his debut back in 2011. Filling the hole left by Mancuello, Benitez displayed his creativity, vision and guile in a favoured number 10 role, leading to offers from Galatasaray and Real Madrid. Has been quiet since but a bright future surely beckons.”