Given the decline in Argentine youth football in recent years, La Albiceleste won’t be heading to Chile next month as favourites to lift the Sudamericano (South American Championship) but that hasn’t prevented Fernando Batista naming a talented group of young players.
Only appointed under-20 Head Coach earlier this month, Batista has had little time to prepare but after working with a large preliminary squad at Ezeiza over the past week, a strong final 23 has been named and Argentina will be aiming to silence a few critics.
Lionel Scaloni and Pablo Aimar took charge of the under-20s when they lifted the COTIF title in L’Alcúdia in August but with the 40-year-old since promoted to Argentina’s top job on a permanent basis, Batista has been drafted in on late notice.
That COTIF squad provide the core of the group travelling to Chile yet Batista has been able to name an even stronger 23, supplemented by some of those players already playing their football overseas and a couple of talented teenagers who have burst onto the scene in the Superliga.
After Lautaro Martínez fired Argentina to a fourth-placed finish two years ago, Los Pibes begin their new campaign on January 20th against Paraguay in Curicó. Two days later, Argentina play Ecuador before games with Uruguay and Peru over the course of the week to wrap up Group B.
Argentina’s last triumph in the competition came in 2015 when Angel Correa, Emanuel Mammana and Giovanni Simeone shone so who could be the stars of this generation? Here are the 23 looking to write their names in the record books….
Manuel Roffo – Boca Juniors
The 18-year-old Santafesino is already regarded as one of the country’s top goalkeeping prospects and aside from sparring the World Cup squad in Russia, Manuel Roffo has attracted European interest before even his senior club debut. Despite not being the tallest of keepers, Roffo is an excellent shot stopper and has impressed within the Boca youth ranks with his leadership and organisation. Joining the club as an eleven-year-old, Roffo has captained Boca at every level and is now pushing for a spot in the first team.
Jerónimo Pourtau – Estudiantes
The hero in L’Alcúdia, it was Jerónimo Pourtau’s superb performance during the penalty shootout that defeated Uruguay in the semi finals and booked Argentina’s place in the final. Physically commanding and able to use his frame to come for aerial balls into the box, Pourtau has caught the eye throughout Estudiantes’ youth sides and it might not be long before El Pincha see the benefit in the first team.
Lautaro Morales – Lanús
Another to have gained experience as sparring to Lionel Messi and Co. when Jorge Sampaoli was in charge, Lautaro Morales has been a regular around the youth teams. The 19-year-old Lanús goalkeeper will be pushing for senior club experience sooner rather than later.
Leonardo Balerdi – Boca Juniors
If Emanuel Mammana was the big defensive hope when Argentina last won the title, Leonardo Balerdi holds that title this time round and there are certainly similarities between the two ball-playing centre backs. The 19-year-old joined Boca five years ago as a midfielder and his ease with the ball at his feet is still evident despite gradually shifting back to the heart of the defence. Physically strong and a good reader of the game, Balerdi is considered one of the best prospects in the country and as a result Boca have already fended off bids from Barcelona and Juventus.
Nehuén Pérez – Argentinos Juniors
Balerdi’s central defensive partner Nahuén Pérez has already completed a move to Europe even if for the time being he remains with Argentinos Juniors to gain further experience. Atlético Madrid moved swiftly to sign Pérez to a six-year deal in July but the 18-year-old still plays a bit part for the struggling Bichos, making three appearances so far this season.
Aaron Barquett – Argentinos Juniors
Argentinos Juniors teammate Aaron Banquett is a possibility at right-back having stood out at youth level at the famous Semillero. Quick and strong in the tackle, the 19-year-old is a solid defensive option despite not yet breaking into the first team at club level.
Facundo Mura – Estudiantes
More than likely the starter on the right will be Estudiantes’ Facundo Mura, who was the first choice throughout the successful COTIF campaign in Spain. A more than competent defender, the 19-year-old gets forward well to provide width and is capable of supplying some useful balls into the box.
Elías Pereyra – San Lorenzo
When you have overcome cancer at the age of 13 to sign a professional contract at one of Argentina’s biggest clubs and gone on to represent your country at youth level, there is a sense that you can accomplish anything so no one can tell Elías Pereyra that Argentina don’t stand a chance in Chile. The quick, attacking left-back made his San Lorenzo debut in August and has since been something of a regular making ten appearances in the Superliga. As part of the side that lifted the COTIF trophy, Pereyra will most likely be Batista’s first choice.
Facundo Medina – Talleres
Talleres have done some excellent business in the transfer market and had some top full backs at the club over the past couple of years. 19-year-old Facundo Medina looks another promising signing having arrived from River Plate’s academy one year ago and already demonstrated the ability to replace Lucas Olaza since the Uruguayan left for Boca. A strong tackler Medina isn’t afraid to stick a boot in and with a decent burst of speed looks to get forward when possible. After 14 Superliga starts this season, Pereyra has competition on the left with a similar level of senior experience.
Agustín Almendra – Boca Juniors
It is with good reason that the likes of Barcelona, Valencia, Inter and Napoli have all been linked with big money moves for Agustín Almendra and the Boca Juniors midfielder will play a central role in the Argentina eleven in Chile. Captain at the COTIF, the 18-year-old’s all round game helps drive Argentina forward and his excellent passing can help unlock opposition defences. Another of the Boca graduates to receive comparisons with the great Juan Román Riquelme, in truth, and perhaps because the modern game dictates so, Almendra is more box-to-box than enganche.
Fausto Vera – Argentinos Juniors
The third Argentinos Juniors graduate, Fausto Vera is a possibility at the base of the midfield in the traditional number five role, aiming to break up play to free Almendra a little more. The 18-year-old played a bit part in L’Alcúdia, starting at centre back in the shock defeat to India when qualification had already been secured, but in his more familiar central midfield role Vera provides a useful option.
Manuel Insaurralde – San Lorenzo
It’s not been the best few months for San Lorenzo but injuries and a lack of form have seen Manuel Insaurralde force his way into the first team and during none of his five Superliga appearances has the 19-year-old looked out of depth. A powerful central midfielder Insaurralde is far from just a ball winner despite often lining up in the youth sides as a ‘five’ – the Formosa born player drives forward with the ball and has an excellent range of passing.
Francisco Ortega – Vélez Sársfield
Perhaps best viewed as a left-back while representing Vélez Sarsfield’s first team, the presence of Pereyra and Medina in the squad may suggest that Francisco Ortega will be utilised further forward for Argentina. Certainly the 19-year-old’s strengths are going forward rather than defending and his ability to operate as a left winger or in midfield is clear. A terrific engine and with great pace, Ortega never stops and takes every opportunity to attack regardless of his position.
Aníbal Moreno – Newell’s Old Boys
A starter in Lionel Scaloni’s midfield when Argentina triumphed at the COTIF, Aníbal Moreno may well form part of the side in Chile once more. A hard working all-rounder Moreno is a decent ball winner but certainly not restricted to sitting in front of the back four and doing only the ugly side of a midfielder’s job. An efficient passer and willing runner, the Newell’s Old Boys youngster poses a goal threat from the edge of the box.
Ezequiel Barco – Atlanta United
Atlanta United supporters have only seen Ezequiel Barco’s talent in flashes and will certainly be expecting more next season from the 19-year-old after breaking the MLS transfer record a year ago. It was Barco’s sensational display for Independiente that prompted Atlanta to drop around $15 million and at the time, the now MLS champions were buying one of the hottest young talents in world football. With his low centre of gravity and close control, Turri glides past defenders and proved that despite his young age he has the confidence and composure to handle pressure situations – scoring vital goals as El Rojo lifted the Copa Sudamericana in 2017.
Santiago Sosa – River Plate
One of two River Plate players to make the squad, Santiago Sosa has already begun to see action under Marcelo Gallardo this season with Los Millonarios balancing Superliga and cup commitments. Following his debut against Racing Club in the Copa Libertadores, Sosa made a further three league appearances in the league displaying his abilities in midfield. A good passer of the ball, the 19-year-old links play well and joins the attack from his deeper starting position.
Pedro De la Vega – Lanús
Without doubt one of the revelations of the Superliga this season, Pedro de la Vega came from nowhere to burst into the Lanús first team and make an immediate impact with his dribbling ability and willingness to run at defenders. Soon after taking over Luis Zubeldía immediately took the 17-year-old from the youth sides, skipping the reserves all together, and threw the schoolboy into his team. Despite defeat to league leaders Racing, De La Vega shone and cutting in off the left wing came close to a dream debut goal.
Francesco Lo Celso – Rosario Central
Argentina midfielder Giovani Lo Celso is currently showing Paris Saint-Germain what they are missing out on with his wonderful displays at Real Betis this season and younger brother Francesco may also prove to be one that got away for the Ligue 1 giants. Like brother Giovani before him, 18-year-old Francesco is a playmaker at Rosario Central but when Gio completed his move to PSG, Francesco joined him in France for a while only to eventually return to El Canalla. Now back in the reserves, Francesco will be hoping to follow in his brother’s footsteps.
Thiago Almada – Vélez Sarsfield
Arguably the greatest talent in Argentina at present, 17-year-old Thiago Almada is already looking the part for Vélez Sarsfield and as rumours of European interest circulate it is difficult to see El Fortín hanging on to the forward for much longer. With three goals to his name in the league, Almada has filled in for Gabriel Heinze as a false nine on occasion but prefers to play a little deeper in the number ten role where he can get on the ball and commit the opposition. Quick, skilful and with an eye for goal, Almada hails from the same poor neighbourhood as Carlos Tevez and you wouldn’t rule out a similarly successful career on first impressions.
Maximiliano Romero – PSV
It’s fair to say that Maxi Romero’s move to Europe hasn’t yet worked out. The powerful number nine left Vélez Sarfield for €10.5 million one year ago having scored four goals in ten appearances at the start of the 2017/18 campaign but is yet to make anything like that impact at PSV yet. Big, strong, a predatory finisher with his head and both feet, and able to play with his back to goal, Romero is what you want from a number nine but has struggled with injuries during his short career to date and desperately needs playing time.
Facundo Colidio – Inter
Snapped up by Inter for around €8 million before even making his Boca Juniors debut, Facundo Colidio has long been heralded as one of Argentina’s most talented youngsters without many actually watching him on a regular basis. Something of a complete number nine, Colidio does his best work in the penalty area but with decent pace, a good touch and the physicality to hold the ball up, the 18-year-old can do a bit of everything. A regular goal scorer in Inter’s reserve side, the Rafaela-born striker fired the club to the Supercoppa and the league title and was named the best player at the tournament when Argentina lifted the COTIF.
Julián Álvarez – River Plate
If Marcelo Gallardo feels you are good enough to come off the bench in the biggest match in River Plate’s history at 18 years of age, it is probably safe to assume you have something special. After coming close to joining Real Madrid as a child, the Spanish club’s inability to sign a player under 13 was a blessing for River and after joining the youth ranks it was clear that Los Millonarios had a rare talent on their hands. Scoring plenty at that level, Álvarez signed his first professional contract this year and an immediate €15 million release clause was included. Despite always wanting to get into the penalty area and looking up to former River striker Lucas Alario, what has already been evident is that Álvarez possesses the vision and passing ability to play off a centre forward.
Adolfo Gaich – San Lorenzo
Similarities to Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski after scoring three goals in five games for Argentina in L’Alcúdia are a tad premature but Adolfo Gaich’s tall, powerful frame does make him a handful for opposition defences. The 19-year-old is good in the air and during Nicolás Blandi’s injury absence this season has been able to gain useful experience up front for San Lorenzo this season. Two Superliga goals Gaich’s reward but with the team struggling, a more consistent threat has been sorely lacked.