Best Young Players at the 2014 Copa Libertadores

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The 2014 Copa Libertadores is off and running. In this feature we provide you a list of youngsters worth watching out for throughout the tournament. Tom Robinson has listed out one player from each club, bursting with potential and the tournament is the perfect platform to showcase it

Group 1
Lucas Romero | Velez
Velez have a reputation as one of the top producers of young talent in Argentina and there are a number of players who could shine in the Libertadores.  Among them is 19-year-old defensive midfielder Lucas Romero.  Romero broke into the Velez team in 2012 during their Torneo Inicial winning campaign and has gone on to make over fifty appearances for El Fortin, as well as representing the Argentina U-20s.  Playing in the traditional number 5 role, Romero may not immediately catch the eye but excels at breaking up play and launching attacks.  With Francisco Cerro’s departure, he is now first choice to anchor the midfield from a deep lying position.

Nathan | Atletico Paranaense
The 17 year-old Brazilian playmaker was one of the standouts at the U-17 World Cup, scoring five goals in five games as the junior Seleção reached the quarter-finals.  Though yet to make a league debut for Atletico PR, Nathan twice came off the bench in their first round Libertadores to help the Furacão narrowly squeeze past Peruvian side Sporting Cristal.  Along with fellow U-17 international Mosquito, the young number 10 is likely to only feature as an impact substitute but is certainly a name for the future.

Alejandro Chumacero | The Strongest
Chumacero returns to The Strongest on loan from Brazilian side Sport Recife as he looks to kick-start a promising career that has stalled somewhat. At 22, the combative central midfielder already has a wealth of experience, having racked up over 200 appearances for his hometown club after making his debut at 15. He also amassed 15 national team caps, scoring once – an absolute thunderbolt against Peru.

Christofer Gonzales | Universitario
21-year-old midfielder Christofer Gonzales was one of the revelations of the Torneo Descentralizado, making 41 appearances and scoring six times for Los Merengues. An intelligent, attack-minded player boasting a lovely range of passing, ‘Canchita’ was called up to the Peruvian national side twice last year, scoring in his second appearance with a lovely chip against Trinidad & Tobago.  Heavily linked with a move to Parma in the summer, we might see a lot more of Gonzales in the near future.

Group 2
Doria | Botafogo
One of the most highly-rated young defenders in world football, 19-year-old Doria appears to have it all.  A tall, elegant, left-footed, ball-playing centre-back with a great reading of the game and aerial ability, it is no wonder that Europe’s top clubs will be watching his Libertadores performances with a keen eye.  There are still areas to work on – as shown by his error that lead to the goal versus Deportivo Quito in the first round – but he has all the hallmarks of a future Brazil international.

Doria featured in our list of 100 Best Young Players to Watch-out for in 2014, coming in at #15 in our list of defenders.

Angel Correa | San Lorenzo
The tricky forward emerged as one of the brightest attacking prospects following a fantastic 2013 in which he helped San Lorenzo to the Torneo Inicial crown.  An archetypal diminutive Argentinian attacker with great dribbling, low centre of gravity and fantastic technique, the 18-year-old Correa has been linked with a move to Spain in the summer.  You can read more about el Ciclon’s jewel with a detailed Scout Report here on Outside of the Boot.

Correa also featured in our list of 100 Best Young Players to Watch-out for in 2014, coming in at #16 in our list of attackers.

Oscar Hernandez | Union Espanola
The skinny 19-year-old playmaker provides an interesting option for Jose Luis Sierra’s Union Espanola side.  Adept at drifting into space in his number 10 role behind the strikers, Hernandez has the ability to conjure up a moment of magic.  However, his inconsistency means that he has only featured intermittently but, nevertheless, he offers a different proposition should the Chileans need to find some inspiration.

Junior Sornoza | Independiente del Valle
One of the most exciting prospects coming out of Ecuador, Junior Sornoza has begun the Libertadores in fine fashion, scoring the first goal in the 2-2 draw against Union Espanola.  The skilful, diminutive forward made his debut at the age of 17 but it was last season where he really burst into life, netting 19 times in the league for Independiente.  At his devastating best operating just off or behind the main striker, the 20-year-old has already become the reference point of his side’s attack and looks set for bigger and better things.

More Reading | Copa Libertadores: Know Your Teams (Part 1) 

Group 3

Carlos Lizarazo | Deportivo Cali
The 22-year-old playmaker has become a key component of Los Verdiblancos in the last twelve months.  A product of the club’s youth system, Lizarazo had his best season to date, playing 46 times and scoring 12 goals as Cali finished as Clausura runners up.  The number 10 boasts good close control, range of passing and is not afraid to shoot from distance with his lethal left foot.  An interesting prospect who could be vital to Cali’s chances of qualification.

Lucas Melano | Lanus
After impressing for Cordoban side Belgrano, Melano has continued his development at Lanus and was one of the best youngsters during the Torneo Inicial.  Three goals in the league and another three in Lanus’ Copa Sudamericana win was a good return for the 20-year-old forward.  Usually deployed wide right in a front three, he may not be prolific but is adding goals to his game and his pace and relative height adds another dimension to his game.

Cesar Fuentes | O’Higgins
The Chile U-20 midfielder had a sterling campaign as he guided his hometown club to a first ever Primera title and is one of the country’s brightest prospects.  An all action defensive midfielder, Fuentes excels at breaking up play and intercepting thanks to his tackling, combative nature and positioning.  However, he is also very comfortable on the ball and uses the ball efficiently with his fine passing ability and game intelligence.  He has gained valuable experience from midfield partner Braulio Leal, working in tandem to give Pablo Hernandez the platform to get forward.   Already a fine footballer at such a young age and, playing a key role for O’Higgins, his stock looks set to rise further. 

Angel Romero | Cerro Porteño
Cerro Porteño starlet Angel Romero was named Paraguayan footballer of the Year as the Azulgrana crushed all before them in their unbeaten league campaign.  The 21-year-old striker had his best season to date, rewarding Francisco Arce’s faith in him with 15 league goals in 2013.  These performances earned Romero a call up to the national side and, along with twin brother Oscar, has captured the attention of Real Madrid.  Deadly accuracy, elusive movement and a keen eye for goal mean he will be a handful for many a defender in the Libertadores.

Group 4
Francisco Meza | Santa Fe
Tall Colombian centre back Francisco Meza has become a regular fixture in the heart of the Santa Fe defence.  The 22-year-old is a calm, composed figure on the pitch, has good aerial ability and with his long legs is a clean tackler of the ball, though he does have a tendency to go to ground a little too easily.  Meza was an ever-present in the Cardenales’ run to the semi-finals last year and will play even more of a key role in the defence now that Carlos Valdes has departed.

Carlos | Atletico Mineiro
Hailing from Santa Luz in Bahia, 18-year-old striker Carlos is seen by many at Atletico as the latest jewel in their crown.  He impressed at youth level, scoring 28 goals for the U15s in 2010, and after finishing as second top scorer in this year’s Copinha with 8 goals in six games, was promoted to the Galo first team.  Fast, good finishing and fine positioning are some of Carlos’ main traits and Atletico have moved quickly to tie him down to a 4-year-contract with a €10million release clause.  Having only played precious minutes for the senior squad, Carlos remains somewhat of an unknown quantity but could be prove to be a surprise package for the reigning champions.

Silvio Torales | Nacional Asuncion
The 22-year-old Paraguayan midfielder has been a regular in the centre of the park for Nacional, having already made over 150 appearances for the club since his debut in 2010.  Comfortable on the ball with tidy passing, Torales also likes to get forward, as demonstrated by his seven goals last year.  He is set to join Mexican side Cruz Azul in the summer as he stakes a claim for a return to the Paraguay squad.  A swansong in the Libertadores would certainly do his chances no harm.

Jhon Murillo | Zamora
Although Zamora have some impressive youngsters such as Ricardo Clarke and Pedro Martinez, it is young striker Jhon Murillo who is the most exciting of the Venezuelan champions current crop.  The 18-year-old burst onto the scene last season with six goals, forming a good relationship with strike partner Juan Falcon, and drew comparisons with Mario Balotelli, although admittedly partly due to his haircut.  Quick and direct with nice footwork, Murillo will provide la Furia Llanera with fresh impetus coming off the bench.

More Reading | Copa Libertadores: Know Your Teams (Part 2)

Group 5
Giorgian de Arrascaeta | Defensor Sporting
19-year-old Uruguayan playmaker is perhaps the finest prospect out of the notable array of young talent on the books of Defensor Sporting.  Nimble, technically gifted with brilliant vision and dribbling ability, De Arrascaeta has that gift for threading a killer through ball or conjureing up a moment of magic that changes the game.  Such was the case in the U20 World Cup when Uruguay looked a far better when they had the number 10 on the pitch.   Linked to Barcelona in the summer, it would be a surprise if a move to a top European side doesn’t materialise in the near future.

Igor Lichnovsky | Universidad de Chile
U20 Chile international defender Lichnovsky has been earmarked as one of the top young defenders in world football for some time now.  Heavily linked to Inter and Chelsea, the centre back almost moved to Getafe in the summer, before the transfer failed to materialise, but his future lies abroad.  A perfect combination of height, strength and assertiveness is married with good composure and ball playing ability, as one would expect from a player brought through by Jorge Sampaoli.  Captain of the U20s displays his leadership qualities but, though only 19, Lichnovsky still hasn’t got that many games under his belt despite having such a high reputation.  This season should change that and the Libertadores will offer the chance to prove the class he undeniably possesses.

Hugo Angeles | Real Garcilaso
One of the youngest members of the Real Garcilaso squad, young defender Hugo Angeles made 22 appearances last season for la Maquina Celeste.  The 20-year-old didn’t feature at all in Garcilaso’s surprise run to the quarter-finals last year but briefly came off the bench in their home win versus Cruzeiro and should play a bigger role this time around.

Lucas Silva | Cruzeiro
Cruzeiro’s central midfielder Lucas Silva had an impressive debut season as A Raposa claimed the Brasileirao title in style.  Given his opportunity by Marcelo Oliveira, Silva seized it with both hands and has formed a great partnership with Nilton in the centre of the park.  Silva is an all-action midfielder, good in the tackle and economic with the ball but also able to quickly switch defence into attack by driving forward or spraying the ball out wide.  He also has the requisite physical attributes to really boss the game and can also pop up with the odd goal, demonstrated by his spectacular strike against Vasco.  Cruzeiro will be one of the favourites and the contribution of Silva, along with fellow prospects Ricardo Goulart and Mayke, could well be crucial.

Group 6
Edwin Cardona | Atletico Nacional
The powerful, pacey winger returns to his parent club after a successful loan spell at Junior de Barranquilla to give Atletico Nacional an added creative dimension to their attack.  Cardona in full flight can be a devastating sight for opposition defenders with his dribbling, trickery and explosive directness.  What’s more, he can finish off either foot and can shoot well from distance.  The 21-year-old has started the Libertadores brightly, scoring the winner against Newell’s, and has the potential to be the revelation of the competition.

Ramiro | Gremio
20-year-old attacking midfielder Ramiro had a successful 2013, nailing down a first team place after his move from Juventude and making 29 appearances in the Brasileirao as Gremio finished as runners-up.  One goal – a beauty against Vasco – and three assists may not seem a great return but his performances over the course of the season have attracted the attention of Roma, Parma and Manchester United.  He’s started his maiden Libertadores in style with a goal in the win over Atletico Nacional and Gremio will hope that Ramiro, along with young prospects Alan Ruiz, Luan and the returning Dudu, give a youthful vibrancy to their forward play.

Gaston Pereiro | Nacional
Within Uruguay, there is buzz building around Nacional’s Gaston Pereiro.  The tall, classy left-footed midfielder only made his first debut at the start of February, scoring after coming off the bench, but has been marked out as a future star, being labelled as the heir to Recoba and compared to Francescoli.  His coaches cite his intelligence and vision, as well his dribbling ability, as his best traits and at 6’ 2’’ the 18-year-old can also count on a good aerial ability.  He’s already been given his Libertadores bow and could be an ace up Nacional’s sleeve.

Fabian Muñoz | Newell’s
Despite Rosario’s reputation as a hotbed of footballing talent, the current Newell’s side are lacking an obvious standout young talent.  The likes of Tonso, Villalba and Casco are all now mid-twenties and it is far too early to judge 16-year-old Ezequiel Ponce.  So with that in mind, Fabian Munoz is probably the best candidate.  Usually playing as a wide forward but capable of playing up top, Muñoz began 2013 well with a few goals and has become more of a first team regular as the year progressed, despite a lack of goals.  Comfortable on the ball, with good movement and link up play he fits the possession-based game advocated by Newell’s.  Solid if not spectacular player but due to La Lepra’s lack of striking depth he could well see plenty of game time.

More Reading | Copa Libertadores: Know Your Teams (Part 3)

 

Group 7
Fernando Gaibor | Emelec
An Emelec youth product, 22-year-old Fernando Gaibor has made well over 100 appearances for el Bombillo since his debut back in 2010.  Named best young player of the season in 2011, Gaibor has been a permanent fixture in midfield and enjoyed an impressive 2013, which saw him win two caps for the national team.  Not a flashy player but one who keeps and uses the ball well, possesses a good set piece delivery and chips in with the odd goal.  In what will be his fourth Libertadores, Gaibor will be targeting making a late push for a World Cup place.

Carlos Peña | Leon
Leon’s midfielder Carlos Peña is widely regarded as one of the best young talents in the Liga MX and has been tipped for a big 2014.  Peña has a great engine and can drive forward at pace with the requisite skillset and invention to create opportunities for his team.  He has also added goals to his game and the man nicknamed ‘Gullit’ will be no doubt be hot property come the summer.

Romel Quiñónez | Bolivar
In a position not often entrusted to youngsters, Romel Quiñónez is a rare example of a 21-year-old first choice goalkeeper.  Bolivar’s custodian already has over 50 appearances to his name and last year earned made his debut for the national team in a 1-1 draw with Ecuador.  Quiñónez has started the Libertadores well, earning rave reviews for his performance against Leon in which he saved a penalty from Rafa Marquez and made numerous other crucial interventions. Should he continue in a similar vein, the Bolivian national team number 1 jersey could be his for the next decade and more.

Lucas Mugni | Flamengo
New signing Mugni joined Flamengo for $1.25mil from Colon and there are high hopes for the Argentinian playmaker.  Mugni emerged as a tall, left-footed No.10 in 2012 with some eye catching performances and inevitably earned comparisons to Juan Roman Riquelme.  Capable of defence splitting passes and mazy gambetas, the talent is evident but he struggled for consistency in 2013, something that was not helped by the omnishambles going on at his former club. A change of scenery and fresh start in Brazil will be just the tonic and Flamengo represents the opportunity to showcase his latent ability at a higher level.


Group 8
Alonso Escoboza | Santos Laguna
21-year-old left winger Alonso Escoboza is one of the most exciting prospects in Mexican football at the moment.  Having made his debut for Santos Laguna in 2011, he first caught the eye on loan at Nexaca in the second tier last season and has continued his rise to prominence with three goals back at Santos during the Apertura.  A goal on his debut for Mexico against Finland saw him called up again for the World Cup qualifier play offs against New Zealand as his stock continued to rise.  Pacey and skilful, Escoboza is a real handful and has forged a nice understanding with fellow prospect Jose Abella down the left flank for an interesting Santos Laguna side.

Ramiro Carrera | Arsenal de Sarandi
Arsenal midfielder Ramiro Carrera has been one of the surprise revelations of the last six months in Argentinian football.  Having joined Arsenal from the tiny local side Madreselva, the 20-year-old was virtually unknown but made 18 league appearances and scored three times during the Torneo Inicial.  Usually operating as a wide midfielder, he has maintained his impressive form with two goals in the first four games of the Torneo Final, as well as scoring his first Libertadores goal against Deportivo Anzoategui .   With plenty of game time in a relatively pressure-free environment, Arsenal should be the perfect place for Carrera to continue his promising development.

Jaime Moreno | Deportivo Anzoategui
Young striker Jaime Moreno was another of the young strikers to make a mark in Venezuelan Primera during the last six months.  The 18-year-old made his debut for Anzoategui at the tail end of 2012 but has only really come into some form in the last few months, scoring five times since the start of December. Quick, with decent movement and sharp finishing, Moreno will look to make an impact from the bench along with new signing Manuel Arteaga, a 19-year-old who had a brief stint at Parma.

Jonathan Rodriguez | Peñarol
Signed for just $7,000 from the youth ranks of Atletico Florida, Jonathan Rodriguez has quickly become one of the hottest prospects in Uruguayan football.  Rodriguez made his debut at the start of the 2013 Apertura and scored five goals, including a brace in 3-2 clasico win over Nacional, immediately endearing him to the Carbonero faithful.  Boasting strength, searing pace and good shooting, the 20-year-old striker is a natural goalscorer and has been described as “a beast” by former manager Jorge Goncalves.  He provided an assist in the draw with Anzoategui and his contribution could prove to be crucial for the Uruguayan five-time champions’ hopes of qualification.

More Reading | Copa Libertadores: Know Your Teams (Part 4)

Is there anybody who we’ve missed out on? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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