Following on from Argentina, Uruguay and Venezuela, we look at the recently crowned Under-20 Sudamericano champions Ecuador in the next installment of the series analysing the top South American talents born after 2000.

Not traditionally one of the continent’s powerhouses, Ecuador have steadily improved over the last two decades, going from whipping boys to qualifying for three of the last five World Cups. Last month they wrote a new chapter in their history by winning the Under-20 Sudamericano for the first time, hinting that there may yet be more to come from El Tricolor.

To casual observers, Ecuador’s victory might come as a shock, but anyone who had watched Jorge Celico’s side over the previous three weeks will have had no doubt that the Mini-Tri were the best team on display. One of the few attack-minded squads in a tournament dominated by defences, Ecuador won six out of nine games, scored more than anyone else and generally were deserved champions.

There were impressive performers all over the field and, as well as those analysed below, a few of those born in 1999 deserve a mention. Jose Cifuentes was arguably the best midfielder on show in Chile and brought a coolness and calm to his box-to-box midfield exploits, while also displaying an excellent range of passing. Athletic left-back Diego Palacios was one of the best left-backs of the tournament and versatile, pacey wide forward Alexander Alvarado had a habit of cropping up in good goalscoring positions.

Here we look in more depth at a few more of the star players, all of whom born this millennium, and could well go on to inspire a new generation of Ecuadorian football.

Jordan Rezabala

One of the Ecuadorian players who arrived at the tournament with more of a reputation, Rezabala did not disappoint with his creative wizardry in the number 10 role. Despite not having made his senior debut for Independiente del Valle, the diminutive attacking midfielder impressed in the Under-20 Libertadores last year and impressed for the national team previously at under-17 level, attracting the interest of Dutch giants PSV and Ajax.

Educador Under-20 Sudamericano Tactical Analysis Statistics
Here we see Rezabala’s ability to find pockets of space in dangerous areas, hovering on the edge of the area in case of any loose balls while everyone is focused on the cross from the left.
Educador Under-20 Sudamericano Tactical Analysis Statistics
The cross is half-cleared but Rezabala’s foresight and position allows him to fire the ball into the net from the edge of the area to give Ecuador the lead.

At the Sudamericano, Rezabala set the tone early with a brace in their opening 3-0 victory against Paraguay and another strike against Peru. As well as chipping in with a few goals, Rezabala demonstrated his dribbling, great passing ability and set-piece delivery throughout the tournament.

Educador Under-20 Sudamericano Tactical Analysis Statistics
Rezabala demonstrates his set piece prowess. From a free kick relatively close to goal, he manages to get whip and power, leaving the goalkeeper flat-footed as he expects the ball to bent to the opposite corner.

While at his best when finding space between the lines, Rezabala has the versatility to drift into wide positions and, fittingly of someone whose middle name is Lenin, showed plenty of commitment to the collective cause, tracking back and pressing when necessary.

Educador Under-20 Sudamericano Tactical Analysis Statistics
Here we firstly see Rezabala tracking back and showing his work rate to dispossess the Colombian full-back.
Educador Under-20 Sudamericano Tactical Analysis Statistics
Having robbed the ball wide on the right, Rezabala uses his pace to bring the ball forward down the wing, with a 2v2 situation ahead of him in the middle.
Educador Under-20 Sudamericano Tactical Analysis Statistics
Rezabala bends a gorgeous centre with the outside of his left boot in behind the defence. The goalkeeper is quickly out to block Plata’s chance but Campana is following up to sweep into an empty net for a last minute winner, all stemming from Rezabala’s work rate and passing ability.

Leonardo Campana

Top scorer of the tournament with six goals in nine games, Campana displayed a maturity beyond his years in the number nine role for Ecuador. The tall, skinny Barcelona de Guayaquil striker acted as a brilliant focal point for his side, holding the ball up well and bringing others into play, as well as proving sharp in front of goal.

Educador Under-20 Sudamericano Tactical Analysis Statistics
With the ball on the right wing and not much on, Campana makes a dart inside to the half-space between centre-back and full-back to show for the ball and make some space for himself.
Educador Under-20 Sudamericano Tactical Analysis Statistics
The ball is squared to Campana on the edge of the area. With a quick drop of the shoulder, he creates a yard of space to get away from his marker and bend a shot against the post.
Educador Under-20 Sudamericano Tactical Analysis Statistics
Here Campana shows that he is more than just a target man, demonstrating his creativity by flicking the ball over the defender, rounding him and collecting it before motoring towards goal.
Educador Under-20 Sudamericano Tactical Analysis Statistics
Campana rushes onto the bouncing ball and, being closed down by two Peruvian defenders, tries an audacious lob.
Educador Under-20 Sudamericano Tactical Analysis Statistics
Campana’s speculative effort beats the keeper but bounces inches wide of the post. It nevertheless displays that extra level of class that Campana possesses.

Son of the Ecuadorian Minister of Commerce, who also played tennis professionally in his youth, Campana also showed that he was far more than a target man with his intelligent movement and opportunism. Capable of improvisation, such as his acrobatic effort versus Venezuela, and moments of inspiration, as seen by his speculative effort against Peru, the 18-year-old’s all-round qualities made him the standout striker of the Sudamericano.

Educador Under-20 Sudamericano Tactical Analysis Statistics
This passage of play perfectly encapsulates Campana’s mature, all-round centre forward play. At first he makes a sprint towards the front post, expecting a cross from the left.
Educador Under-20 Sudamericano Tactical Analysis Statistics
Having made his initial run luring the defender forward, he then drops in behind the centre back into the space he has manufactured as a cross to the back post seems to most likely option.
Educador Under-20 Sudamericano Tactical Analysis Statistics
The cross doesn’t come as the left winger dribbles towards the byline. When the cross does finally come in, Campana muscles his way back in front of the centre-back again.
Educador Under-20 Sudamericano Tactical Analysis Statistics
Having got in front of his man for the second time, Campana attempts a bicycle kick demonstrating his opportunism in front of goal. Unable to get a clean strike away due to the close attention of the centre-back the ball loops up.
Educador Under-20 Sudamericano Tactical Analysis Statistics
Rather than give up, Campana is still switched on enough to scoot around on the ground and reposition himself to flick his long leg to complete the bicycle kick at the second attempt to double Ecuador’s lead.

Already attracting the interest of Borussia Dortmund, both Milan clubs and Sporting Lisbon, Campana is hot property and will be the man to stop at the Under-20 World Cup in Poland.

Moises Ramirez

With eight Liga Pro appearances under his belt and a runners-up medal from the Under-20 Libertadores, Ecuadorian number one Moises Ramirez enhanced his burgeoning reputation with a string of solid performances and was arguably the best keeper at the Sudamericano.

Educador Under-20 Sudamericano Tactical Analysis Statistics
Playing for Independiente del Valle, here we see Ramirez’s sharp reflexes, tipping over a vicious volley from close range.
Educador Under-20 Sudamericano Tactical Analysis Statistics
Despite the free kick being from range, the powerful shot is curling towards the top corner of the goal but Ramirez quickly gets across his line.
Educador Under-20 Sudamericano Tactical Analysis Statistics
Ramirez shows his agility to produce a fantastic flying save, using his other hand to paw the ball wide of the post to safety and keep Ecuador’s two goal lead.

Agile, quick off his line and with impressive distribution, Ramirez conceded just six times in nine games and earned himself a move to Real Sociedad off the back of his stellar showings. Ecuador may not be too well known for the number of goalkeepers they produce and Ramirez could well go on to become a key figure for the national team in years to come.

Educador Under-20 Sudamericano Tactical Analysis Statistics
Here Ramirez demonstrates his speed off his line to get to the ball before the Colombia player.
Educador Under-20 Sudamericano Tactical Analysis Statistics
Ramirez smothers the ball and comes out with it, and is quickly up on his feet and looking to get the play building up from the back straight away.
Educador Under-20 Sudamericano Tactical Analysis Statistics
Here we see Ramirez’s excellent distribution out of hand, volleying the ball out to the flank to initiate a quick counter-attack.
Educador Under-20 Sudamericano Tactical Analysis Statistics
Ramirez’s punt perfectly finds his man out on the left flank to create a 2v2 situation.
Educador Under-20 Sudamericano Tactical Analysis Statistics
Once again Ramirez demonstrates his speed off his line, his ability to stay big and his reflexes to prevent the Argentinian from rounding him.

Gonzalo Plata

Full of pace, trickery and directness, Ecuador’s flying winger was one of the most eye-catching players on display in Chile. Plata is another graduate of Independiente del Valle’s excellent academy and one of the players in the squad to have senior experience under his belt, having featured 13 times in the second half of 2018.

Principally stationed on the right flank, Plata was a full-back’s nightmare in one-on-one situations with his ability to burn past on the outside or to cut in and get a shot away on his favoured left foot. An ever-present during the Sudamericano, the 18-year-old gave Ecuador a constant out-ball and threat on the counter-attack in his nine appearances, convincing Sporting Lisbon to snap him up.

Educador Under-20 Sudamericano Tactical Analysis Statistics
Here we see Plata’s searing pace as he motors down the right wing and takes on the covering centre-back.
Educador Under-20 Sudamericano Tactical Analysis Statistics
Plata burns past him with ease and cuts a dangerous pull-back into the path of Campana.
Educador Under-20 Sudamericano Tactical Analysis Statistics
Here we see Plata’s ability to cut onto his favoured left and unleash a canonball shot which on this occasion crashes against the post.

Despite all his good work, there is still an evident rawness to Plata’s game. His first touch can occasionally be heavy and he must learn that he can’t rely purely on his devastating pace if he is going to continue to develop.

Furthermore, he needs to add more end product to his game, as demonstrated by the fact that he only managed one assist in the Sudamericano and failed to find the back of the net. Nevertheless, all the attributes are there for Plata to become a really exciting player and he will be one of the men to stop in Poland.

Educador Under-20 Sudamericano Tactical Analysis Statistics
Once again we see Plata’s pace and power in full force as he drives into the centre of the park and runs at the Argentina defensive line.
Educador Under-20 Sudamericano Tactical Analysis Statistics
With a stepover and drop of the shoulder, Plata leaves the centre-back on the floor as he zooms past him and lets fly with a powerful shot from the edge of the area.

Emerson Espinoza

You wouldn’t have noticed it just by looking at him but Emerson Espinoza was the youngest member of the Ecuador squad. The physically imposing central midfielder played six times and formed an excellent double pivot alongside the calm leadership of Jose Cifuentes. Athletic and full of energy, Espinoza was a big presence as Ecuador looked to dominate the centre of the park and showed flashes of his ability to tackle, disrupt and also bring the ball forward.

Educador Under-20 Sudamericano Tactical Analysis Statistics
Here we see a typical scenario of Espinoza’s ability to marshal the space in the centre of the park and snap into challenges to break up play.
Educador Under-20 Sudamericano Tactical Analysis Statistics
Although typically a deep-lying midfielder, Espinoza also showed that his athleticism and physical presence could be a useful tool when Ecuador deployed a high press. Here we see him press high up and force the defender into a poor pass which is picked up in the opponent’s third.

Still extremely raw and one of the more inconsistent performers for Ecuador, Espinoza still has plenty to learn. Given that he has largely featured as a defender for his club at youth level and the fact he doesn’t turn 18 until later this month though, any rough edges in this tournament are understandable and forgivable.

Only time will tell where his long term position will be but his versatility, physical attributes and promising performances mean that he should be one to keep an eye on.

Educador Under-20 Sudamericano Tactical Analysis Statistics
This example demonstrates Espinoza’s all-round abilities. First he picks the ball up from his defenders and strides forward. He plays a solid pass forward and continues his run forward to join in with the attack.
Educador Under-20 Sudamericano Tactical Analysis Statistics
His teammate runs into trouble and sees the pass blocked, but Espinoza is first on the scene to mop up the loose ball and continue the attack.
Educador Under-20 Sudamericano Tactical Analysis Statistics
Espinoza has a Uruguayan all over his back but uses his strength to hold of the challenge and then, as another Uruguayan closes in, wriggles his way past both of them. He plays the ball out wide and continues his run forward for the one-two.

Ecuador, who will be joined by Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia, now will have realistic ambitions of making an impact at the Under-20 World Cup in Poland later this year. Those players featured above will be key if the Mini-Tri are to have a tilt at a first World Cup title.


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