Argentina’s Under-20 football team beat Paraguay 3-0 on Wednesday night, qualifying the team for this year’s World Cup to be held in New Zealand and assuring them a spot in the playoffs to qualify for the 2016 Olympics.
After Wednesday’s victory, Humberto Grondona’s team has ten points, four more than Colombia, which is in fourth place. With one game to go, Uruguay and Brazil, in second and third, are the only teams that can threaten Argentina’s lead.
Led by striker Giovanni Simeone, the U-20 looked sharper than expected, winning six of eight games with 22 goals scored and only six against. After struggling to score for his club team River Plate, legend Diego Simeone’s son seems to have found his game, as he netted nine of those 22 “sacred screams” and tied Luciano Galleti for the country’s all-time competition scoring record with still one game to go.
This tournament has been a breath of fresh air for Argentina’s younger categories. The country’s U-20 has won more World Cups than any other nation in history with six. Between 1995 and 2007, the national team was practically unbeatable, winning five out of seven World Cups. An endless parade of great young players used the national team as a springboard into the big leagues and took so many victory laps people started to think there was a track around the field. Living legends like Juan Roman Riquelme, Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero led their teams to the championship in 1997, 2005 and 2007, just to give a sampling of who wore the U-20 white and blue jersey.
But after 2007, the younger categories started to slope. The country didn’t qualify for the 2009 and 2013 World Cups, nor the 2012 Olympics. The youth coaches was heavily criticized, as the players struggled to even qualify for the competitions their predecessors used to win.
This team still has a long way to go, but it seems like these young players are starting to find the form that can take back Argentina to the Olympus of youth football, a place the country has seen in the not-so-distant past.