Tuesday, April 10, 2012

'The new Carlos Tevez' & other potential breakthrough stars from the 2012 Copa Sao Paulo

The Copa Sao Paulo de Futebol Junior, to give it its full name, is Brazil's premier youth competition and this year is the competition's 43rd edition. A staggering 96 teams from across the nation took part, ensuring a wealth of talent was on show in a month of concentrated and raw youth football. It has played host to some of the most iconic names in Brazilian football and when looking back in a few years time, this tournament could well be no different. Brazil's biggest and best clubs all took part, though it was Corinthians who emerged victorious with a 2-1 win over Fluminense in the final.

A breeding ground for some of the world's greatest talents, the competition is well followed in the South American nation as fans await the country's next wonderkid and national talisman. Take a look at some of the best and brightest from the competition who could well emerge on the national stage in the coming years.

Following a series of impressive displays in the 2011 FIFA Under 17 World Cup, in which he scored five goals, there was much expectation on the Sao Paulo striker. He began superbly with a hat-trick in a 10-0 demolition of Palmas. He owed much to the creativity of Joao Felipe in midfield but his terrific pace and finishing instinct showed how deadly he could be. His pace is well utilised as close control and quick passing are other impressive features to his game.

Unfortunately his team failed to win again and suffered an embarrassing elimination in the group stages. He may feature for Sao Paulo in this year's Paulistao but may find it hard to make an impact if there are more new arrivals at the Tricolor.

The main man up front for Coritiba in what was an impressive run to the semi-finals where they were eliminated by Fluminense. Alex often plays on the shoulder of the last defender and looks to break the line and drop in behind. Similarly to the Milan striker he looks to get into the channels in order to find space for a shot. 

Though his scoring record is impressive, he struggled to find the net in the latter stages of the tournament against the bigger sides. He will need to become more clinical as he ages if he wishes to be successful at the highest level.

Fans at the Vila Belmiro have been long awaiting the young Santos prodigy. Having only recently turned 16, the youngster has been tied down to a lengthy contract at the club. Capable of taking on and beating a number of players, he showed great anticipation and a striking instinct when he featured. 

All the hype surrounding the youngster has no doubt added some unneeded pressure. Hopefully this will not affect his development. Clearly not yet at a physical standing to challenge for a first team position, he will no doubt emerge from the youth ranks in the coming years.

Another one of the big sides to suffer a somewhat premature exit was Vasco da Gama. They began the tournament well with Jhon Cley scoring in the opening minute of their first match. The midfielder showed excellent vision and ability to execute a variety of passes. He is also extremely adept at striking a dead ball which helps provide a source of goals for his team.

Similarly to Hernanes, he looks capable of playing in a deep role or higher up supporting the strikers. This versatility should hold his progression in good stead over the coming years.

Denner is very much your typical Brazilian full-back and was, for this writer, the outstanding player of the tournament. He marauded up and down the left side of the pitch relentlessly throughout the competition and was always one of the best players on the field in every game. His great pace and energy often opened up new attacking opportunities for his side. 

His defensive capabilities are also commendable, making him an extremely well-rounded player. To boot, he is a set-piece specialist and will add tremendous value to the Timao first team in the coming years.

The midfielder burst on to the scene with a brace in his sides opening 5-0 win over Ji-Parana and has since guided his side to the tournament's final. He provided two deadly finishes with a lethal left foot in that game but failed to find the back of the net again. Alongside his partner in attacking midfield, Higor, Fluminense did not lack support for their strikers. Extremely comfortable on the ball he showed great ability to thread an accurate pass whilst under pressure.

Chances in the first team will again be limited in the immediate future due to the quality that the Carioca club possess. It would be unsurprising to see Eduardo, and many of these youngsters, move out on loan to gain first team experience in the coming years.

Rafinha scored his only goal of the tournament in his side's opening game, and what a goal it was. He unleashed a deadly strike from the edge of the area to announce himself to the nation. There is an aura of confidence as he glides across the pitch keeping the ball under close control as he awaits the chance to supply the killer ball. 

With the depth of quality that Inter possess in their first squad, he is unlikely to feature any time soon but nonetheless, he looks like a potentially exciting talent.

The midfield general in this Cruzeiro side showcased a terrific array of attributes throughout the tournament. Despite playing deep in midfield Lucas Silva also demonstrated great determination to get forward and contribute to the attack. His short, precise passes provided the building blocks for many of Raposa's forward movements. This encouraged his side to play attractive football and he would often surge from deep with pace, providing attacking impetus to help scythe through defences.

He has showed much promise and could well be a part of the Belo Horizonte club's first team plans in the course of the next few years.

Operating somewhere between an attacking midfielder and a striker, he showed terrific invention and creativity throughout the tournament. His stocky physique and direct running style makes him a very bullish striker. These abilities shone through immediately in the very first game when the Palmeiras man beat four players before shooting from 25 metres to score his first of the tournament. 

He would add a new dimension to the current Palmeiras roster and he should certainly be on Luiz Felipe Scolari's radar. An accomplished finisher as well as a team player with terrific finishing, Diego de Souza Xavier has a very bright future ahead of him.

Flamengo were tipped as one of the favourites before the tournament but failed to win a single group game. In what was a disappointing campaign, fans got the chance to witness Thomas in action. Nimble and agile, he is best deployed just behind the strikers but failed to make a real impact. 

However, having made his first team debut last season, and with his club Flamengo failing to sign Thiago Neves on a permanent deal, he may well find he has the chance to make the step up this year.


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