Pescara playmaker Juan Fernando Quintero was the main man as Colombia won the South American Under-20 Championships this month, writes Dylan Fahy.
Juan Fernando Quintero landed in Argentina in early January ahead of the South American Under-20 Championships with a point to prove. Pescara allowed the playmaker to miss crucial Serie A games in order to enhance his profile by representing Colombia in the prestigious event. The general consensus was that an impressive showing would boost any potential offers for the youngster, but it was a certainly a risky gamble.
In contrast, Sampdoria reaped the immediate benefits of holding on to striker Mauro Icardi ahead of the tournament. The Rosario native was called to represent the host nation, but instead remained in Italy to net a superb brace against Juventus – which secured an improbable victory in Turin. The Delfini desperately needed their key man to perform, or the move would backfire horribly in comparison.
Carlos Restrepo’s men were drawn in Group A, containing hosts Argentina and two heavily favored sides in Chile and Paraguay. The opening outing against Victor Genes’s Paraguay was a hard-fought victory, but it was the second match against Chile in which Quintero kicked into action. The former Envigado man sparkled as the fulcrum in midfield, and converted a second half penalty.
The penultimate group game against lowly Bolivia proved to be too easy for Quintero and, in a 6-0 demolishing, the Serie A man was heavily involved with four assists. His crowning moment was at the Estadio Malvinas Argentinas against the hosts, with an outstanding free-kick from 40 yards, which had everyone on their feet and secured a place in the second phase.
Quintero was the main man and led by example as Colombia took a deserved early advantage in the final stages – the competition has no knockout round with three teams advancing from two groups to face off once more. His decisive goal against Ecuador and stunning display with Uruguay madeLos Cafeterosthe early favorites to clinch the title and qualify for the next Under-20 World Cup in Turkey.
In the final three decisive fixtures, Quintero netted twice in games against Peru and Paraguay either side of a narrow defeat to a Chile side inspired by Juventus target Nicolas Castillo. Colombia were crowned champions by a margin of two points, and the playmaker finished the competition as joint second top goal scorer behind only Roma’s benchwarmer Nicolas Lopez.
Having been one of the few players among the Under-20 squad already called-up to the Colombian senior side, the midfielder relished a leadership position and dictated the team’s performances from a deep-lying role. His ball control and left-footed strike have stood out among fierce competition.
“It is very probable that Quintero will leave Pescara either this January or next June, but the decision is down to the club,” revealed agent Riccardo Calleri before the entire competition even began. The 20-year-old lived up to the billing and with the likes of Manchester United and Bayern Munich being linked with him, the tournament has proved to be the ideal shop window.
Pescara must be resigned to losing Quintero within the next six months despite only signing him during the summer. The idea of buying the playmaker to lose him for a month before selling him within the year may seem ludicrous, but it is widely believed that an agreement was made upon signing him from Atletico Nacional that the move would only be a stepping stone to bigger things for a player who was already widely regarded in South America.
Only time will tell where the Pescara man will be dictating the play next.