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Last Updated: Monday, 10 January, 2005, 09:29 GMT
Rodriguez ready for bigger stage
By Tim Vickery

My favourite football story from last year features Cristian Rodriguez.

Cristian Rodriguez
Rodriguez is one of the brightest young talents in South America
A stocky attacking midfielder with a wonderful left foot, he plays for Penarol, one of the giants of Uruguayan football.

Rodriguez is only 19, but already has eight full caps for his country, and scored a cracking goal away to Argentina last October.

Towards the end of the year an injury ruled him out of a few games but Penarol officials were surprised when television pictures showed him in the uncovered stands jumping up and down with other supporters in the pouring rain.

The club were unimpressed with his unprofessional conduct but I felt uplifted by the existence of a bit of amateur spirit.

It is heartening to find a player who still feels like a supporter.

Penarol threatened to fine Rodriguez, but happily they showed some Christmas charity and let him off.

With his bank balance intact, he flies off this week to Colombia, where he will be Uruguay's star player in the South American Under-20 Championships, which get underway on Thursday.

It should be a fantastic competition.

Held every two years, it is a tournament which brings together some of the best young footballing talent on the planet.

The top four sides can qualify for the World Youth Cup, staged later this year in Holland.

In the last World Youth Cup all three of South America's representatives reached the semi-finals, with Brazil winning, Colombia coming third and Argentina finishing fourth.

Rodriguez will be the senior figure in the Uruguay Under-20 side

The same three countries should come through strongly again this time.

Brazil and Argentina are the undisputed giants, while Colombia have both home advantage and a generation of players from whom great things are expected.

All three reached the semi-finals of the last World Under-17 Cup - Brazil winning, Argentina third and Colombia fourth.

Many of those players have come up through the ranks and will now be featuring at Under-20 level.

Uruguay, then, have a tough task ahead of them if they are to claim one of the qualification slots.

Two years ago even home advantage was not enough to help them through to the 2003 World Youth Cup.

But luck was not on their side. They had a nasty run of injuries during the championship.

Rodriguez, then just 17, made a superb start to the tournament but was injured in the second game and played no further part.

Now he has another chance, this time as the senior figure in the side.

European scouts will certainly be watching him. But if he does make the move across the Atlantic, he should keep quiet about his antics in the stands.

Another Uruguayan hoping for better luck this time is Ignacio La Luz, a highly rated full back who missed the last South American Under-20 Championships through injury.

Still only 19, he is young enough to have another chance.

Also in the squad are two attacking midfielders who did well in the last Under-17 Championships, playmaker Juan Albin and the left-footed Jorge Garcia, who last year was linked with Chelsea.





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