So when I left you last time I had just had my captain and star man Santiago Ascacibar ruled out for the first tournament of my reign, the South American U20s. For some reason FM likes to confuse you and make it seem like it’s an U17 tournament given it’s called ‘Campeonato Sudamericano Sub-17’ so it caught me a little bit by surprise, but no it was for me.
Now the first question is who replaced Santiago. As you may remember I had an absolute plethora of options up front so I was a little tempted to return to the diamond or go to a flat 4-4-2. However I wanted to keep the faith with the formation that had served me so well in the build-up to the tournament.
So in came Jean Bautista Cascini, also of Estudiantes, to sit at the base of my defence, not a bad replacement but he’s no Santiago. The two midfielders in front of him rotated between Julian Chicco, Joaquin Pereyra, Matias Moya and Ezequiel Barco. Chicco was the key here as the other three were very attacking but tournament football sees plenty of games in few days so he simply couldn’t play every game.
The other big issue was of course up front and I decided to go with the player I knew and trusted the most, Maxi Romero. Colidio has been amazing in FM17 (including for me in another save) but he was also one of the youngest players in the tournament and Romero has been a FM hero for some time now. Martinez simply hadn’t shown enough in the friendlies.
Now before I run through the results allow me to quickly explain the tournament set-up. The ten South American nations are split into two groups of five with the sides playing each other once. The top three from each group go into a group of six and after each of those six have played each other once the team who is top is crowned the winner. It’s a different, and interesting, format and I was intrigued to see how it played out.
For the first group stage we were drawn with Colombia, Uruguay, Venezuela and Chile. Three teams I had already played (and hadn’t lost to) and crucially we avoided Brazil whom we had beaten 1-0 in a pre-tournament friendly but frankly they had battered us and deserved to win.
Romero started well with goals against both Colombia and Uruguay as we eased to two opening wins but unfortunately in the game against the latter he picked up a minor injury. Against the weakest side in the group, Venezuela, I had planned to make changes anyway so in came Martinez, who scored a brace as we tore them to pieces. With games coming thick and fast I gave Colidio a chance in the final match of the group against Chile, with Ezequiel Ponce more or less just making up the numbers at this stage. Disappointingly he (Colidio) didn’t really do much and the team in general took their feet off the gas as we lost 1-0.
Nevertheless we were through to the next round and our opening group game of this stage was a perfect repeat, a 3-1 win over Colombia. I stuck with Romero out of loyalty but he really struggled. Next up were Ecuador and here I went for Colidio. I’m sure you were probably expecting me to go for Martinez but I had been using him as a sub throughout the tournament and hadn’t been too impressed. I gave him time again off the bench but neither he nor Colidio did a lot, nevertheless we secured the win.
Now at this stage something rather interesting happened. Brazil lost a game. I had expected our match-up (ironically the next game) to be the defining fixture of the tournament but Chile managed to beat them 2-1. Now bar beating us and Brazil Chile were largely awful so this was wholly unexpected but still a welcome shock. This put me in an excellent mood going into the Brazil match and I certainly got a bit cocky with team instructions and mentality thinking I could knock them out of the running and boy did I pay the price. Brazil may have only won 1-0 but it could have been a lot more had it not been for Gonzalo Arce in goal and suddenly we were in a sticky spot with a tough game against Chile next up.
Having given Martinez a chance against Brazil back came Romero and he buried a pen as we won 2-0. That left us needing to better Brazil’s result in the final game and things were quickly wrapped up against Paraguay when Pereyra scored inside the first ten minutes and we then got a second later on. As it turned out Brazil had lost so we had won our first trophy!
Despite a couple of hiccups I was delighted with how the team played and going into the World Cup with Santiago back I was feeling confident.
U20 World Cup
We were handed a very easy draw with a group consisting of Tahiti, Syria and Egypt and we were just far too good, scoring 15 goals in the three matches. Santi was absolutely incredible, scoring three times as I moved him between the defensive and central midfield roles. It wasn’t just his goals, he dominated matches and we looked so much more in control with him leading the side. Whilst Romero and Colidio did well generally Martinez’s sensational hat-trick in the final game gave him the main striking berth going into the second round.
We drew an Italy side who, bar Manuel Locatelli, looked a bit weaker than I expected on paper. However I had learned my lesson following the Brazil defeat earlier in the year so I dropped the defensive line to try and frustrate them. It worked perfectly with Italy having 16 shots to our 13 but only three were on target compared to our seven. We got two in two minutes and shut the game out superbly after that.
Truthfully the quarters and semis were just too easy, the disparity at youth level can often be a joke if teams don’t/can’t bring their best players and this was the case. Martinez scored in both games as we swept away Canada and Croatia 5-1 and 3-0 respectively.
This set us up for a final against Brazil and I always thought this was going to be the case. England had looked impressive in the early rounds with Dominic Solanke and Ademola Lookman performing as well as they did in real life and truthfully I didn’t fancy my chances against them but fortunately Mexico did for them in the quarters.
Once again we dropped deeper and once again we really limited our opponents. Martinez got one on the break and our defence was magnificent. Brazil simply couldn’t find it way through and we were world champions!
I’d be the first to admit we got a bit lucky with Thiago Maia and David Neres amongst others missing from the team that beat us earlier in the year but our team were in full flow. We hadn’t lost since that last meeting and moral was incredibly high, something I often think might have too much impact in FM.
These two tournaments could not have gone any better and having tried to sign most of these players in another save it was fantastic to manage them all together.
Now you will notice that the South American round-up was a bit longer than the World Cup even though the latter is definitely a bigger deal. The reason is that I found myself spending longer playing it and thinking more about the tactics. Really until the final I was staggered by how much better my side was than the teams we were playing.
I was really pleased with the way the 4-1-4-1 came together and I didn’t think there were too many teams who could have caused us too many problems. I think I benefited from aggressively selecting my best players, something the AI just never seems to do or indeed in real life with certain countries at youth level. Of course having Santi back made a huge difference, he’s one of those players (like Martinez by the end) who just really stood out at this age level.
With eight goals Martinez took the Golden Shoe at the World Cup and he was immediately he was signed by Barcelona. Interestingly even a couple of years down the line most of the team still are based in Argentina.
Now normally in saves when I start to succeed or reach my pre-set goals I get a little bored and start looking at different save ideas. However this save is different as we have discussed before and I was excited to get going into a new job so I resigned from Argentina and had a look around for my next position.
I didn’t expect any massive European jobs but I was a little surprised to be offered roles with River Plate and Corinthians. Admittedly the former were mid-table whilst the latter were in the relegation zone but even still it was nice. Portland Timbers, New York City FC and FC Zurich completed a set of five job options for me.
Next time I’ll reveal who I picked and explain why, as well as going through the first season in charge. I’m hopeful I might even be able to get you caught up to where I’m at in the game.