As regular readers of this blog will be aware, Mediolana was transfixed by this year’s FIFA U-17 World Cup (18th June 2011 – 10th July 2011), a tournament replete with quality teams and mesmeric individual play; we even devoted an entire article to highlighting one of the very best individuals to shine at the competition, the elegant German full-back Cimo Röcker. Now, with the 2011 FIFA U-20 World Cup (29th July – 20th August) in its advanced stages, we believe that we have witnessed the emergence of another brilliant left-sided defender: Nicolás Alejandro Tagliafico.
Tagliafico, who sported the number three jersey for Argentina at the U-20 finals in Colombia, caught this blogger’s eye in the Albicelestes‘ two games in the knockout rounds. During the thrilling, hypnotic last 16 encounter against Egypt in the sultry war zone that is Medellín, Tagliafico was outstanding in denying the Africans space in the final third of the pitch, patrolling the left flank securely enough for winger Carlos Luque to attack with abandon – and win Argentina their two decisive penalty kicks, both luxuriantly converted by new AS Roma recruit Erik Lamela. The quarter-final contest with Portugal in tropical Cartagena saw the South Americans’ best defender showcase his offensive attributes: Tagliafico supported his attacking colleagues to the extent that he was, on occasion, his team’s most advanced player; additionally, he showed himself capable of curving in excellent crosses, a weapon that was arguably underutilised.
The fact that Tagliafico’s missed spot-kick in a penalty shoot-out – a tie-breaker that the Argentines somehow conspired to lose – was the final denouement is nothing more than a cruel irony: in his lung-busting stamina, excellent technique and continuous enterprise, Tagliafico is more than reminiscent of his country’s record cap holder Javier Zanetti. The parallels with the Internazionale icon do not cease there: Tagliafico is currently registered with unfashionable Buenos Aires outfit Banfield, the same club from which Inter purchased Zanetti back in 1995; no one should be surprised to see the dynamic, diminutive and dapper Argentina U-20 left-back make a strong impression in European and world football in the years ahead.