Yeferson Soteldo: Diminutive winger could carry Santos to Copa Libertadores glory against Palmeiras

By Sports Desk January 30, 2021

There was huge adversity in the early stages of Yeferson Soteldo's career.

He grew up in the underprivileged neighbourhood of El Muertico in the city of Acarigua, where he claims an early grave was the likely alternative to a career in professional football, and although he gained a spot in the academy of Caracas – Venezuela's most successful club – he was thrown out aged 14 for "indiscipline".

Furthermore, there were huge question marks over his physical capability to make it as a pro – now 23, he only stands at five feet and two inches tall.

But Venezuela's most-decorated coach Noel Sanvicente gave him a second chance at Zamora and put him on the path to Saturday's Copa Libertadores final between Santos and Palmeiras at the iconic Maracana in Rio de Janeiro.  

In Messi's footsteps

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi is an obvious inspiration for a number of players, but Soteldo felt a stronger connection than most to the Barcelona superstar as he worked his way through spells with Zamora, Huachipato and Universidad de Chile before ending up at Santos in 2019.

"Everyone was talking about my height, that I was not going to be able to play football because of my size, because I was very small. Now I'm here, I got over it," Soteldo told the official Libertadores website.

"That's for the young ones who are little too. They can see Soteldo and say, 'I can too.' I did that with Messi. I saw he was small, that he made it and I can too."

Since his arrival in the Campeonato Brasileiro, it is not just his short stature and bleached blond hair that have made him stand out on the pitch.

Soteldo has established himself as one of the league's most potent wingers, his low centre of gravity, incredible pace and quick feet making him a serious threat when in possession out wide.

It is no surprise he has attempted more dribbles (308) than anyone else since the start of the 2019 Brasileiro, but it is what he does in those moments that makes him dangerous.

Soteldo averages a carry with a shot every other game (0.6) in Brazil's top flight and creates a chance following a carry at least once per 90 minutes (1.1) – a league-leading amount among players to have featured for at least 1,800 minutes over the past two seasons.

That ability has seen him directly set up five goals and score three following a carry, accounting for over one third of his 22 goal involvements (13 scored, nine assisted) in the competition.

It is tough for defenders to stop him and he is unrelenting. Per 90 minutes, he averages 5.3 carries of at least 10 metres and 3.8 carries with a take on – the latter being the most among active players in the division.

Stepping up

He has managed to translate that form to the Libertadores this season, with only Carlos Tevez (30) and Nicolas de la Cruz (31) supplying more key passes than Soteldo (28) in the competition.

However, Soteldo has played one game fewer and averages three chances created per game, so would be expected to move level with De la Cruz after the final.

Carries have again formed a key part of the Venezuelan's output, with 11 of his key passes coming after a carry – three more than any other player – though only one has resulted in an assist.

This does not mean Soteldo is consistently involved, though. In this season's Libertadores he has 22 direct chance involvements, where his only contribution in those open play sequences was to create the chance. No player in the competition has more direct chance involvements and it shows the 23-year-old is always capable of popping up with a killer ball.

The next step

Life at the Vila Belmiro has not been a walk in the park for Soteldo.

Santos accepted a transfer bid from Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal last October but Soteldo opted against the move because of his desire to play in Europe.

The Brazilian side were only keen to sell to avoid a punishment from FIFA over fees owed to Huachipato following his arrival at the club, with a financial crisis making his future look increasingly uncertain.

In South America's biggest club game, at one of the continent's most famous stadiums, Soteldo can have a huge say in what happens next for him.

His journey to this point proves he will not let anything stand in his way.   

Related items

  • Tite: Coutinho can help Brazil replace injured Neymar Tite: Coutinho can help Brazil replace injured Neymar

    Brazil head coach Tite is bullish that Philippe Coutinho can help replace the injured Neymar in his first appearance in national colours for more than 12 months.

    Coutinho, who earlier this month joined Aston Villa on loan from Barcelona, is set to line up for Selecao in place of the suspended Lucas Paqueta in Thursday's World Cup qualifier away to Ecuador.

    The 29-year-old has not played for Brazil since October 2020 having undergone knee surgery in January 2021.

    Coutinho's return coincides with the absence of Neymar who is out for the upcoming qualifiers with an ankle injury.

    "People always want Neymar, but at times things don't happen the way you want," Tite told reporters.

    "We feel sorry that Neymar can't be here, but we have other options. I'm talking about Coutinho. He is a player that can play in that role and I believe in his quality.

    "Coutinho is an important player and he's been recovering to his best level."

    He added: "From a social and human standpoint, I know how much time he has invested and the challenges he has faced to recover from injury."

    Ex-Liverpool forward Coutinho has started life at Villa brightly, netting the equalizing goal in the 2-2 draw with Manchester United on debut.

    Brazil have already clinched their spot at Qatar 2022, but Tite wanted to push his players in the qualifiers against Ecuador and also Paraguay on Tuesday.

    "I thought the emotions and feelings would be lighter but no, we have the same emotions and anxieties," Tite said.

    "I want to test players in the upcoming qualifiers. I still have the same pressure."

    Tite confirmed that he will field Real Madrid's Vinicius Junior against Ecuador along with Raphinha and Matheus Cunha.

  • Sensational Powell century seals win for West Indies against England Sensational Powell century seals win for West Indies against England

    A ruthless century from Rovman Powell gave the West Indies the perfect base to secure a 20-run win in the third T20I against England at the Kensington Oval in Barbados to go 2-1 up in the five-match series.

    Powell became only the third West Indian to score a T20I century after Evin Lewis and Chris Gayle as he hit an incredible 107 from 53 balls, including 10 sixes. His partnership of 122 with Nicholas Pooran (70) set the hosts on their way to a daunting total of 224-5 from their 20 overs, though England and in particular Tom Banton (73 from 39 balls) and debutant Phil Salt (57 from 24 balls) put up a spirited chase.

    Brandon King (10) fell to George Garton - also making his first appearance - in the second over as the Sussex bowler found the top of off stump, before Shai Hope went for just four after clipping a Liam Livingstone delivery against his own leg pad, which sent the ball into the air for a simple catch for wicketkeeper Banton.

    Pooran and Powell then set about hitting England's attack all over the park, before the partnership was finally broken in the 17th over when Pooran hit Adil Rashid straight to the waiting Livingstone. Powell reached his century before also hitting a shot to Livingstone, this time off the final ball of Reece Topley's spell.

    Jason Roy (19) tried to get England's chase going with a couple of big sixes but soon mishit a Romario Shepherd ball to the waiting hands of Jason Holder, though things looked promising for the tourists as they reached 61-1 at the end of the powerplay, seven runs ahead of the West Indies at the same stage.

    Banton and James Vince kept the required rate within reach early on until the latter fell at the end of the eighth over as he hit Akeal Hosein to Kieron Pollard for 16. Stand-in captain Moeen Ali fell for a second-ball duck, dangerman Livingstone could only manage 11, and after Banton was caught by Holder off the bowling of Pollard, Salt and another debutant Harry Brook (10) tried to get the innings back on track before Brook was sent packing by Holder.

    Salt's knock before he was bowled by Shepherd in the final over provided a hint of what he can bring to this England team in future, but on this night it was not a victory as the West Indies closed their opponent's innings at 204-9 to edge ahead again in the series.

    Ka-Powell

    Powell only averages 22.00 from his 26 T20I innings, but did a good impression of the legendary Gayle here as he hit England all over the Kensington Oval.

    As well as reaching comfortably his highest score in T20Is, he also did so with a strike rate of 201.88, significantly above his average of 130.81.

    England's bowling attack left battered and bruised

    Rashid (25-1) and Topley (30-1) might consider themselves to have performed pretty well considering what happened their their team-mates at the hands of Pooran and Powell in particular.

    Garton took an early wicket on debut but ended with figures of 57-1, while Livingstone came away with 42-1 from just three overs, and Tymal Mills took 52-1 from his four. Ali also bowled a single over for 14 runs and no wicket.

  • Dortmund superstar Haaland believes he can 'improve on everything' Dortmund superstar Haaland believes he can 'improve on everything'

    Erling Haaland is widely recognised as one of the best strikers in the world, but he still believes he can "improve on everything" about his game.

    The Borussia Dortmund man has been strongly linked with a move to the likes of Manchester City, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, with reports suggesting he has a release clause of €75million that becomes active at the end of the season.

    Speaking to Sky Sports, Haaland may have further tempted those teams and any others who have the money to do a deal by suggesting he is far from the finished article.

    "I think I can improve on everything," he said. "If you say I am good at finishing, I can improve my finishing a lot. I can become faster, so I can improve that. I can become stronger, so I can improve that.

    "But if I should improve one thing, it would be to not get injured, because if I am not injured, I will play a lot more games and I will deliver even better. If you were to ask what my goals are for 2022, it is to not be injured, and the goals for the rest of my career are to not be injured. That's the main thing."

    Haaland has scored 80 goals in 79 games in all competitions since moving to Signal Iduna Park from Salzburg just over two years ago.

    Of players in Europe's top five leagues, only Bayern's Robert Lewandowski (107) has scored more in that time, having played in 11 more games than Haaland.

    The 21-year-old was named as part of the FIFPro World 11 at The Best FIFA Football Awards, where Lewandowski took home the top men's prize ahead of Lionel Messi and Mohamed Salah. Haaland was asked who his top three would have been.

    "I think you would have to say Lewandowski number one," he said, "Then you have, for me, [Karim] Benzema has also been amazing, but Messi has also been outstanding – so Benzema and Messi in shared second and third place."

    The Norway forward was also asked about his recent comments that Dortmund were forcing him to make a decision on his future as soon as possible.

    Haaland said in a post-match interview following last week's 5-1 win against Freiburg that the club "press me to make a decision now about my future", though Dortmund chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke denied this.

    "I don't really want to say too much about it, but I felt it was time for me to say something," Haaland told Sky. "A lot of others were speaking – so that was it. Now, I don't want to say too much. I said what I said, and now we move on."

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.