Class of 2018: The South American youngsters destined for Europe
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Footballers are something of a natural resource in South America, ready to be sold to European clubs as soon as they're manufactured. In this sense, they're much like gold, coffee, and copper - assets that are exported to the First World, where they're displayed by the wealthiest of the wealthy.

South America's production line of footballers isn't making world-class players at the rate it once was, but there are countless youngsters across the continent who are destined for Europe, and who could cross the Atlantic Ocean in 2018.

Guilherme Arana (Corinthians)

Age: 20

From: Brazil

Position: Left-back

Guilherme Arana joined Sevilla at the start of 2018. The Brazilian left-back was central to Corinthians' conquest of the Campeonato Paulista and Brasileirao in 2017, and tallied two goals and four assists as the Timao won the latter for the seventh time. According to Globo Esporte, the transfer is valued at a little more than R$ 20 million (approximately €5.14 million) and Corinthians, owner of 40 percent of his economic rights, must maintain 10 percent to profit in a future transaction.

Billy Arce (Independiente del Valle)

Age: 19

From: Ecuador

Position: Winger

Billy Arce carries Antonio Valencia's seal of approval, and it's easy to see why. Both are Ecuadorian wingers, and the latter praised the former after witnessing a game between Club Sport Emelec and Independiente del Valle, writing: "How I enjoy watching Billy play." Whether the mohawk-sporting teenager replicates Valencia's career remains to be seen, but the adolescent is on track to become his club's finest graduate since Jefferson Montero.

Arthur (Gremio FBPA)

Age: 21

From: Brazil

Position: Central midfielder

Arthur could be the solution to Brazil's problem in central midfield. The product of Gremio FBPA is drawing comparisons to Andres Iniesta because of his build and balance, as well as his ability to find interesting angles, move the ball, and play reliable passes. He can also beat defenders in one-on-one situations with a burst of acceleration. The Copa Libertadores provided him with a platform to advertise his skills, and he may have given supporters a glimpse of the future when he was photographed in Barcelona's shirt.

Ezequiel Barco (CA Independiente)

Age: 18

From: Argentina

Position: Attacking midfielder

Ezequiel Barco is small in size, but big in potential. The Argentinian playmaker was the best footballer on the pitch as CA Independiente and Flamengo played out a draw in the second leg of the Copa Sudamericana's final. He converted a penalty kick under immense pressure at the Maracana, and the goal resulted in his club's first continental title since 2010. According to TyC Sports, he's angry with Independiente's directors and didn't show up for the start of its pre-season as he's frustrated that the club rejected Atlanta United's $16-million offer.

Juan Manuel Boselli (Defensor Sporting)

Age: 18

From: Uruguay

Position: Forward

Juan Manuel Boselli is another product of Uruguay's attention to youth football. The teenage forward appeared out of nowhere and pulled on his country's sky-blue shirt at the Under-20 World Cup, where he was the youngest member of a squad that reached the semi-finals. It's only a matter of time before he steps off the conveyor belt and is capped by the senior team.

Santiago Caseres (Velez Sarsfield)

Age: 20

From: Argentina

Position: Midfielder

Santiago Caseres didn't skip a beat in 2017. The Argentinian midfielder signed his first contract with Velez Sarsfield last January, and supporters chose him as El Fortin's best player of the calendar year in December. TyC Sports reported that Atletico Madrid is interested in taking him to the Wanda Metropolitano, but a formal offer is yet to be made.

Murilo Cerqueira (Cruzeiro)

Age: 20

From: Brazil

Position: Centre-back

Murilo Cerqueira went from an unknown to a champion in next to no time. The Brazilian centre-back was summoned to Cruzeiro Esporte Clube's professional team on the first day of 2017, and was a permanent fixture by the time that the Raposa won the Copa do Brasil. Itair Machado, the club's vice-president, said there's no interest in selling the defender before the Copa Libertadores, which will run until November. According to Globo Esporte, Cruzeiro holds 80 percent of the footballer's economic rights, and its intention is to sell him for at least €8 million.

Eder Militao (Sao Paulo)

Age: 19

From: Brazil

Position: Right-back, centre-back, midfielder

Eder Militao, the son of a former footballer who helped Corinthians conquer the Campeonato Paulista and Copa do Brasil in 1995, is wonderfully versatile. The product of Sao Paulo can play as a right-back, centre-back, and midfielder, and thinks that such variation is important. The wild card was promoted by Rogerio Ceni, a god among Tricolor supporters, and, according to Globo Esporte, Juventus is observing.

Everton (Gremio FBPA)

Age: 21

From: Brazil

Position: Winger

Everton was Gremio's bright spot at the Club World Cup. The Brazilian winger was a super substitute in the semi-finals, tallying the lone goal in the Tricolor's victory over Club Pachuca in extra time. He excels when operating wide on the left flank, as he's capable of playing through balls and dribbling past defenders. There should be no questions about whether he's ready for European football.

Wuilker Farinez (Millonarios)

Age: 19

From: Venezuela

Position: Goalkeeper

Wuilker Farinez was outstanding as Venezuela reached the final of the Under-20 World Cup, and is the face of an exciting generation. Some believe he's the best goalkeeper in South America, and there's certainly an argument to be made. The product of Caracas is blessed with the agility and reflexes that were characteristics of South America's best and most eccentric past shot-stoppers. He's even known to emulate Ceni and Jose Luis Chilavert by taking penalties rather than just saving them. He was summoned to Venezuela's squad for the 2015 Copa America, became La Vinotinto's first-choice goalkeeper in 2017, and should be on the pitch when his country plays at the World Cup for the first time.

Paulinho (Vasca da Gama)

Age: 17

From: Brazil

Position: Attacking midfielder

Paulinho became the first player born in 2000 to score a goal in the Brasileirao, tallying a brace in Vasco da Gama's victory at Clube Atletico Mineiro. The pair of goals came just two weeks after the Brazilian attacking midfielder turned 17 years old, and they demonstrated his ability to ghost behind the defensive line and hit the target from the edge of the penalty area. The product of the Gigante da Colina is flying under the radar, but people are beginning to take notice.

Yeferson Soteldo (Huachipato)

Age: 20

From: Venezuela

Position: Attacking midfielder

Yeferson Soteldo wasn't at his best at the Under-20 World Cup and dropped to the bench as Venezuela reached the final, but that was partly due to Adalberto Penaranda's inclusion. The little attacking midfielder moved to Huachipato after helping his country qualify for the tournament and was summoned regularly for Venezuela's 2018 World Cup qualifiers. Although he dribbles with the ball tied to his foot and runs like he's being chased by a jaguar, he can be infuriating to watch when making poor decisions.

Gabriel Suazo (CSD Colo-Colo)

Age: 20

From: Chile

Position: Midfielder

Gabriel Suazo is taking off at the right time. Chile's ageing squad isn't capable of carrying out the high-intensity style of play that La Roja used in 2018 World Cup qualifying, and the braces-sporting midfielder, who takes the pitch at CSD Colo-Colo, is the injection of young blood that the national team needs. There's limited faith in the country's next generation of footballers, but the youngster is giving supporters cause for optimism.

Vinicius Junior (Flamengo)

Age: 17

From: Brazil

Position: Wide attacker

Vinicius Junior is dealing with more pressure than any of South America's other prodigies. Two days after the Brazilian attacker's professional debut, Flamengo announced the renewal of his contract, and valued the teenager at €45 million. Eight days later, Real Madrid and the Mengao reached an agreement in which Los Blancos will acquire his federative rights in July 2018 while he remains at the Brazilian club until July 2019. The reviews are mixed. He was phenomenal at the Sudamericano Sub 17, where he introduced himself to the continent by tallying seven goals, but he looked lost on his professional debut, and required three months to score his first goal. The hype might be premature, but nobody can deny that he possesses skill and personality. He can humiliate a defender with a chapeu and lose possession in a matter seconds, and that's what makes him so colourful.

Wendel (Fluminense)

Age: 20

From: Brazil

Position: Midfielder

Wendel made his debut for Fluminense in February and is already a household name in Brazil. According to Globo Esporte, business with Paris Saint-Germain cooled as Les Parisiens couldn't guarantee that the Tricolor would be paid, and the sale of the midfielder was sent to Sporting Clube de Portugal. The transfer is reportedly valued at €8 million. He's large and strong, good on the ball, and dynamic. He passes on the move, drives attacks forward, and opens up space. His long-range shooting is menacing. He's regarded as the complete package. There are questions about his consistency and discipline, but that's normal for any South American youngster who rises to prominence in the blink of an eye.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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Class of 2018: The South American youngsters destined for Europe
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