Gaston Pereiro's chance to shine at the South American under-20 champs

After his performance in the Rome derby, Brazil's Felipe Anderson is well on the way to becoming the prince of the Lazio-supporting half of the city. Two years ago, though, he was an embarrassing flop representing his country in the South American under-20 championships. It was a failure that was both individual and collective; he made little impression, and the team was so poor that they failed even to qualify for the decisive second round, finishing fourth out of five teams in the first group phase.

The South American under-20 championships, then, need not necessarily break a career, but they can certainly serve as a trampoline for a few. Many names have been launched in the biannual get-together of the continent's youth -- most prominently Lionel Messi 10 years ago in Colombia.

The latest version of the tournament kicks off on Wednesday in Uruguay. The last time the competition was staged there was in 2003, when the Argentina midfield was anchored by Javier Mascherano. He had yet to play a senior game for his club side, River Plate, but his displays in Uruguay were so impressive -- his knack of coming up big at vital moments so obvious -- that he was fast-tracked. Five months later, still without having taken the field for River Plate, he was given his senior international debut. Twelve months later it had become impossible to imagine a full-strength Argentina side without him -- which remains the case to this day. And the story began with the 2003 under-20 championships.

How many similar stories might have their first chapters written in the next few weeks?

One of the most interesting ones centres on the young man wearing the No. 10 shirt of hosts Uruguay. Gaston Pereiro was the revelation of domestic Uruguayan football in 2014. He made his debut for Montevideo giants Nacional at the start of the year, coming off the bench in the qualifying round of the Copa Libertadores.

By the second half of the year he was a vital part of a team that strolled to the league title. With his lanky frame and languid movements, he has even struck some as a left-footed Uruguayan version of Socrates, captain of Brazil's legendary 1982 side.

Pereiro is versatile; he can pass from midfield, get in the box to finish on the ground and in the air, and drop behind the line of the ball to mark. Now, wearing the famous sky blue shirt in front of his own fans, responsibility will be thrust onto his youthful shoulders. He will be expected to show leadership.

It is a task that proved all too much for the man in his position 12 years ago, on that last occasion that the competition was staged in Uruguay. At the time Ruben Olivera was seen as the big hope of Uruguayan football. Tall, strong and talented, he seemed like the complete package. At the age of 17 he had made a good impression in the 2001 under-20 championships in Ecuador. He was included in the experimental group that Uruguay took to the Copa America later that year, and only narrowly missed out on making the 2002 World Cup squad. On home ground in 2003, then, he was expected to lead the under-20 team, to shine with his technique and raise morale with his presence.

In the event, it all proved too much. Olivera came up with the occasional flash of talent, but come the end of the competition, he cut a pitiful figure, clearly broken by the failure to live up to the burden he had been asked to carry.

He went on to play for the national team at senior level, but never became an important figure, and his club career, while not disastrous, also fell well short of expectations. Now 31, he is currently with Brescia in Italy's Serie B. And he would be entitled to the belief that the descent into relative mediocrity began with the South American under-20 championships of 2003.

Twelve years from now, it would be nice to think that Gaston Pereiro can look back on the 2015 competition with none of those regrets.