In this series, we take a look at some of the most interesting young talents in the world of football. Next up is Athletico Parananense’s 17-year-old wonderkid Vitor Roque

Athletico Paranaense caused shockwaves when they dumped reigning two-time champions Palmeiras out of the Libertadores, winning the semi-final 3-2 on aggregate.

Under the guidance of Luiz Felipe Scolari, Athletico will be back in the Libertadores final for the first time since 2005 and hoping to get their hands on the trophy for the first time.

Though the Furacão’s run to the final has relied on defensive solidity and a counter-attacking style, their knockout stage has been lit up by the emergence of Vitor Roque, arguably the breakthrough young star of the whole tournament.

The 17-year-old wonderkid has contributed when it has mattered most. His injury-time goal proved to be the difference against Estudiantes in the quarter-finals, while he laid on assists in both legs of the semi-finals against Palmeiras, as well as provoking the foul that earned Murilo a red card.

Deep into stoppage time, Vitor Roque darts between the full-back (who has been left with two men to mark) and bravely throws himself at the cross, just getting there ahead of the goalkeeper to score the winner.

It has been a rapid rise for Vitor Roque. The teen strike sensation only signed from Cruzeiro in April for a club record R$24mil (£4.4mil) amid controversial circumstances. No stranger to ruffling feathers, it’s not the first time he’s moved clubs, having left America Mineiro acrimoniously in 2019.

Nevertheless, he hasn’t let off-field drama distract him, having already netted 6 goals in 25 appearances in all competitions for Athletico. What’s more, he’s also become the youngest scorer in the league and Libertadores in their history.

6 minutes into his Libertadores debut, Vitor Roque finds himself in a good position between the center-backs and makes a run towards the penalty box.
He cleverly allows the ball to run across his body, completely taking the pursuing defender out of the game, and changing direction sharply is through on goal to blast the ball home at the near post.

It’s easy to see why the young forward has been in such demand. Boasting a potent blend of power and pace, Vitor Roque is physically very impressive for his age. His links to Cruzeiro have inevitably drawn unhelpful comparisons to Ronaldo, but there is a bullish quality to his style of play. Ronaldo himself has endorsed Vitor Roque, saying “he is going to fly so high”.

Despite only being 5’8’’, Vitor Roque can hold his own against older and more experienced players. He competes well in duels, averaging 12.61 offensive duels per 90 in the Brasileirao this season, and is very adept at shielding the ball with his back to goal.

The cross loops up and Vitor Roque has to reposition to control the ball on his chest. With his back to goal and three players all over him, he manages to spin through the bodies and unleash a shot into the top corner.
Once again we see Vitor Roque’s impressive shielding ability. The Palmeiras defender can only head the ball up into the air and Vitor Roque has to wait an eternity for the ball to drop directly down. Backing into the defender he is able to spin past him and try a shot. Even though the shot is blocked it falls invitingly into his teammate who opens the scoring.

Even in the moments where he lacks the strength to maintain his position and gets knocked down by defenders, his tenacity is apparent. He often retains possession, springing back up to his feet to drive forward.

This mental fortitude is also demonstrated, not only from having to play a lone striker role at such a young age but also in his absolute fearlessness when running at defenses at pace. Though he only averages 5.07 dribbles per 90, he is very direct and can travel at speed with the ball at his feet.

Current Brazil boss Tite remarked upon this when watching him recently, “Wow! this kid has six gears. He's very fast... He already has the biotype of a mature athlete.”

Vitor Roque’s confidence is also shown in his shooting. He possesses a powerful shot and shifts the ball out of his feet very quickly to get his shot away. Capable of impressive strikes from distance – and sometimes guilty of an over-exuberance of trying his luck from range – most of his finishes come from inside the box and he has displayed proficient goal-scoring from both feet and head.

Vitor Roque drops out of the forward line to receive the ball, luring one of the center-backs out of position. With a clever touch, he then spins past him into space.
Vitor Roque checks his run to allow the recovering defender to challenge. However, he reads this and cuts inside, beating him for a second time and then whips a beautiful curling finish into the top right-hand corner of the goal.

Vitor Roque’s elite mentality is highlighted by his high-profile goals. As well as the aforementioned strikes in the Libertadores at clutch moments, he also bagged a brace against Atletico Mineiro, traditional rivals of his two previous clubs.

Another key aspect of Vitor Roque’s striking credentials is his excellent movement. Always on the move and asking questions of the defenders, he excels a finding the half spaces between the center-back and full-back.

A whirlwind of perpetual motion, Vitor Roque is always on his toes in the box and has the intelligence and anticipation to gamble on getting into the six-yard box.

Fernandinho dinks a ball to the player on the left and while most players are stood watching, expecting a shot on goal, Vitor Roque is already following up at the back post. The ball goes across the face of the goal but Vitor Roque is able to keep it in play thanks to his gamble, setting up a simple finish for his teammate and the all-important equalizer.

Given his physical and technical attributes, Vitor Roque can also operate wide in a front three, using his pace and power to cut inside.

However, his manager Scolari believes his best position is No.9; “He is someone who knows how to play in that area of the pitch, is able to constantly find space and participates well in other aspects of the game. He is the kind of No.9 that I wouldn't have wanted to mark when I was playing.”

Vitor Roque drops back into midfield and presses the opponent on the ball, dispossessing him around the center circle.
Vitor Roque then motors forward and rides the full-blooded challenge of the player cynically trying to bring him down. He leaves his opponent crumpled on the floor and strides on before unleashing a powerful shot that the keeper does well to save.

Athletico will go into next month’s Libertadores final as underdogs once again against the star-studded Flamengo but they will relish the opportunity to spoil the party. And with Vitor Roque’s youthful exuberance spearheading their attack, don’t write them off too easily.

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