Monthly Archives: July 2011

Copa America Review

There were some highlights to the Copa America: Oswaldo Vizcarrondo was the best defender in the tournament, and could get a move to Europe this transfer window, and Peru and Venezuela have emerged out of the blue. How good would Venezuela be if Thomas Rincon hadn’t suspended himself for most of the knockout rounds? It might have just been the necessary spark to beat Paraguay, and Peru’s final 3 goals in the third-place match all came because of a lack of numbers at the back.

But undoubtedly, the big story is Uruguay, who were the best South American team at the last World Cup, and now this Copa America. They had a few star players: Luis Suarez, ready to replace Forlan in the national team, Muslera, and Alvaro Pereira. But their team play was the key factor to their victory. Suarez and Forlan had a chemistry unlike any other on national teams, like they had been playing together for years. Everybody was willing to defend, and they caught opponents whenever they lost concentration for a second. Both goals against Peru came when I briefly looked away from the screen, while the second goal in the final came off a forced defensive error.

So it was Oscar Tabarez who was their star, as their development throughout the tournament also proves. In the group stage, they played free-flowing football, but the strikers couldn’t score, and the defense made some unexpected errors. Still, the framework to victory was set in the group stage.

In the knockout stages the defense and forwards were miraculously better, but Argentina still looked a tough task. Argentina bossed the game, but never looked that likely to score more than one.

After that, it was plain sailing.

Their opponents in the final, Paraguay, were accused of playing only for a penalty shootout, but they may have been the most exciting team in the group stage.

They played thrilling 3-3, and 2-2 games, and were unlucky not to top their group, being the better side in all three of their matches.

It was only after they changed to a defensive system that they looked the likelier losers. The games against Brazil and Venezuela could both have ended 3-0 losses, like the game against Uruguay did.

In a way, the luck was only evening itself out, since Brazil and Venezuela had been the lucky teams when they met in the group stage.

Still, it is hard to escape the feeling that only luck and goalkeeping got them to the final.

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Can the Copa America be fixed?

Everyone seems to agree that this has been a poor Copa America, and the reasons are not too difficult to find, but some of them can’t be fixed.

First of all, inviting Costa Rica and Mexico, then telling them to use their U-22 teams can’t have helped the quality.

Meanwhile, the tournament format means teams can meander through the group stage at far less than their best. I think inviting 6 teams, to bring the total number up to 16, is the right solution.

In general, though the higher the stakes, and better the teams, the more defensive the games are. With the underdogs so close to the level of the favorites in South America, they have enough talent to stop them from scoring. Meanwhile, some of the world’s best coaches are coming to South America, and making sure their teams don’t lose.

The Copa America used to be played every two years, and became less and less important because of the sheer number of fixtures. It was decided the tournament would be used as the main competitive test before World Cup qualifying, which is quite a marathon in CONMEBOL, so the Copa may have to get used to teams focusing on the World Cup.

The answer to “what happened to Brazil and Argentina?” is partly just a focus on the World Cup, and not enough time yet for the coaches to change things. Remember that if either had won that penalty shootout, they would have been favorites to win the rest of the tournament.

I think Argentina took a huge step back in firing Sergio Batista, because their next coach will have even less time to work with the team, and there have been many bright spots to Batista’s first year in charge, especially the victories over Spain and Brazil.

Officially, Batista wasn’t sacked, keeping Grondona’s record intact.

Anyways, don’t expect a great tournament in 2015, though you could see a post-match brawl and a few coaches sacked.

Chile-Venezuela preview

BORGHI ATTEMPTS TO REPLACE BIELSA

Claudio Borghi isn’t doing a bad job following Marcelo Bielsa’s footprints, a very hard thing to do. Bielsa was an attack-minded, crazy but brilliant tactician, and Chile’s football indentity.

Claudio Borghi, another eccentric Argentine, wasn’t first choice, but he is doing about as well as anyone could. While keeping an attacking formation, with 3 in the back, and a high level of success, he has made three major changes to Bielsa’s XI:

1. 3-4-1-2 (Borghi) v. 3-3-1-3 (Bielsa)

2. More emphasis on counter-attack: Instead of opening the team up to the counter, Borghi’s side can sit deep, win the ball, and sucker-punch. An advantage against good teams, to go with the natural flow of the formation.

3. No extra defender: If Bielsa’s Chile met a team with three forwards, they would put four defenders in. Borghi takes the risk, and wins a two-man advantage in midfield. If the opponent plays with three at the back, Sanchez will drop back, keeping the advantage. How does it work? Brilliantly, as evidenced by the game against Uruguay.

VENEZUELA

What a rise by Venezuela! Traditional underdogs in South America, the baseball loving country is a near soccer power these days. Making the Copa quarters at home in ’07 started a rise to power which continued in impressive fashion with a 7th place (just two points of WC playoff) performance in World Cup qualifying, and a good youth team. It continued here, as Venezuela nearly won their group after a thrilling late comeback against Paraguay.

With an extra World Cup place for South American teams in 2014, it’s all optimism in Venezuela.

KEY PLAYERS:

Oswaldo Vizcarrondo: As I said last time, could be player of the tournament so far.

Chile’s playmaker: Jimenez or Valdivia are both good options to fill the key role in a 3-4-1-2.

Alexis Sanchez: Showed great tactical savvy against Uruguay, despite nothing going for him. Since he’s a striker an average game will mean Man of the Match.

Thomas Rincon: Any attacking forays by Venezuela will start here. Most Chilean attacks will end here.

FOUR REASONS VENEZUELA WILL WIN:

1.  Vizcarrondo: His name can’t be mentioned enough in the lead-up to this clash.

2. Two counter-attacking teams will play- every mistake counts: And Chile will attack more.

3. Beausejour suspended: Chile’s best midfielder won’t play.

4. They’ve already played Brazil: Matching a team of higher quality than Chile helps with confidence and experience.

FOUR REASONS CHILE WILL WIN:

1. Borghi will take care of the midfield, Sanchez will take care of the attack: The first one is certain. Read the beginning of the article again if you’re not sure. If Sanchez does his bit, don’t bet against Chile.

2. Every mistake counts- but for Venezuela more than Chile: Chile are clear favorites, have huge talent, and will create more chances. If both teams make one mistake, Chile will win.

3. Alexis Sanchez

4. Current form: Chile won a hard group with ease. Best team of the Copa so far.

PREDICTION:

CHILE 2-0 VENEZUELA

Easiest knockout game to pick, even without Beausejour. Venezuela can hold Chile to 0 or 1 goals if they defend throughout, but I think Chile’s offense will have a good game.

 

Brazil-Paraguay preview

FOREVER DOOMED?

When Dunga led a World Cup “failure” and Mano Menezes was picked as a replacement, fans rejoiced. There would be no more “defensive” football.

Mano Menezes perhaps now knows just why Dunga picked this style. Molding a successful side that all-out attacks is infinitely harder, particularly with no World Cup qualifiers, and all eyes on them, as recent friendlies and the Copa America have shown.

The boos in Sao Paulo, after Brazil barely beat Romania, said it all. He also commited the heinous crime of losing to Argentina. Even the win against the U.S. may have been different, had the U.S.A. shown more killer mentality (2:20).

Neymar has been bright, and the 4-2 win against Ecuador is definitely progress. Any criticism of this Brazilian team is overblown, considering Menezes’ task.

The work with the defense will be twice as important now, with Thiago Silva continuing his transition to All-World XI, and Dani Alves, so brilliant with Barcelona, looking out of place.

The focus should be on the World Cup in three years time, but the ever-hungry fans are keeping the pressure on…

We’ll see if Menezes can escape his predecessor’s fate.

PARAGUAY

This team seems unremarkable, but is consistent and talented, just like Gerardo Martino prefers. Strangely, they seem to have developed a penchant for conceding late goals.

May have caught a break against Brazil, with Jadson and Fred, the two players who scored against them, likely to start on the bench, while Hulk hasn’t been included in the tournament squad.

KEY PLAYERS:

Maicon and Andre Santos: Opponents have figured out how to match most of the Brazilian attack, but attacking fullbacks have long been a staple of Brazilian football. Paraguay sees them as a weakness, so they should get plenty of time on the ball. Defensively, the fullbacks could also produce more.

Nestor Ortigoza: After being left out of the World Cup squad, Paraguay’s playmaker is turning heads with his performances so far.

Lucas Barrios, Roque Santa Cruz, and Nelson Haedo Valdez: Paraguay’s forwards are hugely interesting, and they have depth here. Any of these could change the match against Brazil. Lucas Barrios, superb for Borussia Dortmund, Bundesliga champions, is the most likely to do so, although Santa Cruz has been the best of the three in the group stage.

Julio Cesar: The veteran goalkeeper, after another error against Ecuador, is starting to look less and less world class. He has it in him- which side will come out?

FOUR REASONS PARAGUAY WILL WIN:

1. Tactics: The better tactician, and with more options available, Gerardo Martino has learned more from the first meeting than Mano Menezes.

2. Brazil’s weaknesses are plain: The fullbacks are overattacking, or attacking at the wrong moments (although putting Maicon in for Dani Alves helped), while the defense isn’t playing well. Further forward, Ganso still isn’t good enough, and Robinho seems to have vanished.

3. Brazil has to constantly attack: The fans demand it. That’s why Brazil’s last two results have been 2-2 and 4-2. Paraguay, meanwhile, is notoriously gritty, and despite it’s obvious talent, can attack or defend as much as it wants. What ends up happening is Brazil underachieves and Paraguay overachieves.

4. Julio Cesar is, apparently, a weakness: What happened after that error against Holland? He hasn’t been the same since.

FOUR REASONS BRAZIL WILL WIN:

1. Momentum: Paraguay snuck into the second round with three draws, while Brazil beat Ecuador 4-2. They were more dominant than the scoreboard suggested, with some amazing saves from Elizaga, and inexplicable errors from Cesar.

Brazil also has momentum against Paraguay, Fred scoring in the very last minute, when they met last.

2. Player momentum: Neymar and Pato, poor early in the tournament, redeemed themselves against Ecuador, while Maicon did better than Dani Alves did against Paraguay.

3. Menezes held his own in Game 1: According to Zonal Marking, perhaps the best tactics blog around, neither coach won the tactical battle in game 1. Do that again, and Brazil should win.

4. Clear advantages at forward, wings: Pato, Neymar, and Robinho or Jadson, are developing into the second best forward line at the Copa America, with Fred proving an able backup. Maicon and Andre Santos will have to be given plenty of space, if Paraguay want to clog up the middle, which Paraguay will then win.

PREDICTION:

BRAZIL 2-3 PARAGUAY a.e.t.

Should go much like the first game, which means wide open and a virtual tossup. Paraguay, notoriously gritty, hang on in my prediction.

Argentina-Uruguay preview

ARGENTINA’S LONG, HARD GROUP STAGE

Lionel Messi stood, head down, shoulders slumped, in the 81st minute of a 0-0 draw with Colombia, as his fans booed, and his critics prepared to write yet another article about how he only played well in the Barcelona system.

Feeling even worse was Sergio Batista. A second uninspired game, a second draw which should have been a loss.

Against Bolivia, Messi had thrived, slipping wonderful passes and masterful dribbles through a heroic Bolivian defense. His teammates thanked him by scuffing shots, and leaving him to do his dribbling alone.

When Batista kept faith in the same 11, Hernan Dario Gomez pounced. A 4-1-4-1, with Messi and Zanetti neutralized. For Argentina, the inconsistent forwards, the unbalanced midfield, the flashes of creativity and chemistry kept Batista hesitant to change. If Aguero had played for longer, or Higuain, who knows how it would have ended up.

The defense had- has- problems too. In the first game, it was Zanetti and Rojo who played poorly. In the second, it was Burdisso and Milito. Colombia had the three best chances.

That brings us back to the 81st minute. When Lionel Messi took his worst free kick ever, the writing was on the wall.

Meanwhile, Bolivia collapsed against Costa Rica. The seemingly staunch defense collapsed, allowing two goals, and a saved penalty kick, and getting two red cards, one out of frustration. The draw with Bolivia looked worse and worse, and Costa Rica, the next opponent, looked better and better.

The result helped Argentina, though, and Batista finally made his changes.

Game three started no different than the first two. How that would change.

Messi was back to brilliant, but Higuain missed one, two, three chances. Burdisso hit the crossbar, but that only made it worse. And then Aguero once again saved La Albiceleste, the only player who could score. Costa Rica broke- Messi put Aguero in space for number 2, and Higuain in for a chance even he couldn’t miss. He did. No matter- Di Maria got a fine ball and made it count, Messi himself was denied by super goalkeeping, and Lavezzi slid a shot off the post. But it was all smiles now.

URUGUAY

” Suarez just can’t miss from there!”

“Forlan surely… just over!

“Diego Forlan still can’t score!”

Despite playing the best football in the tournament, Uruguay have only scored three goals. They got their money’s worth, punished by being forced to play against Argentina, suddenly hot, and with home-field advantage.

And it’s not just the offense which has been underperforming. The on paper strong defense has been off-key. They don’t have very much depth on defense.

Luckily for them, Alvaro Pereira is proving to be a better finisher of Suarez’ assists than Diego Forlan.

KEY PLAYERS:

-Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez: The teamwork was fabulous. Can they score?

-Sergio Romero: Batista can be comforted by the fact that he has a good goalkeeper, with no pressure on him, unlike Carrizo.

-Javier Mascherano and Walter Gargano: The battle for midfield. The team which has the better of these two players will likely win the match.

– Alvaro Pereira: With Argentina playing nobody but Zabaleta on the right, Pereira could run riot.

FOUR REASONS URUGUAY WILL WIN:

1. The finishing can’t be bad forever: If Uruguay ever takes all it’s chances, it could dominate any team.

2. They are the perfect team to exploit Argentina’s defensive weaknesses.

3. Muslera is in the form of his life: We saw in the World Cup what this team could do with an in-form goalkeeper.

4. An extra player should win the midfield: With Cavani injured, Tabarez should go with a 4-4-1-1, while Argentina only has two or three midfielders. Add this to the victories on the left flank, and against the defense, and Uruguay should control possession, and the game.

FOUR REASONS ARGENTINA WILL WIN:

1. Uruguay has it’s own defensive problems.

2. Simply more talented: No other team has Aguero or Messi.

3. They’ve only allowed one goal: The defense has held together, and doesn’t need to be great, with all the talent in front of it. They’ve controlled their games, and with home field advantage, and the offense playing like it did against Costa Rica, the defense should be fine.

4. Deeper bench: Even without Lavezzi, the list of offensive options is long and talented. Meanwhile, the defensive substitutes are just as good as the starters.

PREDICTION:

ARGENTINA 2-2 URUGUAY ( 4-2 P.S.O)

This game could end 4-3, but both teams might play slightly more defensively than in the group stages. With Uruguay’s four-man midfield, this should favor them. But Argentina’s wealth of attack will turn on when it matters most, tying the game at two. If the game does reach penalties, and it is the most likely of the quarterfinals to do so, Argentina could get boosted by their home crowd. Or they could once more let the pressure get to them.

 

 

 

 

Colombia-Peru preview

TWO OF COMPETITION’S SURPRISES FACE OFF

Peru finished 3rd in Group C, but that doesn’t even begin to describe their impressive performances. A 1-1 draw with Uruguay, a 1-0 win over over Mexico that could have been 3, and a last minute own goal against Chile with two weakened sides playing- not bad at all, considering Uruguay were the fourth best team in the world in 2010, Chile might have been, had they not run into Spain and Brazil, and Mexico seemed about even with Peru at the beginning of the tournament.

In recent times, World Cup qualification has never looked so likely. But it is still daunting:

– Argentina, with Brazil as hosts, should qualify comfortably

– Chile were better than all but Brazil in 2010 qualifying.

– Paraguay has a team equal parts talent and determination.

-Colombia have a young team that should peak at the World Cup.

– A new-look Uruguay will be there or thereabouts.

– Venezuela, suited for tournament play, could fall short of expectations.

– Ecuador have players like Valencia and Caicedo.

– Bolivia can beat anyone in La Paz.

Where do Peru, 10th in 2010, rank?

COLOMBIA

Less surprising is the presence of Colombia in the quarterfinals. Falcao, Guarin, and Yepes make for a good team on paper, but there is always something below the surface with Colombia. The manner in which they advanced emphatically ended all but one, age-old, doubt: can they score?

KEY PLAYERS:

Carmona’s replacement: A regular defensive starter for Peru, Giancarlo Carmona, is suspended for this game. How his replacement fares will have a massive influence on the game.

Adrian Ramos and Giovanni Moreno: Colombia’s two wingers will have to take some pressure off Falcao, along with his Porto teammate Guarin.

Paolo Guerrero and Radamel Falcao: Both teams put the attacking burden on only one player, and any goals in this match should come from them, with the five-man midfields cancelling each other out.

J. Manuel Vargas: Peru’s star. Only four starters play in Europe, and Vargas is by far the best. Inconsistent, though, and he could be the difference.

FOUR REASONS PERU WILL WIN:

1. Can Colombia score?: They dominated Group A, but even against Bolivia they only scored two. They should have scored two more goals in each of their games. Is it overreliance on Falcao?

2. Test the defense early and often: Bolivia and Costa Rica aren’t the best games to see just how good Colombia’s “D” is. They did well against Argentina, but Peru should hit them while they are rusty.

3. Counter-attacks: Peru haven’t had much possession in their three games, and it hasn’t stopped them.

4. Gomez’ erratic substitutions: It’s nitpicking, but there hasn’t been any rhyme or reason to Colombia’s substitutions.

FOUR REASONS COLOMBIA WILL WIN:

1. Peru might not be for real: The Uruguayans were the better side in Peru’s 1-1 draw with them, and Chile and Peru were both understrength when they played, so don’t read a lot into Peru’s competitiveness.

2. Peru are still understrength: Vargas is getting better, but Carmona is suspended, and Farfan and Pizarro injured.

3. Counter-attacks: If Colombia can’t score on a normal attack, they can on a counter-attack. More reason Carmona’s absence will hurt Peru.

4. Falcao: Doesn”t look out of place for Colombia anymore. Can he build chemistry and play like he has for Porto? Fredy Guarin, Porto teammate, is with him.

PREDICTION

COLOMBIA 1-0 PERU

One goal is enough, but no shame for Peru.

 

The Future is Now: Copa America 2011

The 2011 Copa America has not been a vintage tournament for many reasons: a poor pitch, lasers and firecrackers, delays, delays, delays, a lack of finishing ability, and the usual talk about preparing for the World Cup.

With young teams on show, scouts are watching closely as the tournament reaches the quarterfinals. Four teams are heading home, so it’s time to look at how this Copa America affects the future.

GROUP A

12. Jhasmani Campos,  M, Bolivia: Best young talent on the Bolivian team.

11. Fernando Gago, M, Argentina: After two terrible performances by the hosts, Gago has his chance to show just why he’s on Real Madrid’s squad.

10. Camilo Zuniga, D, Colombia: Plenty of defensive talent for Colombia. Zapata just joined Villareal, while Udinese teammate Armero and Napoli’s Zuniga are exciting fullbacks.

9. Marcelo Martins Moreno, F, Bolivia: The key for Bolivia’s hopes in any upcoming tournaments. Toiled fruitlessly up top, getting one glorious chance against Argentina.

8. Adrian Ramos, M, Colombia: Great performances in the group stage may get him out of Hertha Berlin.

7. Radamel Falcao, F, Colombia: Club teams needed no proof of his talents, but he did show he can score with Colombia’s style of play.

6. Carlos Tevez, F, Argentina: He had to be great to show that he was worth Manchester City’s asking price, and he was anything but.  With Corinthians’ reasonable £35m bid turned down, it looks like he’ll stay at City.

5. Gonzalo Higuain, F, Argentina: Still unloved by Real Madrid, and curiously unwanted elsewhere. Terrible on Monday night, against Costa Rica.

4. Leonel Moreira, GK, Costa Rica: Continues his development with an international debut. Costa Rica could have quite a battle for the goalkeeping spot in the future, if both Moreira and Alvarado reach their huge potential.

3. Joel Campbell, GK, Costa Rica: Several big Italian teams are keeping an eye him. Good in Costa Rica’s first two games.

2. Javier Pastore, M, Argentina: The Copa could have a £2o million impact on his price tag. If he even gets more than a cameo appearance.

1. Sergio Aguero, F, Argentina: The only person who can score for Argentina. Atletico Madrid must be enjoying Argentina’s games.

GROUP B

12. Lucas Barrios, F, Paraguay: Superb for Borussia Dortmund, Paraguay are waiting for him to start firing.

11. Ozvaldo Vizcarrondo, D, Venezuela: Early contender for player of the tournament.

10.  Jose Salomon Rondon, F, Venezuela: Venezuela’s best player.

9. Neymar, F, Brazil: Had to mention him, but this tournament won’t change much.

8. Nelson Haedo Valdes, F, Paraguay: After being relegated with Hercules, eager to impress for Paraguay.

7. Thomas Rincon, M, Venezuela: Connects the defense and attack together at just 23.

6. Felipe Caicedo, F, Ecuador: Nobody really knows how good he is, as he is stuck in Man City’s never-ending squad list. Obviously the key player for Ecuador, though.

5. Julio Cesar, GK, Brazil: Will he ever recover from his error against Holland in the World Cup?

4. Michael Arroyo, M, Ecuador: With Antonio Valencia on the other wing, Arroyo is making it more and more certain that Ecudor’s two best players are wingers.

3. Yohandry Orozco, F, Venezuela: Could not be stopped at U-20 level.

2. Robinho, F, Brazil: Losing first team status at both Milan and Brazil. At the very peak of his career.

1. Ganso, M, Brazil: Might not be leaving Santos as quickly as we thought.

GROUP C

12. Fernando Muslera, GK, Uruguay: In the form of his life.

11. Jean Beausejour, M, Chile: The key man in both Birmingham City and Chile’s midfield. Unfortunately, suspended for the quarter-final.

10. Martin Caceres, D, Uruguay: Has had an interesting career in Spain with Barcelona and Sevilla. Still only 24.

9. Alvaro Pereira, M, Uruguay: If your forwards can’t score, turn to the midfield. Alvaro Pereira has answered the call.

8. Juan Manuel Vargas, M, Peru: Peru’s best player, his talent is obvious, as is his recent injury.

7. Mark Gonzalez, M, Chile: Surely will play for a bigger club than CSKA Moscoa next season.

6. Walter Gargano, M, Uruguay: With all the attention on Napoli’s “Golden Triangle,” Gargano hasn’t gotten credit for his key role. He may slip out of Napoli’s hands this summer.

5. Edinson Cavani, F, Uruguay: After that glorious season with Napoli, it’s not going right in Argentina. Remains one of football’s big mysteries.

4. Raul Fernandez, GK, Peru: Markarian pulled two surprises for the 2011 Copa America. First, he left Irven Avila, the next great talent, out of the squad, despite two devastaing injuries. And secondly, he started Raul Fernandez in goal. That one has definitely worked, and the Avila decision seems to be working, too.

3. Giovani Dos Santos, F, Mexico: Great in the Gold Cup, and at Zaragoza, and seemingly poor at Tottenham Hotspur. Didn’t provide anything new though, and he couldn’t carry Mexico on his back.

2. Diego Forlan, F, Uruguay: A big disappointment so far, after his great World Cup. Atletico Madrid can’t be enjoying Uruguay’s games. Will they enjoy Uruguay- Argentina, the key clash of the quarterfinals?

1. Alexis Sanchez, F, Chile: Can he persuade Barcelona to put up enough money and take a gamble on him?