Sunday, 15 April 2012

Copa America - An Overview Part One

The 2011 Copa America in Argentina as a tournament had everything from a side reaching the final despite not winning a game the whole tournament to a well deserved winning side. Uruguay, the South American side who went the furthest at the 201o FIFA World Cup, got better as the tournament went on and were comfortable winners in the final against Paraguay. The pre-tournament usual favourites, Brazil and the host nation Argentina, were poor, with both just winning one of their four games.

The Group Stages
Group A 
Host nation Argentina were given on paper a relatively simple progression into the knock out round; however they had to settle for second place in the group as Colombia edged them out. Argentina were poor in their opening two matches, and were fortunate to collect successive draws. Under Sergio Batista, Argentina opted for three defensive midfielders in their opening two games and only a change in their approach (which saw the inclusion of Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero) saw them progress. Defensively, despite conceding just the one goal, Argentina were poor and only a combination of poor finishing and good goalkeeping from Sergio Romero, especially against Colombia, ensured no first round humiliation for the hosts. With a vast amount of their players well known across Europe, Camilo Zuniga of Napoli and Radamel Falcao Garcia of Atletico Madrid, to name but two, it was no surprise to see Colombia progress, and they really should have progressed with a 100% win ratio, with a goalless draw against Argentina the only blight on their copybook. Bolivia and Costa Rica were the other two sides in Group A, and despite both recording one good result (For Bolivia a draw with Argentina, whilst Costa Rica overcame Bolivia in what was the battle to avoid being bottom), they never really threatened to progress, with the latter always going to struggle without their star player Brian Ruiz.

Group B
Brazil (arguably undeservedly) topped Group B thanks to victory in their final Group B match against Ecuador. For the most part Paraguay were the best side in the Group, and if it wasn't for late collapses against Brazil and Venezuela they would have been easy winners of Group B. After the opening round of fixtures in Group B failed to produce a goal, the all important second matches saw Brazil rescue a late point against Paraguay thanks to the former Lyon striker Fred, whilst surprise package Venezuela stunned a Antonio Valencia less Ecuador. The game of the group stages saw Venezuela book their last eight spot thanks to an incredible comeback against Paraguay. 3-1 down with just two minutes to go, late strikes from Miku and Grenddy Perozo rescued a point for the Group underdogs. Despite throwing four points away Paraguay were through (ironically thanks to Argentina's victory over Costa Rica, as two of the groups needed three qualifiers and Paraguay had a better goal difference then Group A's third place side). Going into the last game Brazil themselves needed a result against Ecuador, and thanks to two goals apiece from Neymar and Alexandre Pato they eased past their opponents 4-2, in their most convincing performance of the tournament.

Group C
Uruguay like many of the other pre-tournament favourites started in slow fashion; however they like Chile and Peru qualified in comfortable fashion. A Mexico side (made up of predominately under 23 year old's because of their decision to take their strongest squad to the Gold Cup rather then the Copa America) battled well but ended up pointless and bottom. Chile, despite being under different leadership to Marcelo Biesla, continued to play three at the back, and their style of play was brilliant to watch, with Alexis Sanchez's fantastic team goal in their draw with Uruguay the highlight. Uruguay and their embarrassment of attacking riches (Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez, Edison Cavani and Alvaro Pereira) required at least a draw with Mexico in their last Group game to ensure progression and thanks to Pereira's early strike, they eased through in second place, edging out Peru who lost to Chile, but still did enough to qualify.

Part two to follow soon.

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