Copa America 2011 Review

(Article first featured on In Our Humble Opinion 22/08/11)

This year’s Copa America, held in Argentina, proved to be one of the most competitive and hard fought editions of the world’s oldest international tournament.  True there was a lack of goal-mouth action and defences came out on top but it was still very interesting for a number of reasons.  I myself was in Argentina for the entirety of the tournament and even got along to a couple of games.

I’ll start with the hosts, Argentina.  It was by all accounts a miserable campaign for the Albiceleste.  The huge home advantage was accompanied by equally high expectations.  Sergio Batista tried to get the best out of Leo Messi by attempting to emulate his ‘false number 9’ role in Barcelona’s tiki-taka style of play.  However after 2 games and 2 draws it was apparent that Batista needed a reshuffle as Messi cut a frustrated figure.  However, despite dominating the quarter final game against eventual winners Uruguay, they went out after Carlos Tevez, the man brought to the tournament on a wave of public support, missed the all decisive spot kick.  Batista has subsequently lost his job and has been replaced by ex-Estudiantes boss Alejandro Sabella, who will endeavour to harness their wealth of undoubted attacking talent.  There are still question marks though over the unconvincing defence and just how to get the best out of Leo Messi at international level.

Continental giants Brazil also struggled, going out on penalties to Paraguay at the quarter final stage.  The samba kings never really got in the groove and still appear to be in a transitional stage as Menezes attempts to move away from their counter-attacking game.  I was in La Plata to watch them crash out against Paraguay, clearly rueing their decision to appoint Gareth Southgate and Chris Waddle as penalty coaches.  They played some nice patient football but found it difficult to play their way through a well-organized and resolute Paraguayan side.  They now have 3 years of friendlies to experiment and hopefully find a team capable of delivering a sixth world cup title on home soil.  There is certainly bags of potential with the raw talents of exciting but ridiculously coiffured Neymar, classy playmaker Ganso and Sao Paulo’s creative youngster Lucas.  Either way, all eyes will be on them.

What made this such an interesting tournament was the emergence of some nations usually considered the whipping boys of South American football.  Both Peru and Venezuela upset the odds by making historic marches to the semi finals.  Venezuela played some attractive, attacking football blending experience with youth, such as the skillful Yohandry Orozco.  Peru, led by the impressive Sergio Markarian, were particularly impressive especially when one considers they were without captain Pizarro and the influential Jefferson Farfan.  However, they were very well organized and relied on Vargas and Guerrero to inspire them to victory.  What remains to be seen is whether both nations can build on this success and continue to improve.

And finally, the deserved winners Uruguay, who beat a resolute Paraguayan side that managed to reach the final without winning a single game. Óscar Tabárez and his Uruguayan side capped off an incredible 12 months by adding a record breaking 15th Copa America title to their World Cup semi-final last summer in South Africa.  For a country with a population of just over 3 million it emphasizes what an incredible feat this is.  What stands out most is that they boast one of the most formidable strike forces in the world with the likes of Suárez (undoubtedly player of the tournament), Forlán, and Cavani up front.  But to allow these players to flourish, the tireless running and tackling of Egidio Arévalo Ríos, Diego Pérez and Maxi and Álvaro Pereira are essential to their game and also epitomised their team spirit and worth ethic. Captain Lugano also had a fantastic tournament and between the sticks Muslera showed that he is developing into a top keeper.

The future looks bright for them too.  They have a well structured youth set up implemented that has already seen the promotion to the senior side of talented youngsters like the aforementioned Cavani as well as highly rated young centre back Sebastián Coates, midfielder Nicolás Lodeiro and Palermo forward Abel Hernández.  Uruguay recently finished as runners up in the U17 World Cup this summer and, although their U20 squad made an early exit from the Youth World Cup in Colombia, the team contains several impressive players who already ply their trade in Europe such as marauding left back captain Diego Polenta, currently at Genoa, and diminutive playmaker Adrian Luna who recently moved to La Liga side Espanyol, as well as Leandro Cabrera of Atletico Madrid, Federico Rodriguez of Bologna and Pablo Cepellini at Cagliari.  Therefore it appears that Uruguay has a bright future ahead of it and can consider itself very much back amongst the footballing heavyweights.