Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Copa America 2007: An Overview

For those who did not have a chance to watch Copa America, here is a tournament’s review.

The main (and sad) news about Copa America since 2003 has been FIFA’s decision to have it twice as more seldom, robbing the world of real fiesta.

But the fiesta took place anyway…

Perhaps the most pleasing team of all who arrived to Venezuela. No one else, except for, obviously, Chileans, are able today to play straight on the grass so fancily and calmly a two-touch football with short and medium passes to partners who have opponents right by their side. Erwin Sanchez shook the squad up well, having left at home acknowledged and skillful leaders Limberg Gutierrez, Limbert Pizarro, Joaquin Botero, Leo Fernandez, Jose Castillo (who promised to rise no-kiddingly on a global scale). Two years ago Diego Cabrera performed so brightly at Copa Libertadores, that left no doubts about going to become the most important figure in the national team. In actual fact, he was sent in from the bench just a couple of times. But anyway, Sanchez’s team left no reasons for complaining. All the key units were there – a powerful defensive duo of Juan Manuel Peña and Ronald Raldes, a monumental left wing playmaker Lorgio Alvarez, an excellent anchorman Ronald Garcia, unlucky to get injured, wonderful forwards Jaime Moreno and Juan Carlos Arce, and, finally, a game conductor of no lower level than, probably, Sanchez himself, Jhasmany Campos. He was allowed to play just one (but beautiful!) half-a-game. Bolivia just wasn’t lucky against Peruvians: Pizarro scored an illogical goal that unfairly left the green team out. But anyway, I have no doubts that Sanchez’s experience and ambitions will eventually bring his team to success.

Similar to Bolivians in their mild manner to control the ball, Chileans arrived at Copa America as favorites, boasting of having Matias Fernandez – the Best South America’s Player (which for many, including the one who writes these lines, equals to the Best World’s Player) according to annual poll carried out by Uruguayan “El Pais”. Along with Humberto Suazo he was smashing the Colo Colo opponents in last Copa Sudamericana up to the final, where Chileans lost to Pachuca. According to personal observations, Matias possesses Kaka´s speed, Zidane´s power, Riquelme´s wit and Robinho´s dribbling. I can’t recall such an all-round master since the times of Gullit. His merits were obvious to anyone but Chile’s coach Nelson Acosta, who has never been caught before at doing stupid things. As a result, instead of the brightest play of the brightest star we had to be content with second-rate players whose inability to compete with Brazil became especially evident after two other key players – Melendez and Valdivia – got injured. No wonder, it ended up with two shameful losses to Brazilians, whom three years ago Chilean team outplayed clearly, although having allowed a stupid goal two minutes to the final whistle. This team did not stand comparison with the one from the previous Copa America. It lacked the steadiness of Rodrigo Valenzuela and creativity of Milovan Mirosevic. Suazo was fighting single-handedly most of the time, producing masterpieces and having proved that he is an extra-class forward.

Having one of the richest football talents’ deposits in the world, Colombians constantly fail to make the bulk of their precious nuggets out, and hence to arm a focused team. Once again, a whole dozen of playmaking diamonds was ignored: David Montoya, Arnulfo Valentierra, Geovanni Hernandez (the guy to replace Matias Fernandez in Colo Colo after the latter moved to Villareal), Freddy Grisales, Neider Morantes. But strangely enough, the squad still looked impressive. With no weak spots, but with promising young names like Hugo Rodallega. The playmakers were good too – notable David Ferreira and Fabian Vargas, who suddenly were overshadowed by McNelly Torres, one of the main Copa’s revelations to me. Solid was defense too, as were the wings, especially Javier Arizala on the left. What Colombians clearly lacked was some luck. The awkward defeat from Paraguay turned out to be too cruel, and the Chibchas eventually failed to recover from it. The coach Jorge Luis Pinto was a pain to watch – the cleverer he acted, the more goals his team was allowing. Hope, the chiefs of Colombian football won’t sack him.

The team was good as ever, although already too old. Ivan Hurtado and Geovanni Espinoza who have been shining for the last five years as a tuned tandem, this time made errors enough for another five years. Besides, there are signs of oppressing the young blood. The only one to receive his chance was Luis Antonio Valencia, although we know that Franklyn Salas is as good. As are Borja and Saritama. Well, Ecuadorians did not manage to replace adequately Aguinaga, Kaviedes and Delgado, and the team sank down to outsiders. The best Ecuadorian to play at this Copa was Christian Benitez, who outshone the declared first violin, Carlos Tenorio.

No comments. To be turned out from Copa America forever! Anti-football. Looks like they brought weak players deliberately to compromise the tournament.

Usually one of the least Latin-spirited teams on the continent this time did not look such. Thanks to a magnificent multilateral talent of Claudio Morel Rodriguez (one of the world’s best players now, as for me) and a very bright star of Oscar Cardozo who jointly with Humberto Suazo formed the best pair of forwards on this tournament, IMHO. While an awful performance of pseudo-stardom Santa Cruz (except for an illogical hat-trick in the first game) inclines to think that Latin American teams should better refuse to invite players from Europe. It concerns Argentina and Brazil too. The local players are second to none of those who play in Europe in any aspect, but they don’t have a “pecho frio” syndrome, which is a huge advantage. As for Paraguayans, they were killed by a referee in quarter-finals who expelled their keeper a couple of minutes into the game (while a yellow card could be enough in that case). The team did not deserve such a smashing defeat from Mexicans, while we got deprived of a bright show of two great teams.

The Peruvians left somewhat an ambivalent feeling. First, their best stars should have been punished straight after the second game. Farfan, Guerrero and Pizarro walked during the games lightly, while the bench turned out to be overwhelmed with wonderful players like Andres Mendoza, Israel Zuniga, Damian Ismodes or Jhoel Herrera, who obtain only half-a-game each. In general, Peru lacked spirit and did not deserve to qualify from the group. Playmaking wonder of Juan Carlos Mariño was one of Copa’s revelations, although he failed to last all the tournament through.

This team took advantage of hosting the Cup in full, having shown great football. To be honest, Juan Arango again, as three years ago, failed to reveal his huge potential. Besides, key Leopoldo Jimenez was left outside of the team. But the midfield anyway almost in all the games was under control of Venezuelans, where Miguel Mea Vitali and Ricardo Paez again cooperated excellently. The main mistake was in overestimating the pair of forwards. Daniel Arismendi clearly deserved to play more, while de Ornelas was senseless. Undoubtedly talented Alejandro Guerra should have played more too. But in general both the team and its fans should be satisfied with this Copa America.

Finally Mexicans were lucky to have an adequate coach (Hugo Sanchez). Besides, they were extremely lucky in that a phenomenal Uruguayan (by face, by soul, by blood and by the playing manner) Nery Castillo chose to play for this national team. Rafa Marquez was great again. There were lots of aces in the sleeves, be it Andres Guardado or oldish but nevertheless terrific Cuauhtemoc Blanco. But the main problem was not settled – after the retirement of one of world’s last decade’s best players, Jesus Arellano, who carried on his shoulders one tournament after another, the midfield turned out to be in the feet of hard-workers. The talent went from there and concentrated on the field edges – in the feet of Marquez and Castillo. The midfield needed equally talented link, which, as it turned out, spent the whole tournament on the bench, and was sent in only against Argentineans, when it was too late. I’m talking about Alberto Medina. All in all, Mexicans did not find anything to oppose to Argentina.

The strongest impression of this tournament, despite the disgusting start. Recoba is simply genial, he needs only to enter the field to turn the course of the game upside sown. He radiates football! The other charrua superstars matched the leader well too – Diego Lugano, Dario and Christian Rodriguez, Pablo Garcia, who finally managed to show fully what he is capable of, Vicente Sanchez, and even Forlan, who was pulling the blanket onto himself. The team again was buried by its coach who removed Recoba at the most crucial moment in semi-finals, having destroyed the game completely. The second mistake was in granting low confidence to sharp-talented Fabian Estoyanoff. Assiduous but boring Pereyra looked way weaker. For me Uruguay is a real champion of Copa America 2007. No one played better here.

Never thought that I would write something like that about Brazilian team one day! The nastiest tournament’s team with ten dungas on the field. Robinho slept the whole Copa on his feet, Vagner Love was the only one to play football. There’s nothing to write about. Here is a very partial list of those who have been shining on the world’s arenas for the last three years, and whom we did not see in Venezuela: Correa, Magrao, Pedrinho, Jadson, Dagoberto, Washington, Alex, Lucas, Fernandao, Tcheco, Daniel Carvalho, Baiano, Danilo, another Danilo, Deivid, Fabao, Marinho, Rodrigo, Rodrigo Tabata, Felipe, Grafite, Marcinho, Flavio Luis, Fabio Baiano, Nilmar, Obina, Rafael Sobis, Rafinha… I would trade immediately any of these REAL Brazilians for the whole team that landed in Venezuela. For the only reason – “pecho frio”

The arrival of ultra-adequate Alfio Basil promised a corresponding football. But in the first match we saw on the field as many as three numbers 5 – Veron, Mascherano and Cambiasso, who unfortunately remained there for the whole tournament. Not in Basile’s way. What distressed most was return of giftless Veron (in group matches the percentage of inaccurate passes forward was not less than 80). Estudiantes had back luck to have him in its squad during the victorious championship last year, after which the journalists, who did not see the championship themselves, trumpeted that Veron won that Apertura. In fact. Veron was one of the worst in that squad. And if you want someone to call a real Apertura’s winner, try better splendid Mariano Pavone. Someone who regretfully was left outside of the national team. Neither we saw there the best after Riquelme Argentinean midfielder today, Fernando Belluschi from River, nor extremely hot attacker Ezequil Lavezzi, who made his San Lorenzo a country’s champion this year. But of those who play in Argentina, only the players of Boca Juniors, whom Basile coached a year ago, received an invitation. The defense of the team is not interesting anymore. I would prefer to see there, say, Lussenhoff with Tuzzio, or Burdisso with Diaz. Zanetti is good, but so boring already! Could someone tell him to let finally play at least a bit to Ibarra, who’s Zanetti’s coeval, by the way. Finally, Crespo against even old Palermo, not saying about a bunch of younger and hungrier forwards, is a torture for eyes. Although all the negative emotions (even Veron!) are compensated by the magic trio of Riquelme, Tevez and Messi. This trio is worth all the world’s triumphs! In general I would like to point out that this team is worse than the one that Pekerman had a year ago.

Ideal teams after each round, formed of those best rated:

1st round:
Guillermo Ochoa (Mexico) – Jorge Rojas (Venezuela), Rafa Marquez (Mexico), MiguelVillalta (Peru), Alvaro Ormeño (Chile) – Pablo Aimar (Argentina), Juan Carlos Mariño (Peru), Juan Carlos Arce (Bolivia), Roque Santa Cruz (Paraguay) – Umberto Suazo (Chile), Nery Castillo (Mexico)

2nd round:
Renny Vega (Venezuela) – Claudio Morel Rodriguez (Paraguay), Ismael Fuentes (Chile), Rafa Marquez (Mexico), Hector Gonzalez (Venezuela) – Juan Carlos Mariño (Peru), Lionel Messi (Argentina), Christian Rodriguez (Uruguay), Juan Roman Riquelme (Argentina) – Umberto Suazo (Chile), Oscar Cardozo (Paraguay)

3rd round:
Leao Butron (Peru) – Javier Arizala (Colombia), Jualio Cesar Caceres (Paraguay), Juan Manuel Peña (Bolivia), Miguel Hoyos (Bolivia) – Miguel Mea Vitali (Venezuela), Carlos Tevez (Argentina), Jhasmany Campos (Bolivia), McNelly Torres (Colombia) – Nelson Cuevas (Paraguay), Israel Zuñiga (Peru)

Ideal team of Copa America 2007:
Guillermo Ochoa (Mexico) – Claudio Morel Rodriguez (Paraguay), Diego Lugano (Uruguay), Rafa Marquez (Mexico) – Christian Rodriguez (Uruguay), Alvaro Recoba (Uruguay), Juan Roman Riquelme (Argentina), Lionel Messi (Argentina) – Nery Castillo (Mexico), Umberto Suazo (Chile), Oscar Cardozo (Paraguay)

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