Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Copa America Opening Round Thoughts

Wow. Basically all 4 matches have been surprises of various levels, and the footy has been pretty good thusfar. Entertaining, too, with 14 goals scored in the first 4 matches for an average of 3.5 goals per match.

Yesterday things licked off in Grupo A with Peru shocking favored Uruguay 3-0. Uruguay are many people's pick as most likely to challenge the top two of Argentina & Brasil, but mostly crappy for the last several years Peru up and shocked them.

Uruguay 0-3 Peru highlights.

The nightcap was entertaining before a ball was even kicked, as hosts Venezuela played Bolivia. Venezuela are hosting Copa America for the first time in the 91 year history of the competition, and Hugo Chavez spent about 1 billion US Dollars on 2 new stadiums, stadium renovations, and infrastructure upgrades, and sees this as a chance to showcase his country to his continent and the world. Always one to grab the spotlight, he successfully turned the pregame of this match into a freaking circus. After the teams came out and lined up, he came out on the field in a Venezuela warm up suit and shook hands with each and every player in the middle of the field. Why do this in the locker room beforehand when you can turn the match into a spectacle and make it all about you? I was already chuckling at the great showman, but he hadn't even gotten started yet. He then went over to the referees, shook each one of their hands, chatted and joked with them. I'm thinking, OK, can we please start the match now? The answer was no. He brought out none other than Diego Armando Maradona to midfield, and started having a little kickabout with him, and Bolivian President Evo Morales came out to join in the festivities. It was an awesome circus- never seen anything quite like it, not even in a World Cup. Once we were all well aware that this was all about Hugo, the field was finally cleared and the match was finally allowed to begin, and after the prematch sideshow the match was almost anticlimactic.

The match? Oh, right. Venezuela were expected to win over little Bolivia, who are strong at home playing at their massive elevation but pretty terrible when they come down from upon high, and they went up 1-0 as expected. But Bolivia equalized and it was 1-1 at half. As the 2nd half dragged on you got the feeling that Chavez was fidgeting in his seat and would be embarrassed by only a draw. Finally Venezuela scored to go up 2-1, and it looked like that is how it would end up. But Bolivia had other plans, and they equalized in the last 5 minutes and it finished 2-2: a very good result for Bolivia and surely a disappointment for Venezuela and especially Hugo.

Venezuela 2-2 Bolivia highlights.

Tonight Ecuador played Chile in the opening match. Ecuador made it to the knockout phase of last summer's World Cup {and gave Engerland all they wanted as well before losing 1-0} and Chile have been pretty crap in recent times, so when Ecuador took a 2-1 lead into the final 10 minutes all was going to form. But then Chile scored to make it 2-2, and then got a close to the final whistle winner on a stunning free kick to stun Ecuador 3-2. Good stuff.

Chile 3-2 Ecuador highlights

The biggest surprise of all, however, came in the marquee nightcap matchup pitting Brasil against Mexico. Brasil are 2nd favorites, and even without Ronaldinho and Kaka they have Robinho, Diego, Alex, and Dani Alves, all successful European based players. Mexico are fresh off a Gold Cup run all the way to the final and have played 6 matches in the last 3 weeks. Unlike the US, they sent basically the same team to compete in the Copa, so not only is Brasil better than them on paper, but they come in far from fresh.

Well no one told Mexico that, and Brasil did them an addition favor by doing what they occasionally do in international tournaments: think "shit, we're Brasil, all we have to do is show up in order to win."

Oops. Brasil sleptwalked {sleepwalked?} through a first half, and although they were unfortunate to have a would-be opening goal ruled out wrongly for offsides, they were outplayed by El Tri. Mexico's first goal was great, with all the focus on Castillo's great moves and finish, but the pass to him was absolutely perfect and the goal could not have happened at all without it. 1-0 to Mexico after 25 minutes. 5 minutes later it was 2-0, thanks to Brasilian goalkeeper Doni completely losing his mind on a pretty good Morales free kick and deciding that it would be a better idea to freeze then stand and watch the ball go into the net when he most likely could have saved it had he just, ummm, dived and knocked it away. Bizarre, but no different than the poor play from Brasil, who repeatedly gave the ball away with poor passing and overall imprecise play.

The second half Brasil had much better scoring opportunities, but man of the match Mexican goalkeeper Ochoa was in the zone and made several great saves. Although Brasil did better, they still were extremely careless with the ball and gave it away another dozen or so times just with terrible passing when under no pressure, and Robinho and Wagner Love tried too may times to dribble through the entire Mexican defense and do it all themselves instead of passing the ball.

Oh, speaking of Wanger Love: I have seen him play 5 times this year {2 Arsenal-CSKA Moscow CL matches, Brasil-Argentina & Brasil-England friendlies, and tonight} and I must say I am not impressed; he just doesn't look good enough to me to lead a Brasilian striker line to me. But forget that, the coolest thing is they way that the Univision play by play guy says his name. Every single time he mentions Wanger Love, he says his full name: his first name he says normally, but his last name he says in the voice of Leon Phelps aka The Ladies Man. "blah blah bla blah blah Wagner Looooveee." It is epic, and he did it 100 times tonight if he did it once. Check it out if you can. Yet another reason why watching footy on Univision is better than anywhere else.

Mexico 2-0 Brasil highlights.

So Brasil broke the cardinal rule of international tournaments: do not lose your first match. The fact that 2 of the 3 3rd place teams advance here makes it not so bad for them, but they certainly start off in a hole and will need a result in their final two matches. At a minimum they will need to play a whole hell of a lot better than they did tonight.

Tomorrow's Group C opener sees Paraguay against Colombia, and then the interesting match comes in the nightcap, when heavy favorites Argentina play a seriously understrength USA squad. Especially after Brasil's weak opening, Argentina will be looking to come out and make a statement, and I just cannot see this US team hanging anywhere near them. It could get ugly, and I wouldn't at all be surprised to see a 4-0 or 5-0 win for Argentina, but as Mexico proved tonight, you never know.

Your current standings:

 GROUP A        GP  W   L   D  Pts  GF  GA  G/Dif
Peru 1 1 0 0 3 3 0 +3
Bolivia 1 0 0 1 1 2 2 E
Venezuela 1 0 0 1 1 2 2 E
Uruguay 1 0 1 0 0 0 3 -3

 GROUP B        GP  W   L   D  Pts  GF  GA  G/Dif
Mexico 1 1 0 0 3 0 0 +2
Chile 1 1 0 0 3 0 0 +1
Ecuador 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 -1
Brazil 1 0 1 0 0 0 2 -2

Argentina 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Colombia 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Paraguay 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
United States 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


el pichichi said...

Wow. It's great to see El Tri play like they're supposed to. If they make it to the final they will have saved "Hugol's" job...

And Castillo is proving to be a real stud. I can't believe he's playing in Greece. I'm sure that won't be for long.

Can you link to some highlights?

Aureliano said...

As shitty as Brazil played, the 20 minutes of onslaught they had still would've been enough to win the game (even without the bad call in the first half that took away a goal) if a few of the breaks had just gone their way.
During that span, one shot hit the post, one was cleared off the line by Marquez and Robinho had a miss on a 1v1 w/ the keeper.
On one end, Brazil is lucky not to have lost by 4 or 5. But on the other hand, Mexico got a lot of breaks as well. But they did win, and deservedly so.

Its looking more and more that Dunga is in over his head. Brazil played like absolute crap against Turkey, and the second half of the England game was aweful. They're missing Kaka or Ronnie in the middle (Diego was useless in the first half) but that's still no excuse for playing with no fire, horrible passing, defenders in wrong positions, losing possession in your third of the field, poor keeper play, etc etc. Sigh.

Hope the US can pull a stunna today. Their younger/inexperienced players have a lot of prove and this is a hell of a stage to prove it. Keep it close and capitalize on set pieces is what I say.

Kanu said...

EP- I added highlights of last night's matches {they were not yet up on youtube when I wrote the post}.

A- I agree with just about everything you said, although the I think that it is on the players as much as him. Wagner Love just doesn't seem good enough for this level, and the jury is still out on Gilberto {not Gilberto Silva, the other one}, Maicon, Diego, and Elano.

The only thing I don't agree with is the USA chances tonight- I think that it is going to be ugly. I will be suprised if it isn't 3-0, or worse, but again, you never know.

el pichichi said...

Thanks, Kanu

And yes, Argentina should dismantle the US. They haven't won an international competition in a while now and they got the best team out there (on paper, anyway).

Robert said...

SO why did the US bring this inexperienced squad to the Copa America? For experience or were the starters just ready for a rest?

el pichichi said...

I think it's a bit of both, Robert. Bradley's main focus was on winning the gold cup, in order to be able to go to the confed cup in '09. I think he's also interested in getting a lot more experience for a lot more players, to make the squad deeper in case of injuries. Not to mention that by 2010 he'll no longer have the services of certain vets.