Two weeks after the first ball was kicked in the Copa América Centenario (Centennial Copa America), in different stadiums of the United States, eight teams are still fighting for the title; while the other eight have traveled back home. Argentina was undoubtedly the best team in the qualifying round, and Uruguay and Brazil are deciding who keeps the unpleasant label of “highest deception”.
THREE PRAISEWORTHY TEAMS
Argentina, unbeaten with 10 goals scored
Argentina was the big favorite of the event. A year ago, the albicelestes were also the main candidates to with the Copa América, held in Chile; nevertheless, they were defeated by the locals. This time around, head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino gathered a strong team, led by Lionel Messi.
The best soccer player of the world didn’t make it in the finest physical condition after an intense season with Barcelona, so the team leader wasn’t a regular first-team player in none of the three games during the group stage; but he did manage to do his magic. He joined the game in the second half against Panama and, in just a few minutes, Messi scored three goals. He’s only one point away from matching Gabriel Omar Batistuta as the top scorer of all time with the Argentinean uniform.
People always miss Messi on the field, but the team showed its high level, even without its captain. The hardest game was played against Chile and the team prevailed over the rivals, with the outstanding performance of Angel di Maria, you shot an excellent goal and dedicated it to his passed grandmother, the most touching moment in the Cup to date. The only problem was that “El Fideo” got hurt —just as it happened during the World Cup in Brazil, back in 2014— and all fans of Argentina certainly hope that the player from French PSG can be able to play in the semifinals, at least… if Argentina leaves Venezuela behind in quarterfinals.
The Return of Vinotinto
Perhaps not even the most compulsive enthusiasts of the Venezuelan team thought that it would go beyond the first stage of Copa América Centenario. The “Vinotinto” was living a terrible sports moment, with mediocre results in the South American qualifying round to go to Russia’s World Cup, in 2018; moreover, the team final had a new coach. On the other, Venezuela was included in a complicated group, against two favorite teams: Mexico and Uruguay.
The truth is that the Vinotinto, headed by Rafael Dudamel, became the greatest revelation of the event, since it was unbeaten in the round, with two wins, against Jamaica, with Josef Martinez’s goal, and Uruguay, with Salomon Rondon’s score, plus a tie with Mexico. This outcome helped it finish second in the group and, therefore, it’ll be facing Argentina on Saturday 18th, at Boston’s Gillete Stadium. The Argentinean team is the favorite, but Venezuela has nothing to lose and it has shown its great defense.
Beautiful and Gorgeous Mexico
Mexico has attracted most of the eyes during the tournament. In a country where 40 million people are linked to Mexico, it was easy to foresee that the Tricolor team would be surrounded by passion and plenty stadiums. The forecasts were right.
The games played by Mexico attracted most of the people and the team, coached by Juan Carlos Osorio, delivered a great game and led the group.
The Mexican team defeated Uruguay 3-1, left Jamaica behind and had to do its best to draw level with Venezuela. In quarterfinals, the team is scheduled to play against Chile, the present champion of the Cup. It’s not hard to predict that the Levi’s Stadium of Santa Clara, in California, will be crowded.
THUMBS DOWN FOR BRAZIL AND URUGUAY
Brazil and Uruguay were described as favorites to fight for the title, but both teams were surprisingly eliminated in the first stage. Both teams showed low performance, missing their star players. Uruguayan Luis Suarez couldn’t recover from the injure suffered during the final of the King’s Cup in Spain, with Barcelona; while Neymar Jr. wasn’t given permission to play in this event and the Olympic Games of Rio de Janeiro. Since Brazil has never won an Olympic title —that’s the only one missing in the country’s shelf—, Neymar decided to play for his public and be just a viewer in Copa América Centenario.
Uruguay was defeated in the first two games, against Mexico and Venezuela, so it returned home before schedule. Since the 1997 edition, that team had never been eliminated in the group stage. Suarez wasn’t on the field —which made Barcelona happy—, but there wasn’t much to be done by his teammates. The farewell with a 3 – 0 triumph against Jamaica meant nothing. Perhaps the only element to be highlighted in the team with the highest number of titles in the Copa América (15) was the world record matched by Oscar Washington Tabares, who reached 167 games with the Uruguayan national team, in ten years, thus equaling German Sepp Herberger.
Brazil, even without Neymar, seemed to have a strong lineup to make it to the quarterfinals, at least. Dunga’s players kicked off and closed the event in the wrong way. They finished 0-0 with Ecuador in the debut game and, some days later, gave a beating to the weakest team in the tournament, Haiti, 7 – 1. People said that “the best Brazilian game was back”; however, when the qualification was at stake, against Peru, the team was down again. Raul Ruidiaz’s goal shouldn’t have been validated, since his hand clearly played the leading role, but the five-time champion team didn’t react.
It was the first time, since 1987, that Brazil was put out in the group stage of the Copa América. This disastrous outcome demanded a scapegoat and coach Dunga paid the price. We’ll see what the new head coach can do, 50 days before the beginning of the Olympic Games.
United States vs Ecuador (June 16, CenturyLink Field, Seattle)
Peru vs Colombia (June 17, East Rutherford, New Jersey)
Argentina vs Venezuela (June 18, Gillete Stadium, Boston)
Mexico vs Chile (June 18, Santa Clara, California)