Sunday, 31 July 2011

Kevin Leonard's Copa America 2011 Review

The Football Front’s senior writer, Kevin Leonard reviews this year’s Copa America.

Some nations were unlucky this summer. Some had goalkeepers that couldn’t handle a simple shot fired at them, while some teams couldn’t finish a game with 11 men and some had the World’s best player and just couldn’t seem to beat Bolivia.

This tournament will be remembered for it’s upsets rather than the traditional exciting South American football which we are accustom to. However, the tournament was still very enjoyable, but perhaps it was not worth staying up until dawn at times. But that is the kind of guy I am. I watch South American football until 5 in the morning so YOU don’t have to.

Here is the 11 that mainly stood out:

Goalkeeper: Justo Villar (Paraguay)

Defence: Maxi Perreira (Uruguay), Antolìn Alcaraz (Paraguay), Oswaldo Vizcorrondo (Venezuela), Alvaro Perreira (Uruguay).

Midfield: Luis Manuel Seijas (Venezuela), Fernando Gago (Argentina), William Chiroque (Peru)

Forwards: Luis Suarez (Uruguay), Jose Pablo Guerrero (Peru), Juan Manuel Vargas (Peru)

Some of you may recall Paraguay in the World Cup a year ago. In particular the LONG match against the Japanese. Paraguay's dull dish water tactics worked so well for them in South Africa. So it's no surprise they decided to stick with similar tactics in this year's Copa Amercia. In return, they managed to reach a Cup final without winning a game which was both abysmal and spectacular at the same time.

Personally I don’t put this feat down to any tactical genius from Paraguay's manager Gerardo Martino but credit it more to Villar and Alcaraz. Villar produced many memorable saves, none more so than his close range parry against Brazil in the quarter final. While Alcaraz makes the team because he was far more potent in front of goal than any of his strikers were! The Wigan defender scored a nice Premiership style scrappy goal in the amazing match featuring Paraguay and Venezuela. (They drew 3-3)

The Venezuelans have gone from whipping boys to 4th best in South America in the space of 5 years. They’re two central midfielders Seijas and Rincon could have held hands throughout the entire tournament as they kept so close together. They made the team into a defensive dynamo, emulating everyone’s favourite National team Greece. Rincon would have made the 11 of the Copa XI had he managed not to get sent off twice.

Vizcorrondo stood out for both his outrageous curly hair and excellent defending in the centre of the Venezuelan defence. He got himself on the score sheet too with a wonderful headed goal against Chile.

The host nation Argentina were largely sub standard as a team, with the 3-0 win over Costa Rica as an exception. Although, Fernando Gago stood out and reminded us of the kind of player he is. A player truly wasted on Real Madrid’s bench and would be a superb buy for any top European club.

The other zero to hero nation of the tournament was Peru. They were both terrible and fantastic depending on which side of the pitch the ball was on. Whilst the right lived up to traditional Peruvian standards, their left hand side was devastating to the opposition. Vargas, their best known player. captained the side and galloped up the left wing to create and score the goals that help Peru advance to the semi finals. Once there, after Suarez’s double, a Uruguay win looked so certain that Vargas decided to elbow an opponent in the face directly in front of the referee. At this stage of the Copa red cards had become a skill rather than an offence to be fair.

Not many games had 3 goals in them so it is no doubt a testament to the under rated talent of Jose Guerrero that he managed 3 in one game. His 3 goals made Peru the 3rd place winners. Perhaps its a title which is condescendingly over looked in most tournaments but Peru won’t care too much about that.

The other player who scored in that match was William Chiroque. A player who richly deserved a goal for his performances throughout the competition.

It's clear the entire Uruguayan team could have easily been named as the best 11. Players I didn’t list like captain Diego Lugano fought valiantly in every match. While, Diego Forlan has become the third generation of his family to win the Copa America. The tournament also saw him become Uruguay’s joint all time top scorer.

Uruguay perhaps participated in the best game of the Copa in the quarter finals against Argentina. Certainly out of all the 11 red cards of the competition Diego Perez’s was the funniest. Perez committed a yellow card offence by hauling a player down, later in the game he scored his first international goal and did the exact same thing he was booked for in the first place. All in the space of 39 minutes, a period of time which summed him and Uruguay up perfectly.

Uruguay can also can claim to have the funniest quote of Copa 2011. Sebastian Abreu said aftter Diego Lugano won the fair play award. “To give him [Lugano] the fair play award is like giving the Nobel peace prize to Bin Laden.”

The Uruguayans have shown that physical football can be mixed with skill, technique and humour. The Perreira full backs (no relation) and Luis Suarez personified this approach with their performances and in particular their work ethic.

But we can’t go praising the likes or Uruguay, Peru and Venezuela without having a good chuckle at Argentina and Brazil. The hosts, Argentina struggled to get draws against Bolivia and Colombia and after what should have been a turning point 3-0 victory over Costa Rica, they failed to beat a Uruguayan side who were down to 10 men from the 39th minute onwards.

Sergio Batista never really found the best formula to get the best out Argentina’s immense individual talents but thankfully for him it is no longer his concern.

The Argentine FA have now sacked him.

Brazil were by no means embarrassed at the 2011 Copa. Their own opening day draw with Venezuela was the result of a very dedicated and well organised Venezuelan side, who were quite happy with a 0-0.

The quarter final penalty shoot out with Paraguay caused a few blushes. 4 Brazilian penalties were saved. Brazil made England look like penalty shoot out masters. Brazil can honestly say they have done it all in World football. Perhaps those FIFA World rankings were accurate after all?

On a final note, it is fair to say this Copa was not the most aesthetically pleasing. There was not a collection of amazing volleys or mesmerising matches. But the gap between top and bottom has decreased. Peru and Venezuela were both in the bottom 3 of the qualification table for the last World Cup. While 2 years on they are 3rd and 4th respectively in the Copa. They have improved while Argentina and Brazil appear to be on a downward slope.

With Brazil already qualified for the 2014 World Cup, as hosts, this means there is a massive chance for Peru and Venezuela to make a strong crack at the 2014 World Cup.

South America just got very interesting.

You can follow Kevin on his Twitter - @megatronSTALIN, Kevin regularly writes for Away Goals too.

Things you may like to read

The Eternal Struggle

Why more English players should play abroad

Are some players given the captaincy for the wrong reasons?

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