Can These Guays Win the Copa América?
Jobu discusses Uruguay’s chances in the 2011 Copa América tournament.
Wednesday night, Paraguay beat Venezuela in penalty kicks and advanced to the finals of the Copa América to face none other than my own home country, Uruguay (¡¡Arríba la Celeste, carajo!!). Needless to say, I’m excited about watching this game on Sunday afternoon, and so is my brother, my dad, my aunts and uncles, some family friends, my cousins and about 3.5 million other Uruguayans. So why should you give a crap?
I know Americans are predisposed to not caring about fútbol. It’s slow, it’s boring, there’s no goals, players fall down too much and the shorts are too short… or whatever the reason the sport hasn’t caught quite caught on in this country may be. Also, you probably don’t give care about Copa América because the USA isn’t playing in it, which is hard to argue with. If Uruguay or the US weren’t in the tournament, I probably wouldn’t watch it, as those are the two teams i root for. Anyway this is just a brief introduction to the Copa América. Those of you who do follow soccer will appreciate it, and those of you who don’t might become inspired to watch the finals this Sunday at 3 PM (solamente en Univisión!).
A little Background About the Copa América
The Copa has been around for nearly 100 years, and has become the definitive way of figuring out just who the best team in South America is. The first of what would come to be known as the Copa América was held in Argentina in 1916 and included just four teams (Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Chile). Argentina put the tournament together to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its independence. Fittingly, and to the chagrin of the host nation I’m sure, the tournament was won by Uruguay (you’ll notice I don’t like Argentina). The success of this tournament led to another, and another and another, until it became a yearly fixture (when political strife wasn’t derailing things). That soon changed to every two years, then every three years and today the tournament is held every four years, just like the World Cup.
The tournament today is different from the original in many ways. It is now made up of twelve teams. Ten of them are the members of CONMEBOL (The South American Fútbol Conference). The other two teams are personally invited by the tournament committee. Usually, those teams come from the CONCACAF (the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Fútbol), with Mexico being one common invitee, but teams as far away as Japan have been invited as well. The USA was one of the invitees in 2007.
Like the World Cup, the Copa América tournament consists of a round-robin style group stage, then the quarter and semi finals, and the finals. Each team plays three games in the group stage (one against each of the other members of the group). Each win is worth three points, each tie is one point and a loss is a big fat zero. The top two teams of each group move on to the knockout stages along with the two best third place teams from any group (think wild card spots in MLB and NFL). After that, it works like a regular single elimination tournament, until a winner is crowned (or cupped I guess).
The Part Where I Make Fun of Argentina a Little
There have been many Copa América (and the other names the tournament has gone by) champions in the 95 years since it’s inception. Uruguay and Argentina have each won fourteen of the forty-two tournaments (of course we’re tied with them), Brazil has won eight, and the other six are split among Paraguay, Colombia, Bolivia and Peru. Despite clearly dominating this tournament throughout its history, Argentina (1993) and Uruguay (1995) haven’t hoisted the cup in a very long time. Uruguayan goalie Fernando Muslera (actually born in Argentina) made sure that the Argentínos will go at least twenty-two years without a title when he carried “La Celeste” (the sky blue — and don’t pronounce it like the Pizza lady‘s name) to a penalty kick victory last Saturday in the quarter-finals. From my standpoint, that was pretty effin’ great. It’s even better than when we made it to the final four of the World Cup and Argentina got knocked out in the quarter-finals by zse Germans (lo siento, Argentínos)!
This Year’s Finalists: Who are These F•ckin’ Guays?
It seems, I have digressed. Anyway… This year’s final, as I have stated previously, features Uruguay trying to win a record 15th Copa América against Paraguay, which is trying to win its third championship. These teams took slightly different routes to get to where they will be on Sunday. Uruguay made it through the group stage on the strength of two ties (1-1 vs Peru and 1-1 vs Chile) and a victory over Mexico (apologies to my girlfriend). As previously stated, they then beat Argentina in penalty kicks (hee heeee!), ousting the host nation in the quarter-finals (at least the trip home was short, right?). Finally, they rode that momentum to a dominant 2-0 victory over Peru in the semi-finals.
Paraguay, on the other hand, hasn’t won a game the entire tournament… not outright anyway. They snuck through the group stage as the 2nd of the two third place teams that advanced (kind of like the wild card) on the heels on three ties (0-0 vs Ecuador, 2-2 vs Brazil and 3-3 vs Venezuela). In the quarter-finals, they knocked out another fútbol Superpower, Brazil (after a 0-0 finish), in penalty kicks. Brazil actually really beat themselves, missing the first four penalty kicks they attempted, which is pretty unprecedented for a team of that stature. Another 0-0 score at the end of regulation led to Paraguay’s penalty kicks defeat of Venezuela in the semi-finals. That’s how you make the finals of a tournament without actually really winning any games. Congratulations, Paraguay.
Who’s Gonna Hoist the Cup on Sunday?
We all know who I’m rooting for on Sunday (I might wear all three of my jerseys at the same time), but I am capable of providing an unbiased analysis for the sake of my readers. When you look at both teams’ performances in this tournament, and with what Uruguay did last summer in the World Cup with virtually the same team, it’s hard to argue making Uruguay the favorite here. They got off to a slow start in the group stage but, beginning with their defeat of Mexico in the final game of stage play, they have played very strong defense. The fact that they have two game changers like Diego Forlán (despite his less than stellar performance in this cup so far) and Luis Suárez (also pictured at the top) gives Uruguay the offensive power also required to win. They are missing injured striker Edinson Cavani (one of Italy’s Serie A’s leading scorers), but have been almost the entire tournament, so this shouldn’t affect things. For the finals they will be getting mid-fielder Diego “El Ruso” Pérez (suspension) back as well, which should help greatly.
I’m not gonna lie, I had to research Paraguay to see what they were really all about. They haven’t scored a goal in either of the knockout games, but they also haven’t allowed any either. This speaks volumes not only for their defense, but for their goal keeper as well. As great as Muslera was against Argentina (lo siento, Argentínos hee hee!) Paraguayan net minder Justo Villar is also playing extremely well of late. From watching highlights on the official Copa América 2011 youtube channel, it seems that the last two games could have easily gone the other way if not for Villar’s play (especially vs Brazil). Luckily, for Paraguay, they did not go the other way. Paraguay’s strikers (forever missing Salvador Cabañas, shot in the head in a barroom brawl in January 2010) haven’t managed to put one in the net the last two games, but they did score five goals in the last two games of the group stages, so it’s not as if they don’t know how to score.
Final Predictions and Thoughts:
In the end, I truly think that Uruguay will win the 2011 Copa América final. Simply put, they’re a better team who have played better in the tournament, Forlán is too good to continue his goal drought, and Suárez is the best player in South America right now (lo siento, Messi, winning counts). That being said, I think this will be a close, defensively minded game and the first team to blink will lose. There have been no guarantees in this year’s tournament, and the finals will be no different. I mean, who would have thought Brazil and Argentina would both be knocked out in the quarter-finals? This year’s tournament has been wide open ever since, and it will remain so until the final whistle… or until the final penalty kick maybe? Whoever does win, at least Uruguay has continued to solidify its resurgent reputation in South American fútbol. Also, we crushed Argentina’s hopes of a championship for another four years. Everything else is just the icing.
¡Arriba la Celeste!
Suarez image courtesy of: http://www.thehardtackle.com
Copa América image courtesy of: LUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images
Messi image courtesy of: http://lionelmessifan.com
Villar image courtesy of: http://www.sgbet7.com