The third set of match days of the controversial Copa America in Brazil have concluded. Coronavirus cases continue to rise within the event, but the matches roll on at empty stadiums across the country.
Bolivia and hosts Brazil sat out this round of fixtures, but there was still action aplenty. Venezuela rallied twice in thrilling 2-2 draw with Ecuador, while Colombia blundered against Peru in a 2-1 loss. Chile also suffered a lapse in a 1-1 draw with Uruguay, while Argentina eased past Paraguay 1-0 on a record-equalling night for Lionel Messi.
ESPN looks back at the action from the oldest international tournament in the world.
– Copa America bracket, fixtures schedule
– Why is the Copa back in Brazil? All you need to know
At last a goal for Uruguay!
Last November Uruguay won 3-0 away to Colombia in World Cup qualification, and everything seemed right in their garden. Statistically the best South American team at the 2018 World Cup, they still had the duo of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani firing together up front, plus a generation of young and talented midfielders. What could go wrong?
Surprisingly, the goals dried up. There were none in the next game against Brazil, none in two more World Cup qualifiers earlier this month, and none in their Copa debut, Friday’s 1-0 defeat to Argentina.
A fifth consecutive shutout would be unprecedented. The team badly needed to get on the scoresheet against Chile — all the more so when Eduardo Vargas gave La Roja the lead with their first attack of note half way through the first half.
For this match veteran coach Oscar Washington Tabarez gave a recall to playmaker Giorgian De Arrascaeta. Around the squad for nearly seven years, De Arrascaeta has yet to make a big impression, though his subtle skills are a vital part of Brazil’s all-conquering Flamengo side.
In part his problem is Uruguay’s 4-4-2, with that pair of great strikers up top. De Arrascaeta is not a winger. Lacking the pace for a wide midfield role, he prefers to drift in towards the centre. Uruguay tried to give him his wish. Federico Valverde used his dynamism to break right from the centre of midfield, allowing De Arrascaeta to move infield.
There was some early promise against Chile, but no end product. The 4-4-2 clearly did not work. With Diego Godin in the heart of the defence, the team find it hard to press up, and the full-backs do not supply enough attacking threat.
Come half-time Tabarez had a rethink, emerging after the break with three at the back and wing-backs pushed higher. He hoped it might give De Arrascaeta a platform, but soon changed his mind. Before the hour mark, the Flamengo schemer gave way to young Facundo Torres of Penarol, the new sensation of the domestic Uruguayan game.
Torres, full of bright and bold left-footed dribbling, made an immediate impact, both winning and taking the corner that was flicked on for Suarez to fire off Chile’s Arturo Vidal and into the roof of the net at the far post. At last Uruguay had a goal — an own goal, but a goal all the same. And come the end of the match they should have had more. At least they had got on the scoresheet, and Tabarez will have a clearer head about the best way to set up his side for the next match, Thursday’s meeting with Bolivia, when Uruguay will expect to fill their boots.
A win there will almost certainly be good enough to take Uruguay through to the quarterfinals, where an entirely different competition kicks off. Now they have ended their drought there will be less pressure to score and more importance on keeping a clean sheet. And this might work to Uruguay’s advantage.
The inconsistency of youth
Last November, young Ecuador winger Gonzalo Plata scored a wonderful goal against Colombia in World Cup qualification, and celebrated by taking off his shirt and swirling it around his head. This, of course, is a yellow card offence. Plata already had a yellow card, and so off he went. He could be filed under “promising but infuriating.”
Team coach Gustavo Alfaro doubtless has him filed under the same headings after Sunday`s 2-2 draw with Venezuela.
Plata came off the bench to put his side 2-1 up with a wonderful solo goal. He picked up the ball deep in his own half following a Venezuelan corner, and he ran. It was Forrest Gump with a brain, with footballing technique and with an excellent change of rhythm. Plata surged away from his pursuers, charged behind the defensive line, forced a save from Wuilker Farinez in the Venezuelan goal and was on hand to coolly slip home a shot when the ball broke back to him.
It was a goal well worthy of winning a match, and it would have done so had Plata not lost concentration at a vital moment. As the left winger, it was his job to track the forward runs of Ronald Hernandez, Venezuela’s right wing-back. But Plata switched off, and Hernandez ran behind him to meet a superb long pass from Edson Castillo and head home an unlikely stoppage-time equaliser.
In the space of a few minutes Plata had once more showcased the glaring inconsistencies of youth. The fact that he held his hand up and confessed his mistake can be seen as evidence for the view that such inconsistency will not last forever.
Back to the future for Argentina
Lionel Messi was reunited with Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria for Argentina’s game against Paraguay. And the trio, who have been in harness together for over a decade, were joined by Alejandro Gomez, who scored the only goal of the game.
Once more Lionel Scaloni’s side got off to a fast start. Messi and Di Maria combined for the goal, one setting up the other for a ball that was met by a run across the box from Gomez and a cute chip over the keeper. Full of movement and options, the move was Argentina at their best. Once again they could not sustain their impressive start, but, for the second game running they kept a clean sheet.
Playing Gomez plus the front three was a possibility because Scaloni tweaked his usual 4-3-3. Holding midfielder Guido Rodriguez had come in for the previous match in place of Leandro Paredes. After topping a sound performance last time out with the only goal, Rodriguez had to stay in. This time he operated alongside Paredes in a 4-2-3-1, in which Di Maria and Gomez worked the flanks.
Defensively this presented a challenge, because Paraguay had the option of playing outside the two Argentina midfielders. Miguel Almiron was used wide on the left for this very reason, and Argentina’s rookie right-back Nahuel Molina was stretched at times. But the defence held firm, and Argentina come out of the game with another win and another clean sheet. Options are increasing and confidence is rising as the knockout phase looms.