Monday, July 04, 2011

Copa America 2011, first five games

The opening five games of Copa America have produced just five goals with three of the top teams held to draws. Hosts Argentina needed a late goal to salvage a 1-1 tie against Bolivia, while Brazil were without any bite or tactical ideas in their 0-0 draw with Venezuela and Uruguay drew 1-1 with Peru. Of the three top teams, Uruguay looked the most coherent although they had their slack moments in the first half when passes were wayward and the players lacked sharpness. Colombia have been the only team to register a win so far with a 1-0 result over a young Costa Rican team, reduced to 10 men for more than an hour of the game. Paraguay and Ecuador also drew blanks in the other game on Sunday night.

Jonathan Wilson has an insightful article as usual on Brazil & Argentina's shortcomings so far.

That fact, the way Brazil lost their way after half-time, is probably the biggest concern for Mano Menezes. In the first half Neymar was lively, if a little inclined to over-complicate; in the second he vanished. Ganso, in just his second appearance for the national team, struggled to make an impression, and seemed at times to be playing too far forward, so he was always receiving the ball under pressure. Pato, operating as a more orthodox No9 than might have been expected, was the pick of the forwards, one touch in taking down a long diagonal from Dani Alves quite sublime, but Robinho flickered to little effect.

Argentina had similar problems on Friday. Sergio Batista's talk of making Argentina play like Barcelona always seemed over-ambitious – trying to create the work of a decade in a fortnight – and so it proved. Lionel Messi may have played as he does for Barça, but it didn't matter, because Ezequiel Lavezzi, Carlos Tevez, Ever Banega and Esteban Cambiasso didn't play much like David Villa, Pedro, Andrés Iniesta and Xavi. Nor did – or can – Javier Zanetti and Marcos Rojo offer the sort of thrust from full-back provided by Dani Alves and Eric Abidal.

Batista criticised his team for becoming "too vertical" – a term, if not coined by Marcelo Bielsa then at least popularised by him, describing the tendency to head directly for goal, whether with long passes, dribbles or runs, rather than patiently building play. It usually suggests a lack of patience, a sense of anxiety, and Brazil could be said to have suffered the same problem (which isn't, of course, a million miles removed from a succession of England coaches lamenting the long-ball, headless-chicken tendency). Too many players tried to solve the problem individually, every dribble down a blind alley, every aimless cross, signifying a lack of faith in the team unit. That touches on a deeper issue – the growing gulf, both in terms of quality and entertainment, between club and international football.

All this means is the second round of the group games promise to be more urgent and interesting with Argentina taking on Colombia on Wed July 6th, Brazil going against Paraguay on Sat July 9th and Uruguay meeting Chile on Friday, July 8th.

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