Friday, 15 July 2011

La Copa begins in earnest

The results are in. With the group stage over, you have had a day to catch your breath, sip your mate and take in the best Argentina has to offer. For Man On! it was more a case of having a night off,  picking our brains for something to write and sorting out our ticket to the final. I’m sure you will be relieved to hear that, after some gruelling hard work, all three of these goals have been achieved. 

The first week of the Copa was hardly rollercoaster stuff. You don’t need your finger particularly firmly on the pulse to have noticed that favourites have underperformed, centre-forwards and their goals have gone AWOL and that the most over-quoted stat of the last fortnight involves Venezuela, Copa America wins and Miss Universe competitions. In fact, the lack of action was so stark that we bet that not all of you were still paying attention when late flurry of goals, slightly more befitting of South America’s football showpiece, finally arrived. With this in mind, Man On! is proud to bring you up to speed on what’s happened so far and what to expect in the coming weeks. First, to Saturday’s quarterfinals…

Some reports would have you believe that Colombia topped Group A purely because of some terrible performances from Argentina. Although based in fact, this fails to tell the entire story. Of course, victories against perennial minnows Bolivia and a ten-man, predominantly under-23 Costa Rica do not justify hyperbolic praise. However, against the tournament hosts Colombia posed a real and dangerous threat and only failed to win for the grace of a man of the match performance from goalkeeper Sergio Romero. With Radamel Falcao leading the line after a prolific season at Porto (39 goals in 42 games), Colombia should be seen as a side capable of taking advantage if the favourites continue to slip up.

In Cordoba, their opponents will be Peru, who qualified for the quarterfinals as the best third-placed side from the group stages. Under Uruguayan coach Sergio Markarián they play an expansive, attacking brand of football. However, they are certainly over-reliant on Hamburg’s Paolo Guerrero, scorer of both their goals in the Copa thus far. La Rojiblanca are certainly capable of springing a surprise, but also of a late defensive lapse and of poor marking from set-pieces, as seen against Chile in Mendoza. 

Quarterfinal prediction: Colombia 3-1 Peru

Saturday’s other game sees the return to action of the hosts, Argentina. After well-publicised no shows against Bolivia and Colombia their array of attacking talent rediscovered their touch versus Costa Rica. Batista changed his formation to what was effectively a 4-2-3-1, and we finally got a glimpse of the Lionel Messi that we all know and love. Equally significant was the introduction of Gonzalo Higuain to the starting line-up. Despite missing most of the chances that Messi laid on a plate for him, he successfully dragged defenders out of position and open up plenty of space for the three behind him to play into. Presuming that the much-maligned Batista sticks with his new improved game-plan, you can expect to see Argentina firing on all cylinders again on Saturday.

Just over the Rio de la Plata await Argentina’s fierce rivals Uruguay. Man On! was lucky enough to be in La Plata for their nervier-than-necessary win over Mexico and can confirm that La Celeste are indeed yet to find the form that saw them reach the World Cup semifinals last summer. Diego Forlan seems to be carrying an indifferent season with Atletico over into this tournament, and Luis Suarez continues to perform better at club level than on the international stage. However, even without their attacking powerhouses playing as they can, organised at the back they certainly are. If, as rumoured, Cavani is out for el clásico rioplatense then chances might be at a premium, but Uruguay can normally rely on a stable defensive unit. Versus Mexico, Egidio Arévalo looked particularly controlled sweeping up in front of the back four.

Quarterfinal prediction: Argentina 1-0 Uruguay, and expect fireworks.

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