Uruguay's momentum, Paraguay's bumpy road, more Copa America
Going into the Copa America, we posed questions about the campaigns of the 10 South American sides. Now that the 43rd Copa America is history, we look back to find out if the tournament came up with the answers. (Listed from winners down to the teams eliminated in the group phase)
Uruguay began the tournament with Edinson Cavani alongside Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez in an attacking trident, plus left-footed playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro. Cavani was injured in the second game, which, for all his form and quality, turned out to be a blessing in disguise. His work rate and spirit of sacrifice made the front three possible. Without him, Tabarez was obliged to chose a more cautious formation, which soon became even more so. Replacing Lodeiro, he had a look at left-footed attacking midfielder Cristian Rodriguez -- but settled on a midfield made up of two central markers and a runner on either flank, thus ensuring his team was protected against the dangerous Peruvian counterattack in the semifinal, and that they could run Paraguay into despair in the decider. Long-term, the lack of midfield creativity will surely be an issue. But in this Copa, it was not a problem.
Over a decade of work is now paying off. Venezuela do not just have a team. They have a squad, and with graduates from the Under-20 ranks being fed into the process there is no reason why they should not keep the momentum going. At their best they were fast and fluid, and in his limited opportunities little left footed attacking midfielder Yohandri Orozco showed that he can be a key player in his country's future.
Perhaps a better question would have been this -- can Brazil play their way through packed defenses? The answer is not well enough This was identified as a problem by coach Mano Menezes when he took over a year ago, and will clearly be crucial to their hopes in 2014, when no one will leave themselves open to Brazil's lightning counter attack. The midfield passing was a disappointment, with Lucas Leiva not taking enough responsibility downfield, and Paulo Henrique Ganso not picking his options well higher up all of which made it hard to understand the rejection of Jadson after 45 promising minutes in the group game against Paraguay. Briefly, there was a partner for Ganso.
As we pointed out before the tournament, the lack of a target man striker was often a problem as well. There is plenty of work to be done before Brazil can think about winning the next World Cup on home soil.
Borghi's 3-4-1-2, dropping the defensive line deeper, is not a negative move. Indeed, it opens up more space for them to break at speed. But it does mean that when Chile commits fouls, they are doing so closer to their own goal -- and they really must, must, must learn how to defend against the high ball played into their box.
Coach Hernan Dario Gomez could certainly point to progress being made. His team was solid, with an interesting flexibility and changing of positions in the midfield. But there was no one like Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi, Neymar or Alexis Sanchez -- an individual talent who could suddenly take two defenders out of the game. Against Peru's organized defense, Colombia looked very stale.
There is hope on the horizon. Ecuador's Under-20s looked good at the start of this year in the South American Under-20 Championships, and it will be fascinating to watch their progress over the next few weeks in the World Youth Cup in Colombia.