After 13 days of group stage action in Brazil, which featured a mixed bag of quality and entertainment, Copa America is finally ready for the quarterfinal stage and the promise of knockout, go-big-or-go-home South American drama.
Make no mistake about it: this is when the tournament truly begins.
Before the start of the competition, based on how these nations were playing, the consensus was that every team had vulnerabilities. Looking at the final eight standing, the sentiment remains.
That’s not to say there aren't teams that look better than others, though.
After a slow start, Brazil provided moments of true brilliance in its 5-0 demolition of Peru, and Carlos Queiroz’s Colombia impressed after winning all of its group matches without conceding a goal. The fact remains, though, that no one looks invincible. The 46th edition of Copa America is there for the taking.
Take a closer look at each quarterfinal matchup:
Brazil vs. Paraguay
Thursday, 8:30 p.m. ET; Arena do Gremio, Porto Alegre
As previously mentioned, Brazil failed to dazzle in its first two matches, but against Peru, the beauty of Brazilian flair and offensive creativity was on display. Quite simply, Joga Bonito resurfaced. The good news for the Seleção is that this squad is now utilizing all of its weapons, as scoring opportunities are coming from everywhere. Everton Soares, probably the young player of tournament so far, has been fantastic on the left wing, as the 23-year-old attacker has caused havoc, both as a provider and goal scorer. It will be a shock if he doesn’t move to Europe from Gremio in July. But the man who is truly indispensable at the moment is Barcelona’s Arthur, playing the role of architect in the midfield. Coach Tite will have to figure out who will protect his playmaking midfielder after Casemiro will miss this match due to suspension.
Paraguay, meanwhile, should feel extremely lucky it even made it this far as it only gained two points in the group stage. Thanks to Japan’s draw with Ecuador, though, it managed to squeeze through as the second third-place finisher. There’s much grit and determination with Paraguay, and in Derlis Gonzalez and Miguel Almiron there have been some bright attacking moments, but against an in-form Brazil, it’s difficult to see where the goals will come from.
Venezuela vs. Argentina
Friday, 3 p.m. ET; Estadio do Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro
As mentioned in our pre-tournament power rankings, Venezuela has grown in strength and confidence over the last two years, and Rafael Dudamel’s side is not only talented, but it’s defensively disciplined, having only conceded one goal in a group stage in which it went unbeaten. The 4-5-1 formation is not only effective in order to get the best out of the always-impressive Salomon Rondon, but it also produces a resilient midfield, able to contain its opponent’s most creative players.
As for Argentina, the victory against Qatar was more about getting the job done as opposed to proving doubters wrong as Lionel Scaloni’s side still struggles to provide any kind of fluidity, especially in the midfield. With Lionel Messi, one should never take this side for granted, but don’t be surprised if Venezuela frustrates La Albiceleste once again, just like it did in a friendly back in March, when La Vinotinto came out victorious. If Argentina does advance–in the stadium where its 2014 World Cup dream ended in the final–then a tantalizing semifinal showdown vs. rival Brazil could be next.
Colombia vs. Chile
Friday, 7 p.m. ET; Arena Corinthians, Sao Paulo
Out of any nation in the final eight, Reinaldo Rueda’s Chile has been the nation that has surprised the most. This was supposed to be the tournament where La Roja, winners of the last two Copa America tournaments, would press the reset button with a transitional squad. Scratch that. It’s been the familiar faces of Arturo Vidal, Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas taking center stage in the tournament. Rueda, a Colombian, knows too well what it takes to manage its opponent, having managed the U-20 and senior team between 2002 and 2006. And he will also be aware that Colombia hasn’t forgotten its 2-0 loss to Chile in the semifinal stage of 2016’s Copa America Centenario.
Chile will aim to be physical against its opponent, reduce the number of crosses and narrow the field, looking to disrupt the wide play. But this strategy is easier said than done, because this Colombian side is extremely dangerous and, most importantly, it’s deep. Only Juan Cuadrado has started all three matches, as Queiroz is a firm believer in creating unity and cohesion amongst every member of the team. But for all the offensive firepower, the Portuguese manager has brought something new: organization. When Colombia doesn’t have the ball, it looks confident and assured of its shape, and that could be the difference as it enters the knockout stage.
Uruguay vs. Peru
Saturday, 3 p.m. ET; Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador
After beating Chile 1-0 Monday and winning its group, Uruguay enters this matchup with familiar confidence. Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Seattle Sounders star Nicolas Lodeiro have been in good form, scoring a combined five goals in the group stage. There have been, however, lapses of concentration, as its 2-2 result against a very young Japanese side highlighted question marks at the back. Uruguay is strong, but it’s not indestructible.
Uruguay manager Oscar Tabarez knows that his team’s strongest asset, its mentality, is the one characteristic that’s missing from Peru. The 5-0 loss to Brazil was a perfect example of how Ricardo Gareca’s side breaks down under pressure. If Peru has any chance of winning this game, it has to equal Uruguay’s tenacity and do-or-die approach. Changes to the squad will have to be made, as Jefferson Farfan left the tournament due to a knee injury that required immediate treatment. After failing to impress in training and dealing with disciplinary issues, Andre Carrillo has not started for La Blanquirroja so far in the competition, but the winger now has a great chance to prove to his manager that he is the one that can help his team reach the final four.