Friday, June 29, 2007

Copa America Group C Round-Up: Paraguay v. Colombia (5-0); Argentina v. United States (4-1)

Okay, that title is a little misleading, since we didn't see much of the Paraguay v. Colombia match--we must, after all, sometimes stop watching soccer long enough to earn the money to pay for our outrageous soccer-induced cable bill--but I did want to acknowledge that another match was played yesterday and damn, that was a shock, after checking the score at 2-0, to go back and see it at 5-0. Poor Colombia. I don't ever enjoy seeing a team get thrashed like that (well, maybe Seattle, at the feet of the Timbers). More on that embarrassing outing for the Colombians here.

The prospect of the Argentina v US match left me feeling a little bit schizoid. I make no secret of my love for the Argentines, but I generally wish the US team well--even when, as in yesterday's match, I don't actually want them to win. There didn't seem much danger of that, given the young and largely untested team Bob Bradley had chosen. I was initially as peeved with his choices as plenty of other US fans, because I really believe it's important for the US to participate in more challenging competitions than those within the CONCACAF region and a look at the roster suggested that the US might not be taking this as seriously as one might hope. However, I cooled down a bit once I realized that Bradley was hampered MLS demands, the need to give our European players something of a rest, and by the timing of the Gold Cup. So I looked on the bright side: this would undoubtedly be good experience for some fresh young players and perhaps a new opportunity for a rising star. In the match against Argentina, I hoped for a good showing from the US with a lot of goals. Optimistically--reflecting my hopes rather than my real expectations--I predicted 3-2 Argentina.

Well, I did get the total number of goals right. Like Linda over at The Beautiful Game, I thought the US played well in the first half and overall not poorly at all, given their inexperience. I don't know if it was due to the nearly-100 degree temperatures, but I was pleased to see them at a slower, smoother, more methodical pace, and I did not miss the chop-down-the-opponent defensive tactics of Oguchi Onyewu. About five minutes in, Jimmy Conrad cleared a Messi cross to Crespo that would surely have started Argentina out ahead, and a few minutes later Eddie Johnson--who looked particularly good in the first half--broke out with one of those long fantastic runs we see from Landon Donovan sometimes, when he can be bothered. The foul against him in the penalty box as Ayala and Milito closed in on him was precisely the kind that annoys me as a spectator, because it shut down what looked as though it was going to be an impressive goal. Johnson scored on his penalty and, according to the announcers, the largely Venezuelan crowd was cheering for the US squad. If that is in fact the case, then take that, you pesky squabbling governments! Soccer unites the people!

Johnson's penalty, alas, would be it for the US, although they kept me pretty worried through the first half and the beginning of the second. "Send in Tevez!" I screamed over and over at Basile, as the scoreline seemed stalled at 1-1 following Crespo's goal in the 10th minute. Benny Feilhaber had a couple of nice attempts, a good low shot in a 32nd minute free kick that went wide and a strong shot in first half stoppage time. But the Argentines were dancing in triangles around the US from the very beginning, and then they came out with an urgency in the second half that they hadn't displayed in the first, which allowed me to finally relax into the game.

In the second half, Argentina looked like Argentina and the US looked, well, a bit lost. There were more goals: another for Crespo, and one each for Aimar (who blasted one in out of nowhere in the 33rd minute) and Tevez (who is a beautiful, beautiful man when he scores a goal). Irrelevantly, I note that I am sorry to see Cambiasso with a cueball head, as I always liked the way his balding head somehow made him look less like a football player than a banker who'd donned a kit and wandered onto the pitch. I am sorry there was not a goal for Messi, who looked increasingly frustrated and stymied by the US defense and was eventually subbed out. I am still undecided on Basile. Though it all turned out well in the end, I think he should have put Tevez in earlier, when it looked as though Argentina might be stuck at that 1-1 scoreline. Moreover, his reluctance to even stand up when Argentina struck the ball in the net in caused me to ask Derek "Did Basile have a stroke or something?" I much prefer a manager with more visible enthusiasm for his own squad.

All in all, an enjoyable match, and until the final Tevez goal, not an embarrassment for the US. And a 3-goal differential is hard to take, but let's face it: it could have been a beatdown, and it wasn't. I didn't see enough of Paraguay or Colombia to make a prediction about whether the US will get out of this group or not, but this drubbing may encourage them to step up their game in subsequent matches.


Copa America Blog said...

Paraguay played very strong. The US needs a strong 90 minute effort to get get some points, and then beat Colombia to assure moving to the next round.

Lynda said...

Very interesting--I wonder, then, if this US squad is capable of putting in a fully focused 90. They seemed tired in the second half of this game.

linda said...

Basile's starting to grow on me. The substitution of Aimar for Cambiasso was exactly right and worked so well. Plus, as someone pointed out, it's the antithesis of Pekerman subbing out Riquelme for Cambiasso in Germany, a move which still pains me today.

Anybody who has the guts to use 4 playmakers (Roman-Aimar-Veron-Messi) at the same time, I'm going to warm to. Even if he refuses to get out of his chair to celebrate goals. :D

johnny said...

I prefer Coco's relaxed approach when we score to say, Morinho's. I always get the feeling that Morinho is upstaging his players and drawing attention to himself. Tranquilo Coco !

Lynda said...

Linda: If Argentina continues to play like they did against the US, I think Basile will probably grow on me too.

And Johnny: I was thinking more the spontaneous joy of Alan Pardew than Mourinho (who I think I saw smile exactly once last season) but I like your spin on it: he is tranquil! That works for me.