Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Copa America Group A Round-up: Peru v Uruguay (3-0); Venezuela v Bolivia (2-2)

Christian telefascist Pat Robertson wants him assassinated. The US Government believe that he is an imminent threat to democracy in the Western hemisphere and that his greatest aim is to destabilize North America via "asymmetric warfare." Many US allies think he is simply crazy, a buffoon, a charlatan, a tyrant, a criminal, and a bad guy politician more akin to Tony Montana than that of a proper statesman. His name is Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela, and for the next 20 days he wants us all to enjoy how the former "Nothingland" hosts the 2007 Copa America.

The tournament, the oldest international competition in the world, features 12 teams (10 teams from South America and two invitees from somewhere up north; Mexico and the US this time around) in a standard group then knockout stage. I'm going to try my damnedest to watch all of the matches and blog about them... but I can't promise anything. But it's been a year since the World Cup and my bones, blood, and soul are primed for some kind of large scale tournament such as this, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.

The first match of the day was between Uruguay, a team I've been wanting to watch more closely, and Peru, a team that before today I knew nothing about. Uruguay, of course, have players like Diego Forlan (Villarreal), Diego Lugano (Fenerbahce and formerly of Sao Paulo) , Carlos Diogo (Zaragoza), Alvaro Recoba (Inter Milan) and a bunch of other players I was looking forward to seeing. Peru's team--well, like I said, I didn't really know anything about them going into this. But after today, I think they're serious about getting out of their group.

The match started out cautiously, methodically, and the passing from both teams was skillful and technical. It was just the way that I wanted it, so I slipped into its perfectly modulated rhythms and was ready to watch Uruguay take over--not that I was rooting for them exactly; but they were the clear favorites. Peru looked a little jittery in those opening stages, relying on good hard defense than any real desire to score, though in the 9th they did manage to slip a nice ball into the box that ultimately went somewhere else than its intended target. Uruguay, on the other foot, tested Peru's defense a bit more, but the throughballs and crosses aimed for a box-lurking Forlan were reckless, wasteful, and ultimately frustrating. There was an ambitious rush into the box by Peru's Claudio Pizarro (who was recently signed by Chelsea) but it would be another minute before the Inca Warriors would strike gold with a fantastic towering header by Miguel Villalta, whose subsequent goal celebration stunned us by how cool and almost calm it was. The Peruvian fans in the stands, though obviously happy, seemed strangely subdued also. Perhaps they just didn't want to get their hopes up.

Uruguay had plenty more chances before the end of the half. But the great crosses from Fabian Estoyanoff to Forlan went MIA. Peru scored again in the 32nd, but it was immediately flagged for an offside. Uruguay had another intrusive ball in the box in the 36th and another fine long blast toward goal in stoppage time, though that half-time whistle couldn't come fast enough. Surely Galeano's countrymen would turn things around in the second half....

Not on your life. Peru immediately attacked, sending Uruguay's Fabian Carini sailing and the ball ricocheting off of him. Forlan tried again a few moments later--the best attempt thus far for this wildly idiosyncratic player--but it also went nowhere. Uruguay looked a lot better in the second half and there was more urgency to their passing and shot selection. Peru clamped down defensively even more (earning some yellows in the process) and appeared as if they were going to just hold Uruguay to a 1-0 lead. Fortunately, Peru's Juan Carlos Marino thought he'd mix it up even more, scoring a monstrously good goal in the 69th. Ten minutes later, Paolo Guerrero added his own beautiful touch to the embarrassment being served up to Uruguay's defeated. Perhaps not official world killers, but Peru definitely displayed some smooth, silky killer finishing.

The next match was between Venezuela and Bolivia. Neither team is expected to get far in the tournament, though many give the nod to Venezuela to make it out of their group because they're the "home team," even though they haven't won a Copa American match in 40 years! Well, they didn't win one today, either. Despite Bolivia being branded the weakest team in the competition, they managed to come from behind twice (okay, one of the goals was a Venezuelan own goal, though I think the shot from DC United's Jaime Moreno would've gone in or Arce would have plucked it in since he almost got a touch on it anyway) to deservedly earn the draw. Overall it was a fairly good match, though there were moments of inertia, poor passing from both teams, and hurky-jerky defending, especially early on. Time and time again Bolivia's Moreno would provoke Venezuela's defenders with some crafty, intelligent maneuvers along the outside of the box. And as the game progressed into the second half, players on both sides grew more weary and Bolivia in particular started rocketing more and more speculative long range shots toward goal. Realistically, either team could have won it, but perhaps both sides were still a little traumatized after watching Chavez and Maradona aimlessly kick a football around the pitch for the opening ceremonies. I know I'll never wipe from my mind the image of that hideous track suit the Venezuelan president sported.

Next round of games: Ecuador v Chile and Brazil v Mexico. Check your listings!


linda said...

It's so good to have an international tournament to watch again. And so far we've had lots of excitement, which is always nice.

Vamos Argentina!

Derek said...

We're all very excited about the tournament and so far it's been excellent, especially today's games. Lovely, progressive, attacking football... and upsets!

I can't wait to watch Argentina and the US tomorrow. Vamos Argentina indeed!