COPA: All about flair

The games in COPA America are high-scoring because teams are like boxers who have their guard down most times in the fight. They are willing to get hit but they also make sure that they land a blow too.

Argentina's Erik Lamela (left) and Sergio Aguero have made the most of Messi's limited availability at the COPA.   -  AP

No matter what side of the alarm clock you’re staying awake these days, there’s top quality football beamed live on television which makes me appreciate the times we live in. But while my professional commitments on television have me talking about and following the EUROs rather intensely, I’m battling sleep to indulge in action from the South American continent. And I must say the COPA America is doing everything to make sure I don’t regret missing out on something I usually never compromise on — sleep.

 

At the time of writing this the four semifinalists have been decided and everyone’s taken rather contrasting routes to the last four. Hosts USA played out a thriller against Ecuador, going up 2-0 only to concede a little late and then stave off a siege on their goal to keep it 2-1. But Ecuador have only themselves to blame as Enner Valencia could have grabbed a hat-trick but for some shocking finishing. At this level you don’t really get too much as a striker and whatever little you do, you have to finish with precision.

The hosts didn’t have the best start to the tournament but after the 2-0 defeat to Colombia, a thumping 4-0 result against Costa Rica and then a 1-0 result over Paraguay took them out of the group stages. I’ll be honest when I tell you I don’t see them making the final but in football, the concept of the underdog is a diminishing one.

> Read: Bradley and co ready for semifinal clash with Messi

Colombia took the shoot-out route to the semis after Peru had one take saved and skied the other. The other two quarterfinals were absolutely one-sided affairs. Lionel Messi equalled Gabriel Batistuta’s goal-scoring record for Argentina, who overcame Venezuela 4-1. Messi, recovering from an injury, has had smaller roles than he would have liked in Argentina’s run this far. But it is pleasing to see the others step up. Aguero, Lavezzi, Lamela, Higuain are all players with ample class and they’re giving enough proof of it.

The most lop-sided and somewhat embarrassing quarterfinal was the one between Chile and Mexico. Though I am a huge Messi fan, it was this game that had my attention over the Argentina-Venezuela one. Sure, Chile were going in as favourites given they are the holders, but everyone expected El Tri to trade punch for punch. Instead it was one-way traffic. As defending champions, Chile needed to make a statement of intent and I don’t think there’s anything better than 7-0 for a warning.

Flicks, turns and beautiful football

It’s just an opinion, but I feel European football is spoken about and viewed too technically. So much is made out of formations and the results are most times crafted out of planned strategies. Games at the COPA are slightly more compromising on the rigid technicalities. The games are high-scoring because teams are like boxers who have their guard down most times in the fight. They are willing to get hit but they also make sure that they land a blow too.

They are happy letting each other play and this makes the brand of football easy on the eye. Don’t get me wrong, they are technical too but in a more free flowing way. They like to live life and that translates to the way they play on the field.

Shock exits

No person in his right mind would have put his money against Brazil and Uruguay not making it out of the Group stages. But such is football and the two teams will be catching all the COPA action on television, just like you, me and everyone else.

Uruguay were dismal to say the least, going down 3-1 to Mexico and 1-0 to Venezuela in the Group stages. You could tell this wasn’t a team when you saw Suarez throwing a tantrum on the bench after being refused another start.

For Brazil, the COPA turned out to be a tournament that cost coach Dunga his job, but you have to feel for the team and him. The game that consigned them to an exit was one that was decided by a goal that was pushed in by hand, but escaped the eye of the Uruguayan referee Andres Cunha. The oversight is going to leave not just Dunga searching for another job.

More importantly, this tournament was one that the people of Brazil wanted their country to do well in, in a bid to somewhat exorcise the demons of the World Cup. Instead it’s done more harm. The sad bit is that a country that’s produced proper goal machines in the past failed to score in two of their three league games and it’s a problem that will need immediate addressing. Brazil is slowly slipping into turmoil and I genuinely feel that the legacy of this nation with regards to football deserves much better.

Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez’s pre-tournament comments took me by surprise when he said the World Cup qualifying was his priority. The qualifiers resume only in September and even if you want to play down your chances and take off the pressure, there’s a way to do it.

Uruguay’s exit also asks the question whether the team was too dependent on Suarez, who was carrying an injury into the tournament, forcing Tabarez to leave him on the bench.

Edinson Cavani is an experienced and good striker but couldn’t finish off the job.

Suarez on the other hand, can turn a game on its head single-handedly and his charisma and spirit on the pitch was missed tremendously.

Favourites

Argentina would be rubbing their hands in glee and I wouldn’t blame them. They wouldn’t have expected such early exits from fellow title contenders in Brazil and Uruguay and from here the Cup is theirs to lose.

Chile, too, have caught the eye and it’s not just to do with their big win over Mexico. This is a team filled with genuine talent that is anchored by Alexis Sanchez and that has quality players like Vargas and Vidal on their roster. I’m really apprehensive to make any sort of prediction for the final and I’m going to enjoy this as a neutral!