This past weekend the Copa America quarter finals threw up some shock results as hosts Argentina and perennial favourites Brazil met early exits after shoot outs. In fact, the underdogs were victorious in all four ties in a tense weekend of football.
Peru were the first team to claim a semi-final place as they beat Colombia 2-0 after extra time. This was a cagey match and group winners Colombia went in as favourites. They will rue the penalty missed by the normally reliable Radamel Falcao. Porto’s Europa League 16 goal hero couldn’t even test the keeper on this occasion. Colombia still had the better chances to seal the game in regular time with Moreno slamming a shot against the post and Fredy Guarin having an effort well saved. Into extra time and it was the Peruvians who made their chances count. Colombian keeper Martinez will not remember the extra time period fondly, being responsible for both goals. Firstly he came too far to claim a cross he had no chance with, spilling the ball for Carlos Lobaton to drill home with ferocity. Ten minutes later it was all over as Martinez poor clearance was intercepted by Jose Guerrero who set up Juan Vargas for a thunderbolt shot that left the keeper with no chance.
Saturdays late kick off saw the hosts take on fierce rivals Uruguay. Argentina’s only defeats in home Copa’s had all come at the hands of the Uruguayan’s but they were going into this match on the back of the best performance of the Copa yet after a 3-0 demolition of Costa Rica. Argentina were stunned as their opponents took a 5th minute lead with Diego Perez bundling the ball over the line from a set piece. Perez was lucky to still be on the pitch after a nasty 2nd minute foul. After the goal Argentina established control and inevitably it was Lionel Messi who found the key to unlock Uruguay’s defence. Messi’s pinpoint ball finding Higuain’s excellent run and the Madrid striker guided the ball past Muslera. Argentina continued to control the game but couldn’t get a second. Moments before half time they were given further encouragement as Perez finally got his marching orders. He’d been treading a fine line and collected his second yellow for a cynical foul. Muslera in the Uruguay goal was putting on a master class and despite their numerical advantage Argentina still looked unlikely to break through and in fact they looked shaky at the back and Suarez especially troubled them. As extra time beckoned for the second game of the day the numbers were evened up as Argentine captain Javier Mascherano picked up a second yellow. In extra time Pastore and Tevez bothered Uruguay but Muslera and his defence held firm to take the game to penalties. Uruguay’s keeper has been at times sublime and at others ridiculous but he truly was the hero of the shoot out as his save from Tevez effort was decisive. Montevideo apparently almost exploded when their team went through and this was a great result for last year’s surprise package at the World Cup. Argentina will be bitterly disappointed but for a team boasting such attacking talent they can only blame themselves for failing to beat an opponent they outnumbered for a third of the game.
Onto Sunday and it was the turn of Brazil and Paraguay to play for their place in the last four. Due to the vagaries of the tournament they had already played out a 2-2 draw in the group stages. Five time World Champion Brazil were by far the better team throughout the 120 minutes of this 0-0 draw, with Paraguay looking organised and difficult to break down. Like Muslera for Uruguay, goalkeeper Justo Villar had an excellent game to keep the samba boys at bay. Neymar and Pato both had excellent chances to put their team through, but each was denied, Neymar by wayward finishing, Pato by Villar’s excellent save. Edgar Barretto then cleared a Lucio header off the line to send the game into extra time. Neither team was able to get a goal though both did have a man sent off. Lucas Leiva and Antolin Alcaraz seeing red for a touchline scuffle. Brazil then embarked on a penalty shootout that would make England look positively Germanic from 12 yards. Missing all four kicks they may have blamed the penalty spot – again aping the English – but players of the quality of Elano (who shall henceforth be known as the Brazilian Chris Waddle), Thiago Silva and Fred should all have done a lot better. Paraguay’s football is not pretty but they now find themselves one match away from the final.
Watching the previous quarter finals unfold, Chile must have been getting their hopes up that a tournament victory could be in their grasp. They were stunned however by the underdogs from Venezuela. Chile started the stronger and looked more likely to get a goal, but it was La Vinotinto however who got the opener. Vizcarrondo got a head to Juan Arango’s free kick to beat Bravo in the Chile goal. After the break and the introduction of Valdivia, Chile really turned up the heat but were repeatedly denied by Vega and the woodwork. They were rewarded when Humberto Suazo got an equaliser, Alexis Sanchez cutting the ball back for the unmarked striker to bury his chance. It looked as if the tide had really turned yet it was Venezuela who had the last laugh, Cichero following up Bravo’s parry from Arango’s free kick. Things went from bad to worse for Chile as Gary Medel picked up a second yellow. They still had chances to take this to extra time as Vega made a fine double save from Suazo and Vidal, but Venezuela held firm despite Rincon also getting his marching orders deep into stoppage time. Venezuela’s 2-1 win is a great moment for a developing football nation and hopefully can encourage further development of the game there.
Tuesday’s semi-final see’s Peru take on Uruguay while Paraguay and Venezuela will play on Wednesday to see who can make the final of a tournament that is now wide open.
This tournament may have got off to a slow start but the final round of group games and the quarter finals have seen this tournament roar into life with goals, red cards, upsets and plenty more drama. Uruguay are now favourites (and my tip) but they will be wary not to fall as Argentina and Brazil have before them.