As I predicted last week, the opening games in Group C were more open and saw much improvement in the attacking football on display. Uruguay and Peru played out an entertaining 1-1 draw with both goals coming in the first half. Paolo Guerrero opened the scoring for Peru, breaking clear of the defence and rounding the onrushing Muslera to slot home. On the stroke of half time Luis Suarez showed the kind of finishing that could be troubling the Premier League’s big guns this season. Much of the hard work was done for him by Nicolas Lodeiro’s superb through ball, but Suarez still looked composed as he slotted home. In the second match of the group, Chile came from behind to beat Mexico 2-1. That they had to was surprising as they dominated from start to finish. Alexis Sanchez showed some of the skills that have put him top of Barcelona’s must buy list. It was left however to Paredes to cancel out Araujo’s opener and for Arturo Vida to secure the win with a towering header.
Next up Argentina continued to struggle as they drew 0-0 with Colombia. The host nation had more of the ball yet it was the Colombians who carved out the better chances. The draw left Argentina’s future in the competition on a knife edge. A situation not helped by Costa Rica’s 2-0 win over 9 man Bolivia the following night. Already trailing by a goal, Bolivia threw away any hope of salvaging anything from the game with two red cards in the space of five minutes. Costa Rica even had the luxury of failing from the penalty spot.
Group C was back in the spotlight on Friday night, the schedule clearly designed to get Brazil in the prime time Saturday slot. Uruguay stumbled to another draw against Chile. Uruguay started the brighter side but Chile and especially Sanchez clearly troubled them. It was Sanchez who got the equaliser for Chile putting them in pole position to progress. Peru’s 1-0 win over a lacklustre Mexico means highly fancied Uruguay could still drop out at the group stage.
Come Saturday night and the star turn was supposed to be Brazil. But like Argentina and Uruguay before them they only escaped with another draw. After taking control of the game in the first half with Jadson’s long range strike, they allowed Paraguay back into the game early in the second half. Poor defending played as much of a role as good play from Paraguay as first Santa Cruz and then substitute Haedo Valdez put Paraguay ahead. Luck was also a major factor in the second, the ball pinballing off Valdez from Lucio’s clearance and looping over Julio Cesar. The goals aside neither team created much although Brazil’s defence proved vulnerable to balls in behind them as Dani Alves especially pushed forward for the equaliser. It was left to super-sub Fred to show his poachers instincts and secure a last minute goal for the 2-2 final score. The nights other game saw Venezuela see off Ecuador 1-0 to go top of the group with a game left.
On Sunday Colombia became the first nation to seal their progression from the group stage. Porto’s Europa League hero Falcao hit a brace as the 2-0 result also ensured that Bolivia’s campaign was over.
Normally Argentina would be expected to have no problem getting the win they needed over Costa Rica but they were under immense pressure to perform. In the end people were wondering what all the fuss was about. The hosts lined up with a front four that had just shy of 100 goals and 50 assists in La Liga last season. Sergio Batista made other changes, not least tactically and it paid off. Lionel Messi, king of European club football but much maligned for failing to deliver on the international stage showed that he can do it for the Albiceleste, providing a display of sublime creativity. His passing and vision were unmatched and he provided two assists as Kun Aguero continued his goal scoring form with a double. The impressive Angel Di Maria got the final goal in a 3-0 win.
International tournaments are always the better for a good performance from the host nation and it appears that Argentina may have found the perfect formula at last. They’ve certainly laid the gauntlet down for Brazil and Uruguay as this competition heats up and moves towards the knock out phases.