South American football brings the sizzle and flair to the beautiful game we love. Therefore, it was a disappointment in March 2020 when the decision was taken globally to postpone major sporting events like the Copa America championship. In 2021, the tournament is now underway, and it has given us talking points that are good, bad, and downright ugly. In this article, we will examine a few of these storylines.
- Messi on a mission — most critics of Lionel Messi often feel he cannot be considered the greatest footballer in history without a World Cup win. The statistics prove that Messi’s team at the club level has done better than his international team.
According to transfermarket.com, Messi has won over 35 domestic titles with his club Barcelona including 10 La Liga titles and 4 Champions Leagues. On the international stage, he has not won a senior title and came the closest in the 2014 World Cup when Argentina finished in second place.
Messi’s play in the tournament so far is indicative of a man on a mission and determined to win his first international trophy. He is currently the top scorer in the tournament with four goals, and also boasts another four assists, making him directly involved in 80 percent of his nation’s strikes to date as they head into the semifinal. The four goals including 2 sumptuous free-kicks that remind us that he is a footballing genius. By conceding only two goals in five games, Argentina is primed to be a challenger for the title.
- Brazil looks good to repeat — as the current title holders and host, Brazil is always under pressure from their fan base to “win at all costs.” The Samba men started the competition impressively by winning the first two games with an impressive, combined score line of 7 goals to nil against Venezuela and Peru.
However, since match number 3 they have eked out the results without being impressive. There was a come from behind 2-1 win against Columbia with an extremely late Casemiro go-ahead goal in stoppage time. Then, a 1-1 draw against Ecuador and two 1 nil victories over Chile and Peru respectively to go into the final. Maybe it is an indication of their pedigree and that know how to win despite not playing their best. Nonetheless, a big test lies in the final for Tite’s men to repeat as champions.
- Bad Football Pitches — Brazil got thrust into hosting the tournament which is part of the ugly stories from the tournament. However, the pitch condition of the stadiums has come in for heavy criticism. According to the Associated Press, after a 2-1 win against Colombia, Brazilian Coach Tite said the pitch at the Nilton Santos Arena was “unacceptable.” The next day, CONMEBOL fined Tite $5,000 for criticizing the organization of the tournament. They say the truth hurts and it certainly hurt the football body that the criticism came from the Coach whose country is hosting the championships.
The surface at the Maracana stadium is being prepared to host the showpiece final. However, Tite was quoted as saying “The Maracana will not be good until the final. The time is too little [to improve]. You can write that.”
There were also other complaints such as against the Engenhao pitch on which Brazil beat Peru 4-0. Neymar complained on Instagram “please, fix the pitch.” The Peru goalkeeper agreed that the pitch was in terrible condition. “You couldn’t take a goal kick. The ball sinks.” Certainly, this is bad publicity and if a star player in a big European club gets injured, I am sure that there would be some legal implications for this gross negligence.
- Uruguay’s Golden boys are near the end — Uruguay failed to sparkle in this tournament and bowed out in the quarterfinals against Colombia on penalty kicks. The team is dependent on their two lynchpins Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani. The pair have combined to score only 3 goals from the 5 games and both being at age 34 it feels as if they are on the last lap of their international career.
- Hosting Saga — Argentina and Columbia were initially selected to host the 2021 Copa America Tournament. However, Columbia had to relinquish this privilege due to ongoing anti-government protests while Argentina’s hosting rights were suspended after a surge in Covid-19 cases in the country.
The hypocrisy of Brazil hosting the tournament is that they face the same issues. Brazil is statistically 2nd in Covid related deaths in the world with over half a million casualties. Brazil has also seen mass demonstrations with many in the public opposing the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro. The Brazilian national team even released a statement before the championships against the hosting of the tournament. However, the team decided to play due to their national pride.
- Gabriel Jesus karate kick — the moment that caused football fans to cringe in the tournament was Jesus’ karate-style kick into the face of Eugenio Mena of Chile. It appears that Jesus had his eyes on the ball when he made the challenge and was oblivious of the presence of his opponent. However, it was an ugly moment but thankfully Mena did not suffer any major damage. Jesus, on other hand, was sent off and missed the semifinals against Peru due to suspension.
Yes, the Copa America has brought us some joy with the brilliance of Messi on display. It has brought controversy over the hosting and the quality of the surfaces.
However, CONMEBOL and most football fans will be hoping for a good ending with the potential clash of the two South American Heavyweights-Argentina vs Brazil in the finals on July 10. That sounds mouthwatering.
Readers Bureau, Contributor
Edited by Jesus Chan
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