CONMEBOL: Last eight ready for knockout stage in Copa America
The 2011 Copa America has completed its group stage and one thing that can be said so far about the tournament is that it hasn’t all been plain sailing for the tournament hosts Argentina and favourites Brazil. Countries such as Venezuela and Colombia have impressed from the off whilst the likes of Uruguay and Paraguay have qualified for the knockout rounds despite not performing as well as most people expected.
Argentina began the tournament with back-to-back draws which did little to inspire their fans of ultimate glory at the end of the competition. Argentina were saved in their opening match 1-1 draw against Bolivia thanks to a late Sergio Agüero equalizer before stumbling to a goalless draw in their second game against a Colombia side who have been defensively solid. Mercifully for the Albiceleste they met up with little-fancied Costa Rica in their final group match which they easily won 3-0 to finally get on the board in this tournament. However they finished second in Group A behind Colombia for whom Radamel Falcao impressed in his side’s 2-0 win over Bolivia which clinched top spot.
Brazil, just like Argentina, began their tournament with consecutive draws in Group B. Their opening match against Venezuela ended goalless while their second game against Paraguay saw Fred score a stoppage time equalizer as the Seleção scraped a 2-2 draw. Things eventually came good for Brazil last night as they sealed top spot, albeit on goal difference, thanks to a brace each from Alexandre Pato and Neymar in a 4-2 win against Ecuador, a result which sealed the latter’s elimination from the tournament. Usually minnows in the Copa America, Venezuela have proven to be the surprise package of the competition so far having beaten Ecuador and drawn against Brazil and Paraguay to finish on level points with Brazil. The game against Paraguay ended in spectacular fashion as the Venezuelans seemed destined for their first defeat in the competition before scoring two very late goals to seal a point in a pulsating 3-3 draw.
Chile topped Group C with two wins, coming from behind in a 2-1 win over a weakened Mexico side and a stoppage time winner in their final group match against Peru. Those games were sandwiched by a 1-1 draw against Uruguay in a game where either team could’ve won the game such was the open nature of it. Nonetheless the dropping of two points from that fixture was more harmful to the Uruguayans, especially as Luis Suárez hit the crossbar with a chance which seemed easier to score, and they finished the group in second place two points behind the Chileans. Mexico sent an under-22 squad to the tournament as their full national team won the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup just a week before the Copa America kicked-off but their youngsters failed to rise to the occasion and were the only nation to go home without scoring a point.
With the top two teams from each group going through to the knockout rounds the hunt for the remaining two quarter-finalists came from the three teams that finished third in their respective groups. Peru’s record of a win, a draw and a defeat in their three group matches gave them the best points total with four. Paraguay and Costa Rica both scored three points and so it went down to goal difference with the former edging it over the latter by a margin of two goals so Costa Rica, despite their valiant efforts, are eliminated from the Copa.
Uruguay’s failure to win Group C has given them a tough quarter-final draw against eternal rivals Argentina with the game to be played in Santa Fe on Saturday. The winners of that game will face the winner of the Colombia v Peru match which takes place on the same day in Cordoba. Sunday’s matches see Group B rivals Brazil and Paraguay meeting again in La Plata with the winner meeting either Chile or Venezuela, both of whom meet in San Juan, in the semi-finals.