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Copa America on horizon for South Americans

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Tim Vickery | 11:08 UK time, Monday, 4 April 2011

The countdown is on towards the Copa America, this year's top senior international competition. Over the next couple of months, though, the focus will be firmly on club football, with the closing stages of domestic championships, the Champions League and the Libertadores.

In the wake of the two recent Fifa dates, this would seem to be the appropriate moment to look back at the recent international friendlies and reflect on how South America's teams are preparing for the Copa.

Preparation is the key word, because the way the Copa now fits in the calendar turns it into a warm-up tournament. South America plays a three-year cycle of World Cup qualifiers and the Copa comes just before the wheel starts turning.

National teams all over the continent are stressing that their main priority in this year's Copa is to emerge from it with a team ready to fight for a place in the next World Cup.

As 2014 hosts, Brazil of course have automatically qualified, which gives this year's Copa an extra importance for them.

This July they will play their most serious competitive games in the run up to the World Cup, which helps explain why experienced campaigners such as Lucio and Elano were recalled for the recent game against Scotland.

Coach Mano Menezes appears to have settled for a 4-2-3-1 formation with a target-man centre forward, as this column noted last week.

The pressure will also be on Copa hosts Argentina, despite all the protestations of coach Sergio Batista that the World Cup is his priority. Without a senior title since 1993, they will be expected to bring that run to an end in front of their own fans.

Last week's column noted some of the question marks around the attacking personnel of Batista's 4-3-3 system and although he has learned a little bit more since then, most of it was negative.

Without Lionel Messi, Argentina played out a poor 0-0 draw away to Costa Rica last Tuesday, a game in which the tactic of playing Jose Sosa and Nicolas Gaitan in the wide positions was a clear failure. Both prefer the ball played to their feet, making it impossible to lengthen the game and rendering Argentina's midfield interpassing somewhat pointless. Then again, friendlies are when experiments should take place.

Argentina opted to rest Lionel Messi (left) for the friendly against Costa Rica - Photo: Reuters

Uruguay would love to have a promising new goalkeeper to experiment with after coach Oscar Washington Tabarez admitted his concern about the displays of his two current keepers, Muslera and Castillo, in their recent 2-0 loss to Estonia and 3-2 win over the Republic of Ireland.

In general though, Uruguay are making serene progress. Edinson Cavani has made great strides this season, and another striker, Abel Hernandez, leads the list of players from the youth ranks being funnelled in to the senior side. There are grounds for the hope that last year's World Cup semi-final appearance was not a flash in the pan, but a sign of a long term revival for the first kings of the global game.

With Paraguay, on the other hand, it is not clear whether making the quarter-finals in South Africa represents the end or the beginning. Will it mark the highpoint of four consecutive World Cup appearances, or the emergence of Paraguay as genuine contenders?

Friendlies are never the best place to judge the Paraguayans, who played a disastrous first half hour to lose 3-1 to Mexico and then produced a more typically resilient performance to beat the USA. There does seem to be a lack of genuine quality coming through, and coach Gerardo Martino could be a victim of his own success. Expectations are now higher.

Expectations plummeted in Chile, who played with such brio in the World Cup, when turbulent changes in the local FA forced the resignation of highly respected coach Marcelo Bielsa. But his replacement, fellow Argentine Claudio Borghi, made an impressive start, with a 1-1 draw with Portugal followed by a 2-0 win over Colombia.

Mati Fernandez has emerged as Chile's main creative force - photo: AP

Borghi favours a more traditional 3-5-2 over Bielsa's trademark 3-3-1-3 formation, and his side do not seek to press so obsessively in the opponent's half. Sitting deeper allows them to spring a rapid counter-attack, and gives playmaker Mati Fernandez more space to work in.

He was Chile's standout player, scoring two magnificent free-kicks and setting up the other goal with a shrewd pass. A shy figure, Fernandez may well be benefiting from teaming up once more with Borghi, who groomed him at club level.

Apart from Borghi, the newest coach in South America is Bolivia's Gustavo Quinteros, who endured rather than enjoyed his second and third matches in charge, a 2-0 defeat by Panama followed by a 1-1 draw with Guatemala. In the Copa America Bolivia are being handed what has become their customary role - they are Argentina's first opponents, in the expectation that the hosts get off to a winning start.

Quinteros, a naturalised Argentine who represented Bolivia in the 1994 World Cup, will hope that his side can hang on and spring the counter. His biggest hope, though, will be to get through the competition with prestige unscathed and then bet that the altitude of La Paz will help keep his team in contention for a World Cup place.

In the same group as Bolivia, Colombia will expect to seal their place in the quarter-finals with a win over Quinteros' team, but their coach, Hernan Dario Gomez, has yet to get his side to click - a long term injury to playmaker Giovanni Moreno has not helped - and a shortage of goals continues to be a problem.

Colombia did manage to put two goals past Ecuador, who are struggling to replace the generation who took them so far so fast. Coach Reinaldo Rueda will look to the likes of midfielder Cristian Noboa and support striker Jefferson Montero to pick up the torch. Last week they were disappointed to be held 0-0 by a Peru side down to 10 men half way through the first half.

Peru, meanwhile, were delighted to have shown the mental strength necessary to grind out a result. The likes of Claudio Pizarro and Paolo Guerrero give them firepower, and in the Uruguayan Sergio Markarian they have a top-class coach, capable of organising the defence and putting an end to the petty internal problems which have caused such harm to their cause. Peru promise to be an interesting team to follow.

Finally, there is Venezuela, the only team in the continent never to have been to a World Cup. Their results - a 2-0 win over Jamaica and a 1-1 draw with Mexico - underlined their recent progress.

Coach Cesar Farias has cleverly promoted players trough the Under-20s to the senior side - little support striker Yohandry Orozco looks especially exciting. Venezuela open their Copa America campaign against Brazil and hope to emerge from the tournament with a team capable of carrying them south to Brazil in 2014.

Comments on the piece in the space provided. Questions on South American football to vickerycolumn@hotmail.com, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.

From last week's postbag:

Q) With the World Cup in Brazil in 2014, the pressure to win the tournament will be almost unbearable, but how much pressure will there be to win in a "Brazilian style" ? What was the reaction in Brazil to the 1994 winning team, was it one of relief after 24 years of "failure" or was there any criticism that it wasn't technically as good as the 1970 or 1982 teams? Will winning in the "Brazilian style" create added pressure for 2014 or will winning be enough?
Jack Livings

A) In the last three days I've had two separate conversations with senior Brazilian journalists who, word for word, have said the same thing - in their view, their countrymen are not interested in sport, they are interested in winning. There's a lot of truth in this. The oft repeated view that Brazilians would rather have fun than win is as wide of the mark as you could wish - the victory of the 1994 side was greeted with hysterical celebrations.

Having said that, there is also great and totally understandable pride in the style of the global success (and please let's not forget 1958, probably the best of the lot). Mano Menezes, intelligently, argues that to have the crowd fully onside in 2014, and derive full benefit from home advantage, Brazil will need to play in more traditional style.

His reign has marked the end of the Gilberto Silva era - both central midfielders are now popping up in the opponent's penalty box in open play.

"My idea is to take the team to victory," said Mano when he was first appointed. "If we can do that playing beautiful football, great." I think that comment shows where the priorities lie.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Even though Brasil qualify automatically as hosts, I think they should still play the south american qualifying group as normal but their results wouldnt be included in the table when classification is calculated.

    That way they get "competitive" games (local pride making it semi-competitive at least), the other south american teams get their money-spinning and experience-building games against brasil and then brasil can cash in against european teams on the other fifa friendly dates.

    As it stands now, outside of the copa america and the olympics, all they face is a long run of games against the highest bidder.

  • Comment number 2.

    Hi tim
    Great blog as usual. I was just wondering if you had a prediction on you think will win the Copa America. I support utd and was also wondering how far will Mexico go in the tournament kind of selfish but I was worried about burnout for Javier Hernandez .

  • Comment number 3.

    I have to question Batista's claim that winning the Copa América on home soil is not the number one priority. What kind of mentality is that? I would love to see Argentina win the Copa with a display of wonderful stylish football but given the disappointing second half against the USA and the terrible performance against Costa Rica when some of the fringe players were given a great opportunity to shine it seems unlikely.

    Another thing to bear in mind is that a squad made up entirely of home based players thashed Venezuela 4-1 a couple of weeks ago. I think the inclusion of a few home based players in the squad for the local crowd to get behind would be a good move. However the makeup of the squad will be pretty irrelevant if Batista can't get his tactics sorted out in time.

    http://southamerican-futbol.blogspot.com/

  • Comment number 4.

    So cards on the table then Tim - who is going to win? Or give us a 1-2-3.

    As an aside, I am moving to Brazil soon (SP) and am looking for a club to watch. I don't have any allegiances in the country at the moment, so who would you recommend? My only conditions are: a) decent football to watch, b) avoid accusations of being a glory-hunter, c) not a million miles away from town, although I did enjoy the trip down to Santos last time I was there.

  • Comment number 5.

    What happened that bielsa left chile? They were immense in SA, only side to actually get spain under pressure and stop them from playing football anywhere. Looked like the combination of a highly intelligent coach and n impressionable young side was going places

  • Comment number 6.

    Agree with Paraguay. Besides Antolín Alcaraz and maybe Marcos Cáceres, I don´t see defenders with the quality needed to replace the likes of Caniza, Da Silva, Morel, Verón and Bonet. In the middle, Vera is not getting any younger and Riveros has stalled at Sunderland. I don´t see any problem at front, with Barrios and Heado still capable to score goals for us. We certainly will keep missing Salvador Cabañas. He was the difference in the road to SA2010 and Paraguay badly needs a player of such quality to take advantage of our traditional resilience in defense and the firepower available up front.

  • Comment number 7.

    Having watched Uruguay's game against the ROI, I was very impressed with their play, especially considering they put out a younger side that that we'd see in the World Cup last year.

    I can honestly see them building on their recent successes in the international game - starting in this Copa America - and going on to make serious waves in the coming decade.

    How far do you think they can go though, Tim? Can you see them reaching the standards of Brazil and Argentina again? Will they be realistic contenders for the 2014 World Cup?

  • Comment number 8.

    I have always thought it would make logical sense to use the Copa America tournament to decide who qualifies for the World Cup. The south american world cup qualification campaign is far too long and drawn out - what do you think tim?

    I know it's their equivalent to our Euro Championship - and the same system clearly would not work in europe. But it could work in south america (and also africa)

  • Comment number 9.

    #8,

    Logical sense? If we eliminate WC qualifiers, then what will all Conmebol teams do for 2 years with no competitive football? Please refer to the history of Conmebol and you will find out that thanks to the current format (all ten teams playing against each other H and A) the continent´s smaller footballing nations have progressed considerably in the last 15 years.

  • Comment number 10.

    Greeneyed - I take a sort of masochistic pleasure from the drawn-out qualifying process. As a Uruguay supporter, the constant hovering between 4th and 6th spot adds to the excitement.

  • Comment number 11.

    4. andytricolour

    You lucky man. I visit Brazil every year and have been to quite a few of the Sao Paulo based teams' stadiums. I have to say the most fun I had was at the smallest, Portuguesa. Get there early and head to the bar, you will be welcomed with open arms and inducted into the "Lusa clubhouse". Take a bottle of cachaca if you can. They might not be the most glamourous of teams in the best of stadiums but its a great afternoon/evening out and the atmosphere is electric during the league games. If not, then head to the Morumbi to watch Sao Paulo.

  • Comment number 12.

    8 - I see the marathon World Cup qualifying format (introduced in 96 for the 98 qualifiers) as the single greatest thing to have happened to south american national teams in years.

    it's all played on fifa dates - if european national teams can play, then why not south american? And for the first time it's given the south american teams a similar structure to the europeans - before there were gaps of years between competitive games - now they have a regular calendar.

    This gives them guaranteed income, allowing them to employ good coaches and keep a side together. The overall standard has risen remarkably as a result. The extraordinary rise of Ecuador (from Luxemburg to last 16 in the world in 15 years) would not have happened without the current qualification system, ditto venezuela's progress.

  • Comment number 13.

    Tim do you think that brazil fans want to turn up and have fun and win but dont really care if they play "nice" football, when watching the scotland game they seem to go crazy when neymar touched the ball no matter if he was skinning a player falling over or a simple 3 yard pass. I heard that national fans are more middle and upper class fans does that mean that they are less knowledgable or passionate than club fans or is this a national phenonium.

  • Comment number 14.

    @8 I also have to disagree, the "marathon" World Cup qualification system has dragged up the standard in the non traditional countries Ecuador, Paraguay & Venezuela and even given the fact that Peru & Bolivia are pretty much hopeless away from their high altitude bases that still leaves 12-14 competitive games to qualify in contrast to the 4 (or six at most) competitive games European sides face in their World Cup qualifiers with every top side facing home & away ties against hopeless sides like San Marino, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Kazakhstan, Malta.... Even the most winnable game in South America (a visit from Bolivia or Peru) is a much tougher prospect than thrashing a bunch of amateurs from a principality with a population that wouldn't even fill half your national stadium.

    Which is better? Two years of regular competitive games under the current system or two years of endless idle friendlies without a competitive game ever to be played outside Copa América & the World Cup finals under your proposed system, which would mean that the weaker South American teams would only face 3 competitive games every four years!

  • Comment number 15.

    I accept that south american teams have the same right to play these games as europeans. But if we also accept the fact that the current calender between club commitments and internationals is getting to a point where it is almost unworkable then something has to give... (the human body can only take so much punishment)

    Maybe scrapping the qualification completely is a bit drastic, but why not combine both? You could have the qualification process but possibly not quite as long (18 games is really quite excessive imho) I don't see why the qualification could not be combined with the copa america somehow - this would gaurantee that the very best teams go to the world cup as a mixture of both league and knockout format is tougher then just league format!

    This is particularly evident when you compare the other world regions - Europe play 8 games, CONCACAF 10 and the rest play slightly less again. CONMEBOL is the only region playing this many games - and they are also playing international friendlies on top of this.

    I think a better balance needs to be found as this is far too much football when you also consider the distances these players must travel for matches...

    For the record, I think the same applies to the other regions like Europe and Africa - The whole calender needs to be cleaned up so International football and club football can live side-by-side in reletive harmony... (in a perfect world)

  • Comment number 16.

    14 - Peru's base is Lima - sea level

    The point about friendlies is spot on, though. In the days of the 2 year gap between competitive games it was one thing for Brazil and Argentina to fix up high profile friendlies - another thing for the less traditional nations.

    Before they sealed qualification for the 2002 World Cup (their competition debut), Ecuador had never played a full international in Europe.

  • Comment number 17.

    15 - Europe plays more qualifiying games than South America - but they are split between the European Championships and the World Cup.

    The Copa America has no qualifiers.

    Travelling - it is a burden for the European based players, but steps have been taken to cut it down by staging all the rounds as double headers - meaning that there are 9 trips across the Atlantic in 3 years.

  • Comment number 18.

    The travelling is the biggest problem really... as it is with the African and Asian players.

    I love the Copa America and it always produces memorable matches and goals - but because of the marathon WC qualification I always get the feeling the teams are almost too familiar with each other because they play too many times.

    This is another reason why a combination of both the qualifiers and the Copa America could be benificial. It could ultimately be the answer to the clashes between International and club commitments not just in South America but world-wide.

    I know most probably don't agree with me, but the qualifiers and the Copa have the same objectives - to find out who is the best in south america. The same applies to every other region - the european WC qualifiers and the euro championships - their objective is to find out who are the best teams in that particular region.

    ... so again I see no reason why both qualification and the respective championships cannot be combined? Surely this is the answer to the problems of fixture congestion and conflicts between club and country? (If we accept that there is in fact a problem in this regard)

  • Comment number 19.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 20.

    Tim, as you said in an previous blog entry, South American qualifiers are the thoughest, specially when you have to play in hell-like stadiums (because of the atmosphere) like Centenario, Monumental or Defensores del Chaco, or play in altitude (La Paz, Quito, Bogota). One thing that needs to be changed though, is the calendar. Since the 2002 qualifiers, the calendar hasn't been touched, and as in any respectable competition there must be a draw each time around.

    Until 2001, Copa America took place every 2 years, meaning the teams wouldn't bring the big guns, they mostly used up and coming stars, and the top players would rest and have their holidays, as they once played Copa America when they were less known, Copa America lost its shine then. Now, Conmebol has made an smart move and scheduled the Copa every four years, making it a warm up for the qualifiers. Coaches want to have their top squad to prepare themselves for the next three years. Players like Messi or Forlan, who otherwise wouldn't be interested are now participating, people have thirst for the competition. I think it will be a very excitng Copa, and europeans will have more interest in it, as they don't have any big competitions this summer.

  • Comment number 21.

    Tim, any news on who will replace Japan now that they've officially pulled out?

  • Comment number 22.

    Where the players are based has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on whether South American teams should or shouldn't have as many qualifiers as they do.

    It's the players choice to play in xyz country, it's the right of every nation to have as many (within reason naturally) as they deem necessary.

  • Comment number 23.

    If Argentina play like they did in the first against the US last week thenI think that they will easily win the Copa America, if not it will be Brazil, but it would be nice to see Uruguay put up a good challenge. I think that it is a good idea that they are taking most of the games away from Buenos Aires to lesser known area of the country, but surely they caould have also played the final away from Buenos Aires as well. Also its a bit sad that Japan have had to withdraw due to the rescheduling of their domestic competition, and at this late stage I don't think that the CONMEBOL will be able to find a team to replace Japan that will be of a good enough standard to be competitive within the tournament.



    If you have any time or patience check my blog out at: http://mysportingweekend.blogspot.com/

  • Comment number 24.

    in 2001 Argentina decided on the eve that they would not take part, and so Honduras stepped in at something like 3 days' notice - one player didn't have enough time to clean himself out and tested positive for marijuana and cocaine.

    Honduras ended up eliminating Brazil and reaching the semis

  • Comment number 25.

    Tim, now there's a rumour that Spain might participate. Grondona sent an invitation to his close friend, the president of the spanish federation.

  • Comment number 26.

    #18. Play each other too many times? Imagine playing in the SPL then, when they have to face each other 4 times every year! I bet they're sick of each other, and it's not like there are ever any surprises. And at least the south american players get to go home as part of the trip.

    These qualifiers are over 3 years. If anything, FIFA could spread the double headers more evenly through the year. No matches for 6 months over Christmas, then no matches again until June and then solid games between September and November. That's where the system seems to be broken in my view. Is it to accomodate both hemispheres' summer breaks?

    Before they changed the system, no-one outside S.America took any notice of the qualifiers, because in each group there was one big qualifier, one team with an outside chance, and one no-hoper. Groups of 3 or 4 don't prove anything. Always the same teams qualifying. Now they have more competitive matches, teams can recover a bad start, and they have more opportunities to hone the tactical side of the game before the World Cup starts.

    I will predict in the Copa America a similar story to the World Cup in South Africa. Chile will be easy on the eye, but toothless in attack when it matters. Ditto Mexico. Paraguay will be efficient but also toothless. Uruguay will have the best opportunity to shake up the top two. Suarez is a class act and Forlan is a good tournament player too.

  • Comment number 27.

    Spain take part in Copa America? That would be great, but what about the calendar?? What european national sides usually do during the Copa America? I would think nothing... and the players are playing club competitions.


    I wonder if european clubs would release their spanish players to play the Copa America, considering they have already lost their brazilian and argentine players!! (thats already half of Inter Milan squad lol)

  • Comment number 28.

    and Barça too... take out Barça players playing for Spain... Argentine and Brazilian players... there is nothing much left

    so unless european club competitions stop, would euro clubs accept to release those players for Copa America, specially considering it would be an INVITATION?

  • Comment number 29.

    #27 It's only an invitation, but I don't see it happening. Spain has the Euro next year and they would want the players to rest for a summer, given the fact that they will have Euro2012, Confederations Cup 2013 and WC 2014.

  • Comment number 30.

    #26 - I totally agree with your reference to the SPL - it's not an ideal situation, I am a Celtic fan and as much as I love the Old Firm matches it would be much more beneficial for us to play against other teams for many reasons, not least to take some of the importance out of the old firm games there for lessening the tension between both sets of supporters.

    You failed to address the main point of my comment which was that there is currently alot of problems between International and Club football. This problem is a world wide issue. But it is particularly relevent for south american players and international teams.

    At the end of the qualifying section - you have the best teams who go to the world cup. The point I was trying to make is this; what is the difference from the teams who make the Copa America semis or quarters? They are generally the best teams in south america too...

    So why do we have both tournaments in a sport that is becoming more and more congested with club and International commitments? And the same applies to every other regional championship (euros, African cup of nations ect...)

    If you think about it - it makes alot of sense, I would be very interested to see the stats on how often the winners of the copa america failed to qualify for the world cup anyway... i'd imagine it's quite rare.

    Plus the Copa comes around every four years, and the WC qualifiers span (you guessed it...) FOUR years. So the logistics of a combined tournament would not be hard to imagine!

    Personally, I believe FIFA will come to this solution or something very similar at some point in the future. It would be harder to implement in europe and would probably require a two tier system for the smaller nations. However it would work very well for the African teams because the match schedules being staggered over several years would help avoid playing matches in the hottest months of the year.

  • Comment number 31.

    Nr 28 Makes an interesting point, what would happen if a Catalan or Basque representation played in the Copa America (instead of Japan)?

    Failing that you have either a Central American team or a Carribeean team.

    Having such a massive qualification campaign helps South American football when it comes to the World Cup as all their sides were competitive and even the traditional 'third team' got the semis. Its so unprectable as well.

    As for the third team; You had Uruguay in the 60's, Peru in the 70's. Uruguay again in the 80's, Colombia in the 90's and Paraguay in the 00's......Its open at the moment for the next decade

  • Comment number 32.

    30 - Colombia were 2001 Copa America champions - without conceding a single goal. But they didn't make it to the following year's World Cup - or either of the subsequent two. They had home advantage in 2001 - which skews the thing completely.

    I agree that there is fixture congestion - but you seem to want to resolve this entirely at the expense of the South American national teams - you're not addressing the point that they don't use any more fixture dates than the Europeans, because the first year of World Cup qualification in South America co-incides with the final year of qualification for the European Championship.

    If we go down your route then Luis Antonio Valencia, for example, will never play a competitive match on home soil - but he belongs to Ecuador as well as Man United.

  • Comment number 33.

    I think that the south american teams are on the up, they were very impressive in the world cup, they all played at a high tempo and attacked well. I think that mexico were unlucky to get argentina and chile were unlucky to get spain and uruguay did well to get to the semis, although that should never have happened but anyway. I fancy chile to get far in the copa america with players like fernandez and sanchez they stand a real good chance.

  • Comment number 34.

    Re 1

    Bostero,

    I wish I could hammer Mr. Leoz head until it opens to lead the idea of South American Nations LEAGUE to come in. Take the WC Qualifying, make it an official league, and give a trophy and prize money to the team first in the table!

    I cannot believe it that no one in Conmebol thought about or at least expressed something about it.

    Actually, going on, for me, the South American calendar should be organized this way:

    World Cup = Year "0"
    South American Cup = Year "1"
    Copa America = Year "2"
    Confederations' Cup = Year "3"
    South American League = Years 1-3

    The South American Cup would be played only by the 10 Conmebol's Federations. Two groups of 5, top 3 to the finals (Group winners to semis). Champion to Confederations Cup.

    The Copa America would be played by 8 Conmebol teams and 8 Concacaf teams. It would compete directly against Euro Cup. The top-8 teams in the South American League would qualify. I would suggest an Intercontinental Cup between Europe and Americas Champions, to be held in the end of the year.

    The South American League would be played in a round robin, home and away, format. It would be Copa America and World Cup qualifiers.

    Best.

  • Comment number 35.

    #30 What you jmean to say is that there is increasing competition between international football and european club football, due to the fact that the european leagues attract the best players from all over the world. Fair enough that a better balance should be struck, but it shouldn't favour only European nations. It should kick friendlies into touch in favour of competitive matches, i.e qualifiers for the World Cup or for the locally very important regional competitions. Euros, Copa America, African Cup of Nations, etc. Africa has made a big concession already, by agreeing to host its cup on odd years to avoid all their players leaving in January of a world cup year.
    But all the european clubs know what they're signing when they scout abroad. They're signing people who will willingly travel home across continents and oceans to represent countries they are very proud of. They show much more commitment than a certain ageing world class left winger who plays in red for both club and country.

  • Comment number 36.

    @futbol_x3: as Tim said, Peru do not play their home games at altitude. Their capital city, Lima, is at sea level and that is where they have always played their qualifying matches, since the beginning of time! In fact, Peru suffer just like any other sea-level-based team (e.g. Argentina, Brazil, etc.) when they have to play against Colombia in Bogotá, Bolivia in La Paz and Ecuador in Quito.

    Apart from that, I don't understand how NOBODY has yet noticed the fact that Tim and others keep on 'saying' that the south american WC qualifiers span 3 years. They DO NOT, usually they start in september or october and finish in october (or november for the team that plays the play-offs) TWO years later. For example, for 2006, it started in september 2003 and finished in november 2005; for 2010, it started in october 2007 and finished in november 2009. Now, CLEARLY, this is TWO years, not three or four! Besides, since there is no qualification for the Copa América, these are the only competitive games we play apart from the WC and the Copa. In fact, in between world cup years, european nations play competitive games for 2 years as well, one year for Euro qualifiers and one year for WC qualifiers, adding up to about 16-20 games, which is what us south americans also play. Thus, I don't see what the big fuss is about!

    Now, someone said there that, in CONCACAF, they play only 10 games. That is WRONG! All teams play at least 18 games under the formats used for 2006 and 2010 qualifying. For example, for 2010, Mexico had to play home and away against Belize in a preliminary round (not very dificult mind you) before entering the first group phase, in which they faced Honduras, Jamaica and Canada home and away for a total of 6 games (quite difficult) and barely made it through to the last stage on goal difference at the expense of Jamaica. In the last stage, they played home and away agains Honduras, El Salvador, the USA, Trinidad and Tobago and Costa Rica for a total of 10 games (very difficult). Thus, they played 2+6+10=18 games, of which 16 were difficult. What's more, Costa Rica, who enterd the play-off against Uruguay, played a total of 20 games, of which 18 were difficult.

    Now, in the case of Africa (CAF) and Asia (AFC), the story is similar. For example, Ghana played 12 games in CAF to qualify and North Korea played 20 games in AFC to qualify. You can look all the detailed information about WC qualifying in any region on Wikipedia. The only region where qualifying is a joke is, of course, the OFC, where New Zealand only played 8 games, 6 of which were against Fiji, New Caledonia and Vanuatu (home and away), meaning their only really hard games where the play-off ones against Bahrein.

    In conclusion, GET YOUR FACTS RIGHT BEFORE COMPLAINING about south american qualification to the World Cup.

  • Comment number 37.

    I am hearing Costa Rica is the principal candidate to replace Japan in Copa America. The question is will CONCACAF place the same restrictions on Costa Rica as they are on Mexico? Because Mexico is an invitee to Copa America and the tournament follows the Gold Cup, CONCACAF's own national team tournament (and principal source of confederation income), Mexico were required by CONCACAF to send their first team to the Gold Cup and an under 22 team, which will be the base of the team which will attempt to qualify for the 2012 Olympics, to the Copa America. This under 22 team will be supplemented by 5 overage players but the odds are no Mexican players will compete in both tournaments.

    Mexico has enough depth in talent to field two competitive teams, even if one is primarily an U-22 team, for first the Gold Cup then Copa America, but does Costa Rica have enough talent to field its first team in the Gold Cup and a "reserve" team, whether that is U-22 or not, in Copa America? I have my doubts.

    Soccer Futbol Forum
    http://z8.invisionfree.com/Soccer_Futbol_Forum/index.php

  • Comment number 38.

    Tim Vickery Quote: 'Finally, there is Venezuela, the only team in the continent never to have been to a World Cup'
    .............................................................................................
    This is factually incorrect, good sir. Guyana, Suriname & Cayenne (French Guiana) have also never qualified.
    Venezuela may be the only team from COMENEBOL but not all South American Nations play in this Federation

  • Comment number 39.

    Oh come on 38 quit splitting hairs, we all know Tim was discussing nations from the continent's confederation, CONMEBOL, which have never qualified for a World Cup before, and in that respect he is correct that Venezuela are the only CONMEBOL national team never to have made it there. But who knows they are improving all the time. And if you are going to split hairs, French Guiana is not a member of FIFA, as it is officially a part of France, thus it never was eligible to qualify for a World Cup in the first place. Yet French Guyanans like Bernard Lama have played for France in the World Cup.

    Back to last week's friendlies, I was very impressed by Chile. I am a big Marcelo Bielsa fan, my club named their stadium after him, the best coach in the club's history, but his teams now are so "do or die" they either will beat you or are susceptible to being beaten badly with their all out style of play. I see Borghi giving Chile more balance. And for those thinking Chile lack bite in attack, remember in the World Cup, Humberto Suazo their chief goalscorer was not fully fit. Plus Alexis Sanchez is still developing as a player. A healthy Suazo paired with Sanchez will give Chile plenty of goalscoring ability. And Matias Fernandez showed last week that he is a major weapon on free kicks. I think Chile can be a protagonist in the coming Copa America.

  • Comment number 40.

    Regarding Colombia, shouldn't Gomez give Atletico Nacional's Edwin Cardona an opportunity? He's got the size, is capable of making short passes that keep the ball in play, I know he's a little young but isn't it better to bring the kid on now while waiting for Moreno to come back?

    BTW the Peruvian goalkeeper Salomón Libman was phenomenal against Ecuador.

  • Comment number 41.

    39..YOU might see it as splitting hairs....but there's no way u can say with certainty "WE all know what Tim meant"
    Most people I talk to from Journalists to average fans think of COMNEBOL as a Federation that represents ALL of the South American nations.

    Im from Guyana, and many people I meet have never even heard of it or Suriname or Cayenne.

    The fact that its might be a small point does not mean it does not deserve to be mentioned

  • Comment number 42.

    38 - rather than Suazo, I'd be inclined to see Pinilla, the apparently reformed wild child, as Chile's main attacking hope. He missed the friendlies through injury, but if he's fit and motivated he can be real class.

    40 - don't see Cardona as ready - there is some talent there, but I thought he was awful in the recent South American Under-20s (in the decisive stages Colombia only managed to score once in five games, and that was an own goal), and he's often on the bench for his club - too soon

  • Comment number 43.

    41 - for the purposes of this blog - on football - let it be declared that 'South America' refers exclusively to the ten footballing nations represented by the South American Federation, Conmebol

  • Comment number 44.

    Agree with everyone who points out that CONMEBOL does not actually play significantly more meaningful international games than other confederations. As #36 points out, it's sometimes less. Being pressured into going away from the current format will be a tremendous set back for CONMEBOL. I don't think any other confederation has such top to bottom quality, not even close. It's not far fetched to say that any of the 9 teams who will fight for a spot in Brasil 2014 can qualify. I think the real sleeper this time around will be Venezuela.

    Other confederations would benefit from larger groups (8-10 teams) after weak sides (tiny principalities, non-footballing nations) are weeded out instead of putting together 4/5/6 team groups. The CONMEBOL system should be used around the world to collectively raise the standard of play. I think it could be particularly effective in Asia, Africa, and Europe. When teams don't have to finish 1st in the group to qualify directly (as is more or less the case with UEFA and Africa now in their 5-6 team groups), and instead can for example finish top 3/4 in a 8-10 group to qualify, it substantially increases the level of competitive play.

    The real issue with the attack on the CONMEBOL system is the fact that European teams, who pay the salaries and bear the risk of a player's injury, are increasingly hesitant to let their players go. An understandable position, but extremely selfish given the nature of the global game and the importance of international football competitions. International success is a showcase for players and some clubs reap substantial rewards via increased transfer fees. Elite clubs' clout was clear this past week when Messi sat versus Costa Rica, and Ecuador's Antonio Valencia flew back to Manchester after the Colombia game at Man U's request, missing the Peru game.

    Make sure to catch an exciting week of Copa Libertadores this week! Starting with the group of death match between Independiente and Liga de Quito on Tuesday. Huge game for two very competitive sides.

  • Comment number 45.

    #41 – It is true that Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana are located in South America. But they see themselves as Caribbean countries. Not South American…

    Also, they are European-centric countries in the sense that they ONLY value their relations with Europe. They have very little or no interest in relating to South America. This is sad but true.

    In fact, we can indicate many brilliant “Dutch” players that were instead born in Suriname. I’m relying on Rosarino for the full list.

  • Comment number 46.

    #4 Andytricolor,

    It will be hard for a team in São Paulo state to win the next Brazilian championship; although not impossible. I would bet on 3 top contenders for the championship: Cruzeiro, Grêmio and Internacional. The first from Belo Horizonte and the last two from Porto Alegre. All quite far from São Paulo city.

    Santos has more quality players (like Neymar, Ganso and Elano) but on average they are too young and lack a better temper. Either they play really well or loose to their nerves (especially Neymar). And there are rumors of a Ganso transfer to Italy; what would be a big blow for the team.

    A second choice would be São Paulo. Young Lucas is making quite an impression but this is São Paulo weakest side in a decade. Provided that you sit far far away from Torcida Independente (a group of hooligans), Morumbi stadium is rather safe. Just like your login name, São Paulo is also known as TRICOLOR (three colors on their jersey).

    Corinthians and Palmeiras are not as strong as expected, despite having former Brazilian internationals. This means that their demanding fans are very likely to be involved on riots all season.

  • Comment number 47.

    Andytricolor

    I forgot to say that Corinthians and Palmeiras won't even have an own stadium for this season. They have behaved quite like nomad teams this season.

    And, despite Ronaldinho, Rio de Janeiro teams don't look promising at all.

  • Comment number 48.

    Tim,

    As you mention, this is a promising Copa America.

    I don't think teams (particularly Brazil and Argentina) are already thinking about 2014. They know it will be a long journey until there. At least in Brazil, I think young players are putting a lot of pressure on 2010 WC players. So this old players – like never before for them - are concerned about remaining in the national team.

    What is true is that both Brazil and Argentina coaches are trying to build confidence on their sides. Media is not patient at all for both sides. And a Copa America title would help them a lot in winning home fans and breaking any resistance against them. Although there are no complaints against Mano Menezes now, he will certainly face a lot of criticism if Brazil doesn’t perform “convincingly”. Situation in Argentina is even worse due to the lack of titles. Messi has been under pressure to bring the titles that Maradona got.

    I think Uruguay, Paraguay and Chile will try to show that 2010 WC was not an accident. I have to admit that Uruguay has always been unpredictable. They can either win or loose very bad.

  • Comment number 49.

    45. At 05:24am on 5th Apr 2011, Luiz_from_Curitiba wrote:
    #41 – It is true that Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana are located in South America. But they see themselves as Caribbean countries. Not South American…

    Also, they are European-centric countries in the sense that they ONLY value their relations with Europe. They have very little or no interest in relating to South America. This is sad but true.

    In fact, we can indicate many brilliant “Dutch” players that were instead born in Suriname. I’m relying on Rosarino for the full list.
    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    45. Most of what of what u said is untrue.
    1) Im Guyanese and have friends from Suriname. We dont see ourselves as South American? Why did u come up with this?
    Yes in Guyana we have cultural similarites to the English Caribbean (music, food, language). And we are part of the CARICOM and play cricket for the West Indies (Chandrapaul, Clive Lloyd, Carl Hooper). But that does NOT mean we dont see ourselves as South American.
    We see ourselves as both Caribbean AND South American.
    Exactly the same way Mexico is North American & Latin America & Egypt is African & also part of the Arab world.

    2. Your whole 'they are European-centric countries in the sense that they ONLY value their relations with Europe' comment is just completely silly.
    Its is SAD and UNTRUE.

    3. There is no need to put quotations on DUTCH players who were born in or have roots in Suriname. They ARE Dutch!! Clarence Seerdorf, Edgar Davids, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink etc are Dutch citizens the same way Patrick Veira is French (Senegalese Heritage) or Darrent Bent is English (Jamaican heritage)

    At the end of the day I think Guyana & Suriname are not part of CONMEBOL more because of their small populations and very low FIFA rankings than any cultural differences or so called "European-centric" hogwash that YOU invented.

  • Comment number 50.

    GT, dont worry mate this Luiz_from_Curitiba is one of the most badly informed people I have seen here in a long time. His analysis of Sao Paulo state football in posts 46 and 47 are one of the most rubbish I have ever seen.

    Corinthians is nomad? yes, for away games we go to other stadiums... funnily the same as any other team. Every home again is in Pacaembu, at least for the foreseeable future. BTW, in case you dont know, Sao Paulo is the team that has recently hosted matches in another stadium.

    Palmeiras and Corinthians fans will cause riots? have you ever even been to a Palmeiras or Corinthians game to say its any more dangerous to a neutral than any other game - what a pile of tosh.

    There is no basis for you to say Gremio, Inter and Cruzeiro are more likely to contest the national league - the unpredictability of Brazilian club football means prospects can change in a couple of months. 3 months ago Fluminense were Brazilian champions and look where they are now. All teams are on level and a simple shift in command, or an injury, or a good signing, could shift fortunes either way for at least 6 or 7 clubs, including all Sao Paulo state ones you mentioned.

    in summary, what a joke.

  • Comment number 51.

    I hope the BBC will start showing the Copa or at least highlights. I notice the pattern when they started showing the African nations cup when Nigeria (2002) and later Algeria (2010) were in England's group. 2014 is not far away and hopefully we can get a tastse of the action.

  • Comment number 52.

    First post on a great blog i have been reading for many years, i thought it was about time i got involved.

    Watching Marcelo Bielsa's Chile in last years World Cup was a breath of fresh air especially in the extremely dull group stages. I hope some of that attacking freedom will remian for next years tournamount under Claudio Borghi.

    Argentina, as mentioned in previously blogs and posts, will not have a problem scoring goals. They have enough World Class players to find a scoring formula from somewhere. But the defence is a problem, i can see quick teams like Chile opening them up.

    Brazil were inpressive all be it against a week Scotland team, but unless Argentina fix the defensive issues it will be Brazil's to lose even on Argentinian soil from what i have seen so far. Having said that i've not seen any Uruguay, Paraguay or Peru games for months.

    I agree with 51 i hope we get some coverage on the BBC this year instead of searching for internet streams every evening.

  • Comment number 53.

    Tim - Done a little bit of research and discovered that only 3 teams that were reigning Copa America holders failed to qualify for the subsequent world cup - Paraguay in 54 & 82, Bolivia in 66 and as you mentioned Colombia in 2002.

    So, this would suggest that the Copa America is quite a good barometer of who will qualify for the World Cup. This supports my opinion that having the two competitions running separately is possibly not necessary. (again i would apply this logic to all regional competitions around the world - not just south america)

    With regards them not using any more fixture dates then europeans - I agree this is true. I'm not trying to make this a south america Vs european debate, but the travelling in between these fixtures is very gruelling. Even as you say with fixtures being comparable with europe - the travelling in between means that they really are not the same. Trans-athlantic flight is one of the worst things an athlete should be doing when he has a calf strain or a tight hamstring for example... lol

    It's always the best players that suffer as a result of this too as they are generally fighting on all fronts with their respective clubs - this leads to diminished performances and injuries.

    There is no point (as some have) in saying those players chose to play in europe and clubs knew what they were getting when they signed them. This kind of attitude will not help the situation - the fact right now is that europe is still the most attractive place for the best players from the americas and else where to play. Hopefully this is beginning to change, but for now it is still a problem and as such needs a solution.

    I'm not advocating that europe should be in any way favoured in this regard. Quite the opposite actually, my suggestions are that every regional championship should be merged with qualification for the World Cup. In Europe it would take a bit more planning and thought - a two tier system would probably be necessary to accomodate the smaller nations.

    I don't see how this would result in players like Man Utd's Valencia not playing for his country? I think it is generally acknowledged that currently there are too many international matches... my suggestions would eliminate a few fixtures but not a huge amount.

    Basically, by merging the two competitions (globally not just in south america) you would have one big championship with both league and knockout stages - similar to the champions league or libertadores. This would serve both puposes - finding the champion team of that particular region, and deciding who goes to the subsequent world cup.

    You could even have the knockout stages taking place over a couple of weeks in the summer when the championship would have usually taken place anyway if desired - this would ensure that fans still get that 'tournament feel' for a couple of weeks in june as in the current structure.

    In my opinion the World Cup should be the only 'stand alone' tournament for want of a better word. It is the pinnacle of international football - therefore it is right in my view that this should be the only international tournament that supercedes club football and takes a certain degree of priority.

    It is right that the footballing world should come to a halt for those few weeks every four years to watch the cream of world football do battle. Nothing should get in the way of this. But the other regional tournaments should not have such significance or priority - they could be more flexible to accomodate club football and vise-versa.

    These are just my suggestions - I think at some point FIFA will be forced to clean up the football calender globally. How they will approach it, and how long it takes them is anybody's guess really - but one thing is clear, the situation as it stands now is far too fractured and dis-organised.

    I apologise for using your blog to discuss these issues as they are not solely a south american problem. Probably makes it seem like I have some kind of pro europe or anti south america agenda which I assure you is not the case. :)

  • Comment number 54.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 55.

    The Copa America has been seriously devalued by the involvement of non south american countries. What this then in turn does is de-value the Gold Cup and Asian Cup in turn, as the countries who should be contesting this as their continental title, are focused on the more lucrative Copa America.

    The European Championships for me is now the Greatest of all International Tournaments. The standard of football is consistently very high and the qualification series ensures this.

    What you get is the best European teams involved, but the tournament is that competetive that surprises can and will occur. Because the groups are that competetive.

    What message does it provide to Venezuela when Japan can enter and stand a better starting chance due to their footballing culture in a different continent. It is all wrong. There has to be a level footing in terms of culture,and that is why geographical areas should be used.

    Yes you will get more highly developed areas than others within a continent: (Guatemala, Mexico) (Germany, Albania) (Nigeria, Rwanda) (China, Vietnam) but the fact remains that culturally there are a lot more similarities between countries of the same continent that add validity to a tournament committed to that area.

  • Comment number 56.

    #55
    it could be solved to everyone's satisfaction by ensuring the confederations hold their local championships in different years between the world cup. If Europe is WC+2, then South America could be WC+1 and maybe Asia too (since CONCACAF nations are invited more often than Asia) and Africa and CONCACAF could be WC+3. And Africa and CONCACAF (and Asia if applicable) could align their championship with the others as a once every 4 years event. Then the all important european clubs lose different groups of players in different years, and Africans only once and not in a World Cup year as before.

    It is true that the european title is now the most competitive, effectively the world cup without 2 or 3 south american teams, but UEFA is moving to 24 teams either next year or for France 2016. And if you get the odd poor team fluking the qualification and then playing dull losing football in the finals, it will now be more likely to happen in the future.

    South America cannot help being a continent of giant nations. The map will not be redrawn any time soon with new nations, so they do the best with only 10 countries and invite others to make the tournament even more competitive.

    But the qualifiers are purely a South American affair and have been proven to bring up the standards of the whole continent. Bravo I say.

    Let's hope the argentine crowds bring a great atmosphere to the tournament, as we know they often do to club and international football. I think there will be plenty of good football, and cannot wait for it to start. Viva Colombia!

  • Comment number 57.

    # 49

    Sorry if I’ve hurt your feelings. But it is up to Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana to answer you why they didn’t join Conmebol. And a small population is not a reason for that. Look how well Uruguay has performed lately (they are a small country) and look at the great players you mentioned (they would shine in Copa America). So if I was wrong at post #45 what are the reasons for these 3 countries not joining Conmebol and other South American organizations?

  • Comment number 58.

    # 50

    So you are a Corinthians fan. And what is the name of your team’s stadium? Do you have one of your own?

    And Corinthians and Palmeiras have not been involved in violence (riots) lately? Why did Roberto Carlos move away from Corinthians and Ronaldo retire? Perhaps you prefer to give another name to the riots that happened when Corinthians got eliminated from Libertadores. There were death threats to Corinthians players! Also, Palmeiras fans have not been far behind that.

  • Comment number 59.

    @53

    Sorry just don't get your logic here at all, makes absolutely no sense to me.

    Surely there are too many meaningless club games rather than international fixtures? No?

  • Comment number 60.

    57: Luiz_from_Curitiba.
    You cannot possibly hurt my feelings with the nonsense that you make up and then type as universally accepted fact.
    Your rubbish theories about Guyana & Suriname being "European-centric" and having no interest in relating to South America had my family laughing hysterically when I told them! lol

    Im not sure why those countries are not part of CONMEBOL but Im certain its not because the other countries see them as "not wanting to be South American".
    And comparing Uruguay to them is silly....Uruguay is ranked about 100 places higher in FIFA and though you may see them as small, Uruguay's population (3.5 million) is about 5 TIMES that of Guyana's!

  • Comment number 61.

    59 - You are joking, right? Are you trying to tell me that the Scotland V Brazil match was not a waste of time? Other than making money... the same reason for most of the fixture congestion in the world game today. lol

    You could have a point however about there being too many club games though - the domestic cup competitions being the biggest culprit.

  • Comment number 62.

    Copa America is going to be such an important moment for Mano Menezes in Brazil.

    He is the right coach to lead Brazil in 2014. He wants to have Paulo Henrique Ganso, from Santos, and Ricardo Kaka playing together in the midfield, with Neymar and Pato upfront.

    He needs Kaka to be back at his peak, but it seems like this is going to happen, as I saw on this blog: http://blogambidextrous.blogspot.com/2011/04/kaka-is-going-to-be-performing-at-his.html

    I am looking forward to see Uruguay after their world cup. Argentina, to me, needs to change their coach. Sabella or Bianchi would be best options than Batista

  • Comment number 63.

    Tim, I suppose Mauricio Pinilla has a chance to become Chile's starting center forward. As you well know one of the benefits about a new coach arriving is it generally opens up options for players who were not previously regulars and gives them the chance to claim a place on the team. Pinilla, despite his individual talent has always struck me as being too inconsistent to rely upon at the national team level but we will see what Borghi shall do. A healthy Huberto Suazo is I think one of the better center forwards in South America and was a big reason why Bielsa's Chile were so productive in World Cup qualifying. It is a shame that he was not healthy in South Africa. No matter who plays at center forward, Chile should be one of the more interesting teams in this Copa America.

    Colombia fans, am I correct in assuming james Rodriguez, a champion in Argentina with Banfield and now a champion in Portugal with Porto will be withheld from Copa America so he can play the U20 World Cup in Colombia? He is a great talent but as the host country I could understand why Colombia may be inclined to play him with the U20 squad instead of the senior team. But sooner, rather than later, James Rodriguez will be a major contributor for the cafeteros.

  • Comment number 64.

    about the Guyanas and Suriname not being part of Conmebol, GT doesnt answers, he doesnt gives any hint why they arent part. He is just negative to Luiz´s theories. But Luis theories are probably better than anything GT has given.

    there are a big discussion about the subject in the following link
    http://www.bigsoccer.com/forum/showthread.php?t=1262254

    the answer is probably the fact they got independent very recently (Guyana in 66, Suriname in 75), over 150 years after all other CONMEBOL countries.

    CONMEBOL itself was formed 50 years before Guyana got independent.


    Now, suppose you are the heads of those two countries football federations. You can choose to join CONMEBOL and face 3 different countries that are world champions and several other strong countries. Or you can join CONCACAF, where there is no world champion and only two real contenders in the battle for the World Cup.

    Which confederation would you choose to join?

  • Comment number 65.

    best answer for the reason Suriname and Guyana are not part of CONMEBOL

    answer given by WhiteCloud, from BigSoccer forums
    "I posted it about a year ago, but it actually has zero to do with Jack Warner's politics, or the weakness of the teams making it impossible for them to compete in CONMEBOL. Strike both of those things from your thinking, they might both be true, but don't actually enter into it. Its physical geography--the topography of the land.
    The Caribbean Football Union is an organization that predates the formation of CONCACAF by a couple of decades. The CFU along with UNCAF(Central America) and the NAFC(USA, Mexico, Canada, Cuba) were the component organizations that merged to form CONCACAF. The Guyana Highlands historically created a physical border between the nations of Northeast South America and the rest of the continent. Air travel of the 40's and 50's was not suitable for navigation over the Highlands, which still to this day are an sparsely inhabited wilderness from the north bank of the Amazon northward. So while in a modern context it seems odd, in the standards of the time period it was perfectly reasonable for those nations to be in the Caribbean Football Union. Dutch Guiana and British Guiana were founding members of the CFU. Travel was/is much easier to Trinidad and Jamaica than Brazil or Argentina."

  • Comment number 66.

    Tim, thanks again for a great article and round-up of the current international situation in South America.

    I want to tell about a wonderful experience I had last Tuesday.

    My girlfriend - Lucia - is from Montevideo but has lived here in Dublin for the past 4 years. She grew up in the apartment above Sebastian Eguren and they were friends until he left for greener football pasture 8 or 9 years ago, until last Saturday week it had been five years since they talked. Lucia's mother got in touch with Seba's father (who I recently met on a trip to Uruguay over the New Year) in the run-up to last week's match and on Saturday afternoon Seba rang Lucia to tell her where the team was based and invited us both to visit. On Tuesday morning we hopped on a bus out to the team's swanky hotel (the same that hosted Real Madrid the summer before last) and on entering the reception Seba was there to meet us. To my delight he offered to delegate a fluent English speaker (my Spanish is getting better but I get lost when talking to more than one person!) to introduce me to the players while he and Luli caught up. It was in this manner I was introduced to Diego Forlan!! I couldn't believe it, as a huge sports fan this was amazing, up there with spending an afternoon with Carlos Alberto before the World Cup last June. Forlan was as nice a man as you could meet, full of questions about Ireland, rugby, Gaelic Games, our economic problems, our climate, so nice and genuinely interested I couldn't believe how nice a guy he was and how willing he was to give up 20-30 minutes to introduce me - a total stranger, just some annoying fan I believed but they made me feel far more than that - the whole squad. Edison Cavani (much bigger than I expected) will be a superstar and seemed so nice, El Loco Abreau and Fernando Muslera shared a joke with me and Ruso Perez (my personal favourite from the squad as he reminds me of my local hero Roy Keane) offered me a cup of coffee as Diego showed me around. After a most enjoyable and down-to-earth time meeting and greeting with one of the biggest stars in world football as a guide I rejoined my girlfriend and Seba for tea, we talked for another half hour or so and were then allowed to watch the team's afternoon training session before leaving with promises to keep in touch. Immediately after the game - very enjoyable match, Ireland played some decent football for a change but Uruguay were always more dangerous - Seba came over to our seats behind the Uruguay bench to give us his number 8 jersey, its currently being framed so it can take its place on our wall along side my signed Munster rugby jersey from the Heineken Cup final 2006.
    The whole Uruguayan team and management were so nice and friendly it took my breath away. It was a wonderful afternoon that will stay with me forever. I’ll support them with to the best of my ability this summer and in the long run, a nicer group of men you could hardly hope to meet and I wish them all the success in the world. Ahora, Soy Celeste!

  • Comment number 67.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 68.

    I fail to understand Japan's participation in Copa America.

    SA teams number 10: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.

    To make 12 teams there should be two Concacaf teams: Mexico or the US plus a Central American team or Canada. To make 16 teams there could be four Concacaf teams: Mexico, US plus a Central American team or Canada.

    Can someone explain why are the USA not in? What value does Japan bring to the cup? What is next? Canada playing in the Asian Cup? If all of the above fails, bring in the 10 original teams, plus the two (or four best) ranked teams in Concacaf.

  • Comment number 69.

    PS Someone move the Gold Cup date away from the Copa America date. And give Canada a chance to compete as they barely have an international calendar and perennially miss out on WC's.

  • Comment number 70.

    PS I have just read that Mexico is playing both tournaments...

  • Comment number 71.

    Tim,

    Please can you confirm whether Tango Backpackers in Buenos Aires would be a good place to stay during the Copa America. Would appreciate a speedy response as will need to get this booked fairly sharpish.

    Thanks,
    Dan Browne

  • Comment number 72.

    I'm not sure Tim stays in hostels these days, with his worldwide fame. Try Hostel Sudamerica (Hypolito Ygrugen, try saying that sober, let alone tipsy), just off Avenida 7 de Julio (the enormous avenue with the obelisk) and next door to the infamous party hostel Milhouse, is very good. Nice and comfortable, but better internet, has a nice bar and is much less prone to fleecing its customers on football trips (better seats, lower prices, stops for lunch on the way). I took the Milhouse trip and wasn't impressed. But you can also get to El Monumental easily by metro at El Retiro station and suburban train (the train from BA to Tigre passes by). And La Bombonera is a short bus ride away too.

    Can't speak for Tango. I heard of it, but never went. What district is it in?

  • Comment number 73.

    Tim,
    do you think that there will be much of a travelling following from the fans of the other Copa America nations? I can imagine that many chileans, uruguayans and brazilians can afford to visit and certain levels of society in Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, etc can afford too. But do they? Traditionally speaking?

    I met several south americans in South Africa last year, for the World Cup, but I wonder if they have the same burning ambition to travel to watch their continental cup when Argentina is already fairly familiar through the Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana. After all, I went for a punt on a world cup ticket just to give myself that push to finally go down to Africa. I could have comfortably watched at home in the pub with my mates.

  • Comment number 74.

    If I might make a suggestion, it seems to me that Luiz_from_Curitiba is either a troll (unlikely), an exceptionally uniformed person or he's just someone who is too wrapped up in his own head and opinions to listen to what others are saying.

    As such, I'd highly recommend avoiding interacting with him in any case; if he's troll, it's the best attitude to take anyway and, if not, then he really needs to stop and become a little more mature before he expresses his opinions. Further discussions with him probably, but not certainly, makes things worse.

  • Comment number 75.

    73 - the Copa America usually attracts very few travelling fans - who in their right mind would want to go to Argentina in July, when it's so cold?
    Paraguay and Bolivia should be able to count on some support (plenty of immigrants in Argentina), Chile will send some across the border to Mendoza, Uruguay will send some - teams in the final should have some.

  • Comment number 76.

    66 - lovely story - such an enigmatic bunch, the uruguayans - there's nothing polite about eguren on the pitch - i've seen him raise the temperature in a pre-season friendly.

    Reminded me of doing an interview with a midfielder Giacomazzi about 10 years ago when he was with penarol - has gone on to be a terrific servant for lecce in italy. I approached on the pitch after the game and was a bit wary - his appearance is a bit scary and he's a tall, all action midfielder - he could hardly have been more polite!

  • Comment number 77.

    Indeed, I have my north hemisphere hat on, where July in Europe is going to be sunny and warm.

    They have really spread the tournament around. Only the final seems to be in Buenos Aires, and they have used some very high altitude cities in the north. Whoever replaces Japan has two matches in Jujuy against countries with high altitude pedigree.

    And strangely Brazil will avoid any altitude matches. Is that by luck?

  • Comment number 78.

    South Africa at night in June is pretty cold too.

 

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