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Archives for June 2011

Historic Copa America is history in the making

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Tim Vickery | 08:04 UK time, Monday, 27 June 2011

I am heading down to Argentina not looking forward to the intense winter cold - quite frankly, it is the kind of thing I crossed the Atlantic to avoid - but with a warm glow in anticipation of the 43rd Copa America, which kicks off on Friday.

The tournament has a double-edged beauty. It is a pilgrimage to a place where football history was made, and a fascinating opportunity to witness history in the making.

The world's oldest continental tournament, the Copa was first staged in Argentina in 1916. There are times during the competition's 95-year history that it can claim to have showcased some of the best football ever seen at that point.

Until the Wall Street crash of 1929, it was held annually (with the exceptions of 1918 and 28), on four of those occasions in Argentina. At a time when football in the continent's south cone was catching on at extraordinary speed, these regular confrontations did much to raise standards.

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River Plate face play-off anxiety

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Tim Vickery | 07:44 UK time, Monday, 20 June 2011

The playing days of lumbering Argentine striker Martin Palermo were one prolonged battle of a man to overcome his own limitations. Sensing and identifying with the essential nobility of the struggle, the fans of Boca Juniors took him to their hearts.

Palermo's career ended on Saturday on a note of appropriate drama. His last touch as a professional, deep into stoppage time, was a nod down which set up team-mate Christian Cellay to score Boca's equaliser against Gimnasia of La Plata.

To add spice to the occasion, it was an important goal - and not just because Palermo is from La Plata, a fan and an ex-player of Estudiantes, Gimnasia's local rivals.

In a frantic last day of the league season, a win for Gimnasia would mean they would not be one of the two teams to be automatically relegated. Instead they would go into a play-off against the team finishing third in the Second Division - but that late Boca goal worsened their position.

Now they must meet fellow strugglers Huracan, with the losers going down, and the winners earning a chance to save themselves in a play-off against San Martin of San Juan.

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Penarol carving out a new history

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Tim Vickery | 14:39 UK time, Monday, 13 June 2011

Measuring 309m by 46m, the flag unfurled on 12 April by fans of Uruguayan club Penarol is apparently the biggest in the world.

Draped across much of Montevideo's Centenario stadium, it hung in celebration of the fact that the club had made it through to the knockout stages of the Copa Libertadores for the first time since 2002.

Two months later, there is much more to celebrate. Penarol have gone all the way to the final, for the first since they won the last of their five titles in 1987.

This Wednesday they are at home in the first leg against Santos of Brazil, who are chasing their first title since 1963. It is a replay of the 1962 clash between these first two winners of the Libertadores. This is a match dripping in history, and it could hardly have a more appropriate setting than the Centenario, the legendary old ground built for the 1930 World Cup.

In recent years a different flag has often been on show in the stands of the stadium, one which suggests that a rich footballing history can be as much a burden as an asset.

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Having three teams on the go is a risk for Argentina

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Tim Vickery | 13:33 UK time, Monday, 6 June 2011

In an end-of-season international friendly, with one side leading 4-0, why on earth would the referee want to add on a heap of stoppage time? Surely the best advice would be to blow up and let everyone go home.

But that is not what Ibrahim Chaibou did last Wednesday when he was in charge of the match between Nigeria and Argentina in Abuja. He added on five extra minutes. True, there had been plenty of second-half substitutions but it was hard to see why five extra minutes were necessary or desirable.

But then it got stranger. Five minutes came and went. Then six. Then seven. And then he awarded Argentina an absurd penalty for a non-existent handball. Mauro Boselli converted it to make the final score 4-1 to the home side.

With an alleged splurge of bets on a late goal, it is little wonder that Fifa is opening an investigation into the events.

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