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Archives for July 2011

Kun can charm City's fanbase

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Tim Vickery | 09:44 UK time, Friday, 29 July 2011

The sun is rising at Eastlands as "Kun" brings his special talent to Manchester City.

Kun is the nickname of Sergio Aguero, the Argentine striker who in the last few days has become the latest of City's South American signings - and potentially the best.

Robinho's capture announced the arrival of the club amongst the super-rich, while the capture of Carlos Tevez had the added cachet of annoying Manchester United.

But Aguero looks more like being a case of the right player arriving at the right time for the right reasons. His signing is both a present to the club for having qualified for the Champions League, and a declaration of intent to make an impact in the competition.

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Future bright for Copa kings Uruguay

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Tim Vickery | 10:00 UK time, Monday, 25 July 2011

The record 15th Copa America triumph came with a fair dose of suffering - the only way Uruguay know how.

They drew both their first two games. Then they mounted a heroic rearguard action in the quarter final against hosts Argentina, where they had a man sent off in the first half.

But in the end it was conclusive. And so was the message from Buenos Aires after the 3-0 win over Paraguay in the final - last year's run to the World Cup semi finals was no fluke. Uruguay are back.

Much of the credit must clearly go to coach Oscar Washington Tabarez, the thoughtful veteran who has masterminded the resurgence of Uruguayan football. But as I watched his team run down the clock in the second half against Paraguay, I was reflecting on how his entire project could have been derailed right at the start.

Before starting his second spell in charge of Uruguay in 2006, Tabarez spent time ruminating on the consequences of globalisation on his country's football - on how, with a population little more than 3 million, it was impossible for the domestic game to keep hold of its talents, and how it was difficult to maintain a footballing identity in a globalised context. One of his conclusions was that Uruguay's national teams, at all levels, should play the 4-3-3 formation.

This hardline philosophy lasted exactly one competitive game. In their debut in the 2007 Copa in Venezuela, Uruguay were taken apart on the road to a 3-0 defeat by Peru. "Reality was too strong for us," commented the coach afterwards. Time for a rethink. Tabarez understood that Uruguay had to acknowledge their limitations. They had to change their gameplan in accordance with the strengths and weaknesses of the opponent.

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Inspirational Markarian leads Peru to semi-finals

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Tim Vickery | 16:31 UK time, Sunday, 17 July 2011

At the time of writing there is the chance that Venezuela might make it two, but at the moment there is the certainty that one of the Copa America semi-finalists will be a team who missed out on last year's World Cup - and who missed out by the widest possible margin.

Peru finished bottom of the table in South America's 2010 qualifiers. They lost all nine away games, conceding 26 goals in the process. Their preparations for the current Copa were rocked by injuries, losing captain and centre forward Claudio Pizarro, highly talented support striker Jefferson Farfan and spiky Brazil-based midfielder Luis Ramirez - all first choice players - plus Jesus Rabanal, a strong candidate for the left back position. No other team in the Copa suffered such ill fortune. And yet here are Peru in the last four.

There is an easy explanation for such a sensational turn around. What a difference a coach makes!

Some will argue that the credit or the blame always belongs to the players, that the importance of coaches is over-stated, and so on. And, hardly surprisingly in such an insecure profession, some coaches are clearly prone to indulge in marketing antics aimed at exaggerating their own contribution. But the fact remains that in a team sport such as football they have a vital role to play.

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Argentina must abandon Barcelona plan

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Tim Vickery | 19:10 UK time, Sunday, 10 July 2011

If the Titanic had reached New York it would have been just another ship ride. The fascination lies in the failure.

The thought kept running through my mind last Wednesday night as I watched Argentina ride their luck to hold Colombia to a 0-0 draw in the Copa America. The game was like an iceberg - an appropriate image given the Arctic conditions - that left the big idea of Argentina coach Sergio Batista holed below the waterline. The project to mould the national side in the shape of Barcelona will surely have to be abandoned. The slavish copy of the 4-3-3 with Lionel Messi in that false number nine position has not been a success - and the players know it.

Watching Argentina was a lot like seeing the air removed from one of those inflatable men. The team took the field swelling with hope, fanatical provincial crowd behind them, ready to show that the debut draw against Bolivia was nothing but a case of opening-night nerves. And then during the course of the 90 minutes they visibly deflated, shrinking in front of our eyes as their faith in what they were doing seeped away.

In part this is a story of the contemporary primacy of European club football, of how the outstanding teams in the Champions League are now a global reference, setting standards throughout the game.

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Opening skirmishes hint at wide-open Copa

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Tim Vickery | 07:52 UK time, Monday, 4 July 2011

They may have had a little bit of help from some a less than perfect pitch in La Plata and some opening match nerves from the big two, but in holding Argentina and Brazil respectively, Bolivia and Venezuela made a powerful declaration of the current strength in depth of the South American national teams.

Whoever wins the Copa America on 24 July will have to battle their way to the title but both hosts Argentina and 2014 World Cup hosts Brazil will feel they are capable of far better than they produced in their first group games.

There was a common denominator in their failure of both sides to live up to expectations - a glaring lack of patience in their play.

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