Copa America 2015 - Rebirth of El Tigre, El Fideo and El Canarinho?
The Sub Plot
Why I hear you ask? Well there are many potential story lines that could develop. This short article explains a bit about the tournament and just how a tiger, a noodle and a little canary could influence it.
Whilst the tournament is seen as the South American championship, in recent years it has included teams outside the CONMEBOL area and this years tournament is no exception with Mexico and Jamaica being invited. In all there are 12 teams divided into 3 groups of 4 where the teams in each group play each other once in a round robin style. The top 2 qualify for the quarter finals with the remaining two places being taken by the best 3rd place teams in each group. The holders are Uruguay after they beat Paraguay in the 2011 final held in Argentina. This year the tournament is being held in Chile and kicked off on the 11th June with the hosts Chile beating Ecuador 2-0. Not entirely surprising given the competent performance of the Chilean side in last years world cup plus the fact that they have Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez who are well established European based stars. Lets take a look at each group and how things could play out.
Group A consist's of Chile, Mexico, Bolivia and Ecuador. Clear favorites here are the Chilean side who have several European based players in their ranks most notably Vidal and Sanchez who I mentioned earlier. This is a side that took Brazil to penalties in last summers world cup and so it is hard to think they will not win the group. Mexico also will be competent opponents and whilst you may think they will have one eye on next months Gold Cup they are bringing a competitive side which consists of veteran Rafael Marquez and the interesting Eduardo Herrera who boasts a 3 goals in 3 games record. With Gold Cup places possibly up for grabs the players will want to put on a good showing. Ecuador will be hard to beat but losing Antonio Valencia to injury will hamper them but they do have Enner Valencia who has an impressive international goal scoring record and whose world cup form earned him a move to English Premier League side West Ham Utd. I expect them to run Mexico close for 2nd place in the group with the Mexican's edging it, just. Unfortunately I think Bolivia will struggle and it is hard to see where their goals will come from other then from Marcelo Moreno. With this in mind I would have Ecuador in 3rd.
Group B consist's of Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Jamaica. It also features El Fideo, the first of our headliners. Argentina are the undoubted favorites, not just to win the group but to win the tournament. They posses one of the best players in the world in Lionel Messi who is fresh from winning the Champions League with his club Barcelona. I say one of the best as I think I remain one of the few who still cannot separate him from Cristiano Ronaldo. Along with Messi, they have Aguero, Higuan, Carlos Tevez and I could go on and on with the quality they posses. However, it is Angel Di Maria who intrigues the most. He is the one known as El Fideo or the noodle.
Having moved to Manchester United in the summer of 2014 from Real Madrid, after a promising start he went dramatically off form and was barely making the side at the end of the season. In fairness he suffered a few niggly injuries plus he is not alone is finding the English Premier League tough to adapt too in his first season. The British pundits can be harsh and sometimes have not held back in criticism which can be attributed to the GBP59 million transfer fee paid for him. This tournament is a chance to put behind him the tough first season he endured. There is no doubting his talent. Di Maria is fast, creative and can delivery a ferocious cross. He is tireless in his running and energy but if there is one criticism it can be that he gives the ball away from time to time when he is trying something he does not need to. However, that is what he is about, trying the unexpected. When it comes off he is lauded as being a genius and it would be a shame to discourage that inventiveness. He is a wonderful talent and do not be surprised if he is a standout performer for the Argentinians.
The holders Uruguay should progress in second place. They are without the suspended Luis Suarez but they still posses the talents of Edison Cavani as well as having the stable Diego Godin at the back. They are not the force they were 4 years ago but none the less will be a hard side to defeat. It is the 3rd place that is intriguing in this group. All things point to Paraguay, the runners up in 2011 when they remarkably made the final without winning a game (they drew their group games and progressed through the knockout on penalty shootouts). With the ever classy Roque Santa Cruz in their ranks they will be a competent side. However, Jamaica will likely be a tough proposition. They have typically played well at the major tournaments as they have tended to be hard to beat. It is true that they, like Mexico, will have one eye on the Gold Cup but none the less there will be several players hoping to make the Gold Cup starting XI and with the likes of Wes Morgan, Adrian Mariappa, Giles Barnes and Joel McAnuff they could be a difficult proposition if they are underestimated. You have to fancy Paraguay to make it to 3rd place and they could even push Uruguay for 2nd but do not rule out Jamaica causing an upset or two.
The final group consists of Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Venezuela. Peru whilst still boasting wily veteran Claudio Pizzaro are likely to struggle in this group and I would expect them to battle it out for 3rd place with Venezuela. For Venezula watch for players like Fedor, Rincon and Amorebieta to shine. Like Jamaica, they should not be underestimated and if they are they could spring a surprise. However, with Brazil and Colombia in the same group it will be hard.
It is El Canarinho, the mighty Brazil, who have something to prove. Last year they made the semi finals of the World Cup but it was the astonishing 7-1 slippering they received at the hands of Germany that caught the eye. They will be wounded with that having taken place on home soil. This is their chance to repair some of that damage. They are a strong side and are now coached by one time player Dunga. Like Argentina, they have a world superstar in Neymar, who is also a club team mate of Lionel Messi. Neymar is a sensational player and is probably in the top 3 best players in the world. He was absent from the Germany loss due to injury so perhaps this is a chance for Brazil to show what could have been. That is not to say the rest of the squad do not possess talent. In defence they have Thiago, Luiz and Marquinhos who are 3 players also used to playing together at club level. This will be helpful if all 3 play. Up front, along with Neymar, they have the Hoffenheim based Firmino who could soon be Manchester United bound if the press rumors are true. Firmino is a wonderfully unselfish striker who is quick with an eye for goal. One to watch in this tournament. This is a chance for the little canary to grow back into the big canary all football fans love to watch.
Finally, lets look at the Colombian's. Radamel Falcao, El Tigre, will captain the side. Like Angela Di Maria, he endured a tough time in the English Premier League whilst on loan from his club Monaco at Manchester United. However, he is a world class striker and United may live to regret not making his signing permanent. His situation can be likened to Diego Forlan's who endured similar frustrations and challenges in England. Having missed the 2014 world cup due to injury this is his chance to shine and I expect him to have a strong tournament. He possesses tremendous close control and awareness for someone who is perceived to be an out and out centre forward. He clearly has an exemplary work ethic and attitude to battle back from the injuries he has had. He is good in the air and very instinctive. If you look at the 4 goals he scored for Manchester United last season each were very different but show his qualities. Then go and watch some of the goals he has scored for Atletico Madrid and you will see the type of player he can be. Colombia were eliminated from last years world cup by Brazil so have a score to settle themselves. In addition to Falcao, they also have James Rodriguez who was last years top scorer in the world cup, as well as Carlos Bacca and Jackson Martinez so they are not short on attacking talent. With the likes of Arias, Zapata and Cuadrado expect them to push Brazil for top spot in the group.
My predications for the tournament at this point are that the winners will be Argentina with Colombia being my outsiders though given the talent they have it is hard to think of them as outsiders. Top scorer is hard as there is so much talent on show. I would look to Falcao with Firmino and Messi being close. I expect Neymar, Di Maria and Rodriguez to have strong tournaments with their influence coming from assists and team play. Once the group phase is complete I be writing a follow up article on the knockout phase. Enjoy the tournament!