The end of the Copa America group stage marks the arrival of the quarterfinals. The group stage was marked by lots of tight and gritty play, with teams sometimes playing the game close as losses were near death sentences for many. Jamaica is going home after only allowing three goals, however, their lack of firepower doomed them to elimination, while Ecuador has scored three goals and allowed a total of six goals in their two games. The top eight are now set to meet in single elimination format, and if previous Copa America’s are any testament to what we are about to experience, prepare yourself to be shocked and amazed.
Copa America Quarterfinals Have Arrived
Chile v. Uruguay – The hosts who have never won a Copa America against the defending champions who hold the record for most Copa America titles collide in the Estadio Nacional in Santiago. Uruguay has knocked out the hosts of the last two Copa America’s, Argentina and Venezuela, and now has a chance to make it three tournaments in a row. However, the last meeting between the two sides ended in dominating fashion as Chile beat Uruguay at this same location in March 2013 in a World Cup Qualifier, 2-0, with goals from Esteban Paredes and Eduardo Vargas, Vargas is currently on the team and has two goals this tournament. The other key to that 2-0 game was that Uruguay was without Luis Suarez as well. When Suarez played against Chile in November 2011, he scored four goals against them. Chile has the advantage of having playing all their games in the same stadium while Uruguay will have traveled over 830 miles between their group games and the upcoming quarterfinal. Chile won their group after dominating performances against Ecuador and Bolivia, while only able to tie Mexico in a high scoring affair. Uruguay crept into the group stage after underwhelming performances in a 1-0 win over Jamaica, 1-0 loss to Argentina and a 1-1 tie with Paraguay. Chile comes in as the favorites based off recent play and clearly Uruguay is a different team without Luis Suarez.
Players to Watch:
Chile: Arturo Vidal (Juventus/ITA) is the current golden boot leader of the tournament and heart of the Chilean team, Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal/ENG) scored his first goal of tournament in the route of Bolivia and looks like his free kicks are at a dangerous level that could sneak past a wall of defenders and into back of the net at any point, Gary Medel (Inter Milan/ITA) has been solid as the defensive midfielder and if he causes fits for Uruguay’s Nicolas Lodeiro, it could be a long day for Uruguay.
Uruguay: Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid/ESP) missed the final group stage game due to yellow card accumulations and his absence was noticeable, will be counted on to keep Chile out of the net, Jose Gimenez (Atletico Madrid/ESP) the young center back scored the lone goal against Paraguay on a header and his level of play has improved as the tournament has gone one, Diego Rolan (Bordeaux/FRA) the young striker has played in all three games and will need to continue his improved play in order to provide a credible threat opposite Cavani.
Bolivia v. Peru – Two teams playing with house money in the most unlikeliest match up of the quarterfinals. Bolivia currently ranked 89th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings and Peru ranked #61 each have an opportunity at a spot in the semifinals. While Peru finished in 3rd place in 2011, Bolivia has not made a semifinal in a Copa America since 1997, when they made it all the way to the final before losing to Brazil. Neither team gets a lot of attention outside of CONMEBOL, perhaps due to the fact that Bolivia hasn’t made the World Cup since 1994 and Peru since 1982. Despite their lack of pedigree on an international stage, Peru has several players playing in Europe, specifically in Germany’s Bundesliga and Italy’s Serie A, while Bolivia has shown some promise with a group of predominantly domestic based players. Both teams finished in second place in their groups on four points, with Bolivia’s big win coming over Ecuador in a magical first half filled with three goals and a blocked penalty by young goalkeeper Romel Quiñónez. Peru’s big win came against Venezuela when veteran Claudio Pizarro got a rare start and poured in the game winner in a toughly contested 1-0 win. Peru go in as the favorites, however, it will still be a stunner to see them or Bolivia in the semifinals in Santiago.
Players to watch:
Bolivia: Goalkeeper Romel Quiñónez (Bolivar/BOL) is perhaps their best prospect for a star, despite allowing seven goals in three games, after his performances against Mexico and Ecuador he should be up for the task in the quarterfinals, Striker Marcelo Martins Moreno (Changchun Yatai/CHN) is the team’s best striking option and has worked hard in every game, midfielder Martin Smedberg-Dalence (Goteborg/SWE) had a goal and an assist against Ecuador and has been relatively quiet in Bolivia’s other group games, he needs to step up and become part of the attack in order to give Bolivia another attacking option.
Peru: Christian Cueva (Alianza Lima/PER) has perhaps been the revelation of the tournament, the high speed attacking midfielder scored the team’s lone goal against Brazil and has been a pest in the heart of opponents’ defenses, Carlos Zambrano (Eintracht Frankfurt/GER) has been solid in the center back position and a huge reason why Peru have only allowed 2 goals so far, his ability to frustrate Martins or any other Bolivian attackers will be central in the game, Luis Advincula (Vitoria Setubal/POR) has been effective from the right back position, tracking back to play defense and pushing the pace forward, his play against Venezuela was a big reason his team held on to the 1-0 win that made the difference in getting out of the group.
Argentina v. Colombia – The most anticipated quarterfinal matchup, worthy of a final will pit Lionel Messi against James Rodriguez, let the comparisons begin. Argentina is the team of destiny with their nucleus of players tabbed as the favorites to win the Copa America. Argentina won their group with a pair of 1-0 wins over Uruguay and Jamaica, while blowing a 2-0 lead against Paraguay to tie 2-2. Those aren’t overly impressive results for a tournament favorite, however, last year in the World Cup run to the final, the team had three 1-0 wins and advanced from the semifinals via a penalty shootout after playing to a scoreless draw. In other words, Argentina know how to win low scoring, ugly games. Colombia on the other hand, comes in as a third place team who struggled in the group stage after losing to Venezuela; they managed to beat Brazil for the first time in 24 years and then tied Peru. While it hasn’t quite been 24 years since Colombia last beat Argentina, it still has been a long eight years, November 2007 in a World Cup qualifier for the 2010 World Cup, 2-1. Carlos Sanchez was the only current Colombian team member on that team, while Argentina had four current players on that losing team, Messi, Carlos Tevez, Javier Mascherano and Martin Demichelis. Colombia has only scored one goal so far and it came from a center back, even with having a plethora of goal scoring options. It could be a matter of time before Colombia’s strikers start hitting the net
Players to watch:
Argentina: Lionel Messi (Barcelona/ESP) the 2009 FIFA Player of the Year and three time FIFA Ballon d’Or winner has once again been the best player on the field for Argentina and will cause Colombia fits throughout the night, Javier Mascherano (Barcelona/ESP) will be counted on to disrupt James and help keep the field open for the playmakers in front of him, he is invaluable to the team and will be a handful, Javier Pastore (PSG/FRA) has carried on his stellar play from France’s Ligue 1 to the Copa America, finally Argentina has a playmaking midfielder to help set up the talented strikers up front
Colombia: James Rodriguez (Real Madrid/ESP) is now looked upon as Colombia’s star and playmaker, however, the Brazil game was the only one of the three where we saw glimpses of the player the world saw in Brazil last year and with the lights completely on him against Argentina Rodriguez should be up to the task, Alexander Mejia (Monterrey/MEX) came in for the injured Edwin Valencia and will be counted on to play the defensive midfield spot against the strong attacking Argentinians, Juan Camilo Zúñiga (Napoli/ITA) is a dangerous full back who can provide offense from the back line, however, will be relied upon to ruffle some Argentinian feathers, the way he did Neymar’s during the group stage.
Brazil v. Paraguay – At first peek, Brazil is the clear cut favorite in this matchup, however, upon further review; this Paraguay team is capable of knocking off the great Brazil. After all, they did so in 2011 in this same stage of the tournament in a penalty shootout. Brazil will be playing without their key playmaker and captain, Neymar, and only have two strikers available in Robinho and Diego Tardelli. Roberto Firmino has proven to be a worthy striking option, causing the Venezuelan defense fits in the group stage, while Philippe Coutinho and Dani Alves are world class players that can change the game in a moment of brilliance. Brazil won Group C with wins over Peru and Venezuela, however, lost a 1-0 heartbreaker to Colombia. Paraguay arrives in the quarterfinals as the surprise Group B runner up, they tied the mighty Argentina and defending champions Uruguay, while beating Jamaica. Three players have over 100 caps for the national team, Justo Villar, Paulo da Silva and Roque Santa Cruz, while others have plenty of national team and international experience, meaning that this Paraguay team is no pushover despite their poor World Cup Qualifying results for the 2014 edition. Paraguay’s 2011 formula was to tie all their games and win them in penalty shootouts, this year the tournament goes directly into penalties after 90 minutes of tied play, therefore, a similar tactic may be implemented now that they know they can play and hold off the big teams.
Players to Watch:
Brazil: Daniel Alves (Barcelona/ESP) the right back veteran who wasn’t even on the original roster when it was announced, only joined due to an injury, has been the team’s best player on the field sparking the offense and getting back on defense, Thiago Silva (PSG/FRA) the captain in the 2014 World Cup could get the captain duties again, he scored the opening goal against Venezuela and while he can make mistakes in the back line, he has been known to make up for them by scoring on the other end, Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool/ENG) is a wizard in the midfield who doesn’t shy away from attacking and could provide the spark this Brazilian team needs to make a run to the final.
Paraguay: Raul Bobadilla (Augsburg/GER) the striker who had a phenomenal Bundesliga season has shown hints of what he could provide to the team and perhaps the striker who can provide the most fits to the Brazilian defense, Roque Santa Cruz (Cruz Azul/MEX) the veteran striker has one goal in this tournament and has played with a youthful spring in his step all tournament, he and Bobadilla could provide the offensive spark to pull out the upset, Pablo Aguilar (America/MEX) does not shy away from big time plays at the center back position and has been the team’s most consistent defender, he will need to provide a spectacular performance to help his team keep Brazil out of the net.
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