Mexico and Uruguay Playing for Pride

In a game that means little on paper, both Mexico and Uruguay are coming out today to leave Copa America 2007 on a high note and start their campaigns for the 2010 World Cup with some momentum.

Mexico has had an excellent tournament so far. After a bad Gold Cup, the press and the fans were very critical of their coach Hugo Sanchez. It seemed possible that Hugo wouldn’t be around to see them into South Africa after yet another loss against the United States in the final. Their first game in Copa America changed all that. After beating Brazil and going on to winning their group, people started gaining confidence in Hugo and a team without all their stars. Having a super talented Nery Castillo in the team didn’t hurt in the least either. In the semifinals, they were rightfully beaten by a superior Argentina, however to that point they displayed great football and great results. Hugo Sanchez is now here to stay.

The Uruguayans path to this game was completely the opposite. They were horrible for practically all tournament. Sleepwalking through the group stages without Alvaro Recoba in the lineup. Forlan was awful missing practically everything his way and the team never was in sync. They only advanced into the second round of play because they were placed in the weakest group of the bunch and even so, they barely made it. If that wasn’t enough, their first match against Venezuela was easily the worst game of the tournament and perhaps of Copa America history. When everyone had written them off, the Uruguayans came through in the quarter finals with a 4-1 win over Venezuela that saw more scoring than in their previous 3 games. Then they gave Brazil its run for the money in the semifinals, a game where they had the win in several occasions but never came through. Credit Recoba and Abreu for delivering for their team when it mattered and the always well dressed coach, Oscar Washington Tabarez, for tinkering around with this tactics until he found one that worked. They are a team getting better, not worse, but still have to get rid of that inconsistency that they are known for.

Two teams that came to Venezuela with question marks will leave feeling more optimistic about the next World Cup, but which one will go home feeling more satisfied and with the consolation of being the bronze squad? That is what they play for today.

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Copa America Final

The grand finale!
Who will be the champion of the 2007 Copa America?

Brazil vs Argentina

Brazil vs Argentina – Sunday 15 July 2007 5pm EDT on Univision and GolTV (not ESPN)
Estadio Pachencho Romero, Maracaibo, Venezuela.

Betting odds:
Brazil – 3.55
Argentina – 1.90
Tie – 3.40

Argentina are heavy favorites in Las Vegas.

What do you think?
Is Argentina a lock to raise the trophy?
Can Brazil and Robinho beat them, and thus continue the Argentine championship drought?

The best loser

Copa America Venezuela 2007 – Third place game

Uruguay vs Mexico – Saturday 14 July 2007 5:00pm EDT on Univision and GolTV (not espn)
Played in Caracas (is this the first game in Caracas?)

Odds:
Mexico – 2.10
Uruguay – 3.15
Tie – 3.25

Goal – Argentina 2-0 Mexico Messi scores

Goal? Golazo! Bravo Messi!

Lionel Messi

 

Almost as crazy as a girl jumping from down from the stands to give Messi a kiss.

Mexico 0 – 3 Argentina

Mexico’s defense crumbles against Riquelme and Messi.

Perhaps it wasn’t the great game everybody expected, but don’t blame Messi for not trying. The Barcelona striker played his best game of the tournament, and overshadowed another brilliant performance by Riquelme.

Each half had its own story.
The first 45 minutes were Mexico’s best. They played well, attacking often and with many players, having some good chances to score. Most notable was Andres Guardado’s horrible shot after a great play to get a wide open look at Abbondanzieri. The new Deportivo signing chose to shoot with his left foot when the angle called for a shot with the right and Andres missed what was to be the best opportunity for his country. It could have given Mexico the lead and changed the game but it would not happen. Argentina had some chances of their own but Tevez wasn’t sharp tonight.

It took a cheeky trick play out of a set piece to get Argentina on top. Riquelme lined up to take a free kick on goal but he instead took an indirect one, lobbing a picture perfect pass to the far post where Heinze came in with a karate chop kick to put in the 1-0. It was a perfect call since the Mexicans were out of position to defend Heinze who usually poses no threat in that position. With the momentum now clearly shifted to Argentina’s side, the teams went to the locker rooms for halftime.

When they emerged in the second half, Mexico was doomed. Hugo Sanchez subbed out a lifeless Cacho and his midfielder Torrado, and while benching Cacho was the right move, without Torrado their midfield collapsed. They looked like the Mexico in the Gold Cup final against the USA, confused and beaten. The defense was particularly horrible in the second half leaving wide open spaces everywhere. That was the perfect situation for Messi who’s dribbling thrives in those wide spaces. Thats how Argentina’s second goal came to play, a wide open Messi runs in and lobs the ball over a badly positioned Oswaldo Sanchez for a great goal, a golazo!

Lionel Messi

Messi after scoring a brilliant goal

From that point on it was all Argentina. Mexico resorted to give long balls to Nery Castillo who was very quiet all alone up front. He was very well defended by Heinze – who really had a sensational game – and Ayala. Even so he still managed to come close to scoring scraping the crossbar off a shot. The rest of the Mexicans did more fouling than playing and it was a cheap foul by the captain Rafa Marquez that gave Riquelme his fifth goal of the tournament off a penalty kick.

Argentina confirms their date with Brazil in the classic duel of South American titans.
Mexico and Uruguay will meet the day before as the teams that came close but not quite enough.

The Star

Lionel Messi. F, Argentina
Rafa Marquez - cryingRiquelme was great but Messi was better. Mexico’s defense had gaps and that is where Messi plays his best.

The Ugly Duckling

Rafael Marquez. D, Mexico
Extremely sloppy play from Messi’s teammate at Barcelona. Was slow and out of place a lot of the time and resorted to fouling including the penalty that sealed the game for Argentina.

Semifinal 2: Mexico vs Argentina

This is the battle many have been waiting for. The rematch of the best game in the 2006 world cup!

June 24, 2006 is when the two sides met up in Leipzig in the round of 16. Mexico went up with a goal by captain Rafa Marquez. Shortly after Borghetti scored an own goal on a corner to equalize at 1-1. An exciting game ended with a 1-1 but during extra time Maxi Rodriguez came up with a sensational goal to give Argentina a 2-1 victory.

Maxi Rodriguez won’t be playing this time. Neither will Crespo who is out injured. But a lot of the factors in last year’s matchup return and expect a high energy, high emotion game. One to not miss. Carlos Tevez won’t. He replaces Diego Milito in the starting lineup. Nery Castillo is nuring a knee injury but it expected to suck it up and play. Without Nery, Argentina can cruise to victory. With him, Mexico can challenge anyone.

Gametime and odds:

Mexico vs Argentina. 8:30pm EDT. Univision/GolTV
Mexico – 5.25
Argentina – 1.55
Tie – 3.75

Replay on Fox Sports en Español at midnight EDT. No coverage on ESPN or ESPN2 so don’t look for it there.

Transfer Update

Some Copa America players changing clubs today before their big semifinal game.

  • Gabriel Milito, Argentina. One of the most impressive defenders in Copa America is moving from Zaragoza to Barcelona. Barça will be paying $23.4 million for the Argentine defender who joins Leoniel Messi but leaves his brother Diego Milito behind.
  • Andres Guardado, Mexico. The international midfielder moves from club Atlas to Deportivo La Coruña for $9.5 million. PSV Eindhoven had a deal for $6.1 million. Guardado joins his countryman Rafael Marquez in the Spanish La Liga.

Smooches

Andres Guardado and his wife Briana Morales are headed to La Coruña

Brazil 2 -2 Uruguay. Penalties: 5-4.

It was lights out for Uruguay.

On a night when anything was possible, the winner of the first semifinal was decided by penalty kicks. Doni, who clearly jumped several feet forward, stopped Lugano’s shot and ended Uruguay’s dreams. In truth, the penalty should have been retaken since Doni wasn’t anywhere near the line, but the referee decided it was ok and the Brazilians are through.

Brazil wins!! 5-4 in penalties
Tonight, Brazil will party hard!

 

The game itself was exciting, very exciting if you consider it was Uruguay who was playing. El Chino Recoba was absolutely brilliant and brought a threat from each and every corner kick. He had some great shots on goal but Doni came through with the saves. Brazil struck first in a lucky minute 13 with a great play between Julio Baptista and Vagner Love. Carini saved Vagner’s shot but Maicon came up for a rebound which he nailed back for a goal. A great goal for a great player who hasn’t been getting the credit he deserves.

What happened next is something which you can only expect in Venezuela, a power outage in a nation with a large excess of fossil fuels. Play would resume some 14 minutes late and surprisingly the tempo didn’t slow. Uruguay equalized off a great goal by Diego Forlan. I have been very critical of Forlan’s play this tournament but he scored a big one that tied the game and raised the morale for the Celestes. Uruguay took that momentum to play strong for the remainder of a really long first half but it was Brazil who surprised with a late goal when they were playing their worst. Again Maicon, this time on a cross, found Julio Bapista who was in the right place at the right time. All alone and with the ball going his way Baptista just chipped it in for a 1-2 carioca lead. Brazil played well but perhaps not well enough to be leading. Robinho was completely absent tonight and the team in yellow was dependent on Maicon and Love. Either way, they weren’t complaining about winning. With that score the teams headed to the locker room for halftime.

The second half was a completely different game. Uruguay made some subs and tactical changes, bringing on a sensational Abreu. Dunga for his part brought some new faces in hope of breathing some fresh air into their game. But the football in the second half was more rusty than the first and not much happened, until out of nowhere, El Loco Abreu found himself with a pinball style goal. Again, Uruguay equalized. The rest of the second half was a game of nerves. Brazil with an untested Fernando and Afonso didn’t want to risk. Uruguay – steep underdogs – were now brinking on the edge of a Copa America final. The air was rife with tension. And we would head to the penalties to decide the game.

Penalties

One of the most exciting PK rounds in recent memory. Truely epic.
Robinho – sensational 1-0
Forlan – fails. Doni Saves 1-0

Juan – clinical shot. 2-0
Andres Scotti – soft touch, great under pressure 2-1

Gilberto Silva – all location, no power. 3-1
Ignacio Gonzalez – copies gilberto silva’s shot. 3-2

Afonso – hard, to Carinis right and nails the POST. ouch. 3-2
Cristian Rodriguez – whew, made it. 3-3

Diego – perfect shot. unstoppable. 4-3
Abreu – cheeky!!! lobs it in. beautiful!! long live the copa america! 4-4

Fernando – again the right post!! oh no! 4-4
Pablo Garcia – for the win!….. too strong. hits the left post! Uruguay wilts. 4-4

Gilberto – hard over Carini, well struck. 5-4
Diego Lugano – stopped by Doni!! Doni walks 3 feet forward and stops a badly taken PK. 5-4. ITS OVER. (see video)

The scrum which followed later between both teams was unfortunate but it had to happen. Doni was way off the line, and a heartbroken Uruguay had to complain. No matter the pentas though. Brazil celebrates under the fireworks as they barely make the finals for Copa America 2007.

Nothing will tell the story of today’s game better than the reaction Uruguay’s coach Oscar Washington Tabarez to Pablo Garcia’s missed penalty.
The penalty that would have given Uruguay an epic victory over their much larger neighbor.
That would have sent them to a Copa America final after so many years.
That would have erased the pain of so many recent failures for a team with so much history.
That would not go in. So it ends.

Oscar Washington Tabarez is disappointed

No caption needed

The Star

Cristian Rodriguez. F, Uruguay.
They call him La Cebolla Rodriguez, which means The Onion. Reason being, he makes defenders cry. Although C. Rodriguez didn’t get a score during regular time, he was all over the Brazilians and wrecked havoc. A great effort and performance by the kid from PSG.

The Ugly Duckling(s)

Pablo Garcia and Diego Lugano. M, D Uruguay.
Both played very well during the game but missed absolutely crucial penalty kicks when the pressure was on. Pablo didn’t get his country into the finals when he had the shot, and Diego sealed their fate one kick later. No doubt they will be tossing and turning in their beds tonight.

Semifinal 1: Uruguay vs Brazil

TV Coverage begins at 8:30PM EDT on Univision and GolTV. (Note: no coverage on ESPN, on Fox but as a replay).

Odds:
Uruguay – 6.15
Brazil – 1.45
Tie – 4.00

Brazil comes into this game as the clear favorite, having impressed against Chile with a landslide victory.
Uruguay beat the home team by 4 goals to 1, but few expect them to bring that same style of play tonight.

Both teams have played mediocre football in the group stages with Dunga heavily criticized back at home and Uruguay playing some real boring games against weak opposition. The factors to watch in this game are:

  • Robinho – leading goal scorer of the tournament, although 5 of his 6 goals have come against Chile.
  • The Brazilian midfield – will they be defensive or attack minded? Anderson? Josue? What will they do
  • Diego Forlan – The Uruguayan striker missed far more than he scores. Needs to be accurate tonight.
  • Recoba – Deadly from free kicks, his team will be looking to get some fouls where he can do some danger.

Hugo Chavez Jr, a big Messi fan

Messi and Hugo Chavez JrCrazy girls aren’t the only ones obsessed with Barcelona striker Messi. Hugo Chavez Jr, son of Venezuela’s president is a huge Messi fan and went out of his way to meet the young star and get a picture with him.

Messi scored his first goal in Copa America yesterday against Peru. He has played really well, but nowhere near the level of what I claim are the top three in Copa America Venezuela – Juan Roman Riquelme, Nery Castillo and Robinho.