Brazil show champion spirit as goals rain down
And so the final whistle has blown on the 42nd Copa America, a tournament that saw Brazil rubber stamp their continental preeminence by overcoming the absence of some of their biggest names to retain the crown they won in 2004. In securing their eighth Copa win in all, and their fourth in the last five editions, the Seleção also earned the right to defend their FIFA Confederations Cup title at South Africa 2009.
Yet there was a lot more to a spectacular competition than Brazil's show of strength in the final. Read on as FIFA.com picks out some of the highlights of a dramatic fortnight in which the goals just kept on coming.
Yellow is the colour
There was no mistaking the uncompromising Dunga's influence as Brazil scrapped their way to the trophy. Out went the tenets of jogo bonito and in came a more practical battleplan based on three main principles: quality performers with an unspectacular pedigree, a physical approach and match tactics that put a premium on teamwork. Although Dunga's pragmatic pupils got off to a stuttering start, the mercurial Robinho kept them alive with his nose for goal. Then, as the team started to knit together, some of the tenacious tactician's other stars started to grow in stature. Solid and determined to the end, the Brazilians emerged as worthy champions and have many reasons to be optimistic about the future.
A second-place finish behind their old rivals is not what Argentina came to Venezuela for. The outstanding side leading up to the final, the Albiceleste produced some thrilling passages of play in which both the team and some of its hugely talented members shone brightly. Even so, the defence looked shaky at times and its shortcomings were cruelly exposed by Brazil. As they survey the wreckage of the final, there are some obvious questions to be answered, including what went wrong in the decisive game. Carlos Tevez provided something of a response to that in the aftermath of defeat: "We had a bad day and we had no answer to them. They beat us fair and square." The issue of whether it is time for a changing of the guard will take longer to address though, and after extending their trophyless run to 14 years Argentina's silver medal represents nothing less than a disappointing failure.
As for Mexico, coach Hugo Sanchez had every reason to be pleased with third place. Hampered by the absence of some experienced performers, he brought in some able replacements who executed his gameplan to the letter. Although another victory over Brazil was followed by another defeat to bogey team Argentina, El Tri showed they are a force to be reckoned with on the continent. The breakthrough may not be far away.
Eyes on the future
As for the other participants, the event provided a very useful workout ahead of the qualifying campaign for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Semi-finalists Uruguay created a good impression, recovering from a dismal 3-0 defeat to Peru to come within a penalty kick of the final.
Venezuela were another outfit to impress and
having cast off their reputation as makeweights, they now need to
keep the results coming. Julio Cesar Uribe's
Peru also had their moments, yet it remains to be
seen whether they can find the necessary consistency. And what of
Chile? After stumbling into the quarter-finals
they were thumped 6-1 by Brazil, a result that cost Nelson Acosta
his job, and while they have some fine youngsters coming though,
La Roja's immediate future is filled with uncertainty.
Two sides who came up short were Colombia and Bolivia, although there were encouraging signs for both. Ecuador were nobody's pushover but the hopes aroused by Germany 2006 seem to have faded somewhat. Finally, Bob Bradley's makeshift USA side came away pointless, but still look to have plenty of options to work on for the upcoming qualifiers.
Stars that shone
In Robinho Brazil boasted both the player of the tournament and the competition's leading scorer with six goals, even though he failed to find the back of the net in his last two games. It was deserved reward for the Real Madrid forward, who played the roles of both lead and supporting actor to perfection. Also catching the eye among his team-mates were Julio Baptista with three goals in the knockout stages, midfielder Josue, who was named the player of the final, and keeper Doni, who stood tall when his side needed him most.
Juan Roman Riquelme was in superb form for Argentina, providing and scoring goals with aplomb to finish one behind Robinho in the scoring charts. Mr Consistency for the Albiceleste was Javier Mascherano, who also chipped in with a couple of rare goals. And while Lionel Messi may have lacked a little consistency, he was brilliant at times, earning rave reviews for his outrageous chip against Mexico.
In a tournament dominated by predatory forwards, Mexico's Nery Castillo was undoubtedly the major revelation with four goals in all. Ably supporting him were fellow strikers Oswaldo Sanchez and Guillermo Ochoa. A clutch of other sharpshooters also had their shooting boots on in Venezuela, among them Diego Forlan and Christian Rodriguez (Uruguay), Roque Santa Cruz (Paraguay), Paolo Guerrero (Peru) and Humberto Suazo (Chile).
Facts and figures
With 86 goals in 26 games, Venezuela 2007 was one of the highest-scoring Copa America's in the modern era, with the average of 3.27 goals per game equalling that of 1967, when 49 goals were scored in 15 matches, albeit some way off the overall record of 6.17 in 1927.
Strangely, in landing the trophy Brazil won less games than runners-up Argentina. Nor did the victorious Brazilians score the most goals or concede the fewest, those honours going to the Albiceleste with 16 and Mexico with four respectively.
The Auriverdes' victory over Argentina was also Alfio Basile's first ever defeat in the competition. After leading his country to the title in 1991 and 1993 and notching 13 wins and five draws, the veteran coach finally experienced the bitter taste of defeat in Maracaibo.
* Qualified for the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009
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