A year after finishing fourth at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, Uruguay confirmed they are a force to be reckoned with by winning the Copa America for the 15th time, a new tournament record. In doing so, they also achieved their second-ever qualification for the FIFA Confederations Cup, to be held in Brazil in 2013.
This year's competition demonstrated the progress made by nations who failed to qualify for South Africa 2010, making the South American qualifying competition for Brazil 2014, which begins in October, a particularly exciting prospect. With that in mind, FIFA.com looks back on the continental championship that culminated in La Celeste’s glorious victory in Buenos Aires on Sunday.
The championsDiscipline, unselfish teamwork and timely individual brilliance: such were the qualities displayed by Oscar Tabarez’s team in their quest to top the South American pile, just as they were twelve months ago when the Uruguayans found themselves the last CONMEBOL side standing at the FIFA World Cup.
Inspired by an imperious Luis Suarez, winner of the player of the tournament award and his team’s top scorer, and a resilient Diego Forlan, Los Charrúas improved as the event went on, taking second spot in their group before eliminating hosts Argentina on penalties in the quarter-finals.
The 2-0 semi-final victory over Peru and 3-0 demolition of Paraguay in the final were not only proof of their defensive fortitude, but also of their ability to decisively punish any slip-ups on the part of their opponents. These are strengths that will stand Uruguay in good stead as they look ahead to Brazil 2014, for which they will be highly fancied to claim one of the continent’s automatic qualifying places.
The lessonsGerardo Martino’s Paraguay side showed similar solidity at the back during the tournament, and despite the often listless nature of their attack, which was partly due to injuries to their first-choice strikeforce, they were just one game from lifting the trophy without registering a single win.
Brazil and Argentina fell well short of expectations, losing out on penalties in the last eight to the eventual finalists. Their immediate priorities are very different. In the wake of his side's disappointingly premature exit, Argentina coach Sergio Batista has left his post, and his successor can only afford the odd tweak to his squad with FIFA World Cup qualifying just around the corner. Brazil's Mano Menezes, in contrast, has the luxury of being able to chop and change his squad with a plethora of friendly matches on the horizon.
Elsewhere, Chile and Colombia showed enough in Argentina to suggest they will be serious candidates to secure a berth at the world’s biggest sporting event in Brazil. Although Claudio Borghi and Hernan Gomez, coaches of La Roja and Los Cafeteros respectively, will harbour regrets about the disappointing manner in which they were knocked out at the quarter-final stage, both will likely return to their desks reassured that their sides are heading in the right direction.
The surprisesFew onlookers doubted that Uruguayan tactician Sergio Markarian was the right man to reinvigorate Peru, but hardly any predicted that he would obtain such positive results so quickly. Finishing third is not only a huge boost for a country that had not achieved such a feat since 1983, it also has Peruvian fans dreaming of a return to football’s greatest stage for the first time since Spain 1982.
Venezuela finally saw the constant progress made in recent years come to fruition on the pitch, as they surged to the semi-finals for the first time in their history.* La Vinotinto* emerged unbeaten from clashes with three of the five teams from the region that appeared in South Africa last summer (Brazil, Chile and Paraguay, twice). They also won two matches at the 2011 Copa America, as many as they had managed in all their previous attempts put together. Consequently, Venezuelan thoughts are turning to a maiden FIFA World Cup qualification.
Such lofty aims will currently seem like pipe dreams to supporters of Ecuador and Bolivia, who could not muster a single win between them, and have their work cut out ahead of the crucial challenges that await later this year. As for Mexico, this was not a vintage campaign for El Tri, who lost every game and failed to advance beyond the group stage for the first time, albeit with an U-22 squad. Costa Rica’s displays, meanwhile, showed encouraging signs for the future.
The stars Fernando Muslera, Diego Lugano and Egidio Arevalo Rios, who, along with the aforementioned Suarez and Forlan, formed the spine of Tabarez’s triumphant Uruguay side, all enjoyed outstanding campaigns.
Elsewhere, captain Justo Villar’s excellent performances for Paraguay earned him the award of best goalkeeper of the tournament, while team-mates Paulo Da Silva and Nestor Ortigozawere also consistently impressive.
Peru forward Jose Guerrero enjoyed success at the other end of the pitch, scoring five times to become just the second Rojiblanca player to finish leading goalscorer at the event, while attacking midfielder Willian Chiroqueput in some equally notable displays. For Venezuela, defenders Oswaldo Vizcarrondo and Gabriel Cichero, as well as central midfielder Tomas Rincon, also made a considerable impact in Argentina.
Among the superstars of the game who took part this year, there were flashes of brilliance from Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero, Brazil pair Neymar and Pato, Chile’s Alexis Sanchez and Colombian striker Radamel Falcao.
Did you know?During the Copa America, not only did Diego Forlan become Uruguay’s most-capped player with 82 appearances, but he also drew level with the legendary Hector Scarone as his country’s all-time top scorer on 31 goals.
The stat 54 – The total number of goals scored during the tournament, the lowest figure since the Copa America adopted its current format. That figure represents a drop of 32 compared to Venezuela 2007, which remains the most free-scoring tournament since the move to twelve teams in 1991.
What they said“It’s wonderful to come third, but we have to keep our feet on the ground because we didn’t win anything. We have to remember that we finished bottom of the South American World Cup qualification group last year, and now we’ll quietly go about ensuring we can compete effectively during the next qualifying campaign,” Peru coach Sergio Markarian