The most important soccer event in Latin America, Copa America 2011 reached the quarterfinal stages with hosts Argentina finally coming alive on a 3-0 victory over Costa Rica on Monday, a convincing win that sends the hyped-up hosts into the knockout stages of the competition with optimism after clinching a disappointing second spot in Group A behind Colombia.
A Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina failed to impress in the first two games, depositing a concerning slow start to the competition that had those who‘d tipped Argentina to win it this year flummoxed.
An audacious Bolivia very nearly upset Argentina in the opening game but for a late equaliser by Sergio Agüero that salvaged the point for the hosts and then, a much-improved Colombia thwarted Argentina further by holding the hosts to a scoreless draw.
Only in the final group game did Argentina display the kind of intensity and flair expected of them as Agüero combined for a brace and Ángel Di María added a third goal to give La Albiceleste its first “W” in Copa America.
In spite of the convincing win, which rejuvenated Argentina’s campaign, the main commentary going into the quarterfinals centres on Messi and his ongoing woes in national duty – that is, his inability to score at will as he does when wearing Barcelona colours – and the fear that his woes will become a nation’s disaster.
The gifted Argentinean has yet to not only score a goal but also find form in the competition: show why he’s the winner of FIFA’s footballer of the year award. Heck, why he’s considered the greatest football player in the current game. He’s been rendered insignificant so far and with World Cup semi-finalists Uruguay looming in the quarters, having a game-changing player as Messi tempered so is, understandably, a concern that could prove potentially deciding.
Title holders Brazil, who got off to a similar slow start, finished group action with aplomb, serving notice with a 4-2 extravaganza over Ecuador that surely signals they are finally coming together under new coach Mano Menezes and that they remain the team to beat.
Brazil, unlike Argentina, ultimately clinched top spot in Group B by beating Venezuela to the honour on goal difference. The coveted spot however turns out to be a double-edged sword, earning them a rematch with Paraguay and Menezes is wary of this next game. "We know Paraguay's coach can put out a team that will be hard to beat but that's our path," Menezes said.
Le Selecao was given a run for its money in an overall surprisingly evenly-matched group. Venezuela set the tone by holding Brazil to a scoreless draw and then, Paraguay announced intent on a 2-2 draw with Brazil.
Not until the final game was in the books did Group B take shape with Brazil on top, Venezuela second and Paraguay in third. Paraguay, nonetheless, earned passage into the knockout stages as one of two best third-placed teams. The other is Peru, who emerged from Group C.
Chile topped Group C, a competitive, wide-open group that featured World Cup semi-finalist Uruguay, CONCACAF Cup champions Mexico and Peru. Uruguay clinched second spot, Peru third and a disappointed Mexico exits the tournament after entering the 12-nation competition on a high.
Columbia is set to get the quarterfinal stage underway on Saturday when they take on Peru and then, Argentina and Uruguay will go head-to-head as the day’s showpiece.
On Sunday, defending champions Brazil face off against Paraguay all the while wary of their South American neighbours strengths after settling on a 2-2 draw against them in the first round. Chile and Venezuela wrap up the proceedings.