South American correspondent Tom Webber brings you all the action from the Copa America.
Someone needs to spark this Copa into life. Teams have been struggling for goals and it has not been quite the advert for the beautiful we had hoped for, though it has only just begun. One decent game may be enough to really set everyone on their way. That is what we were hoping for in Santa Fe when Paraguay faced Ecuador. Paraguay are no doubt the stronger side, with a great selection of attacking players, but Ecuador are by no means a bad team. The surprise selection was that of Marcelo Estigarribia on the left hand side for Paraguay as both teams lined up in a conventional 4-4-2.
Paraguay got the best chance after over 10 minutes of football. Estigarribia burned down the left hand side with frightening pace and then made his way into the box. He played a cut back for Edgar Baretto, who, had he shot to either side of the goalie would have kicked off the scoring, hit his shot was straight down the middle. The oldest player in the tournament, Marcelo Elizaga at 39, saved the shot and pushed it over the bar.
Paraguay were dominating the game and containing Ecuador to their own half as they struggled to put a solid move together. Santa Cruz released a thunderbolt of a strike but again it was straight at Elizaga. Moments later Estigarribia was proving a handful down the left again as he whipped a cross in to the middle. A few players went for the header but no one made strong enough contact and the ball fell down in the box. Nestor Ortigoza was the first to react, poking the ball towards the goal. However, Elizaga got down to his left with great agility and made a terrific save.
It was not until the 27th minute that Ecuador finally fashioned themselves a chance. Former Birmingham man Chucho Benitez was played in by Felipe Caicedo and managed to wriggle his way into a one-on-one situation in a swift counter by the Ecuadorians. He feigned a shot and tried to take it past Villar in the Paraguay goal. The keeper got a touch on it and Benitez’s poor decision allowed the defenders to get back and get to the ball first as it got away from the Club America man.
In the 35th minute Segundo Castillo drilled a shot at goal from about 20 yards. His attempt did not have enough bend back towards the goal as he hit it with the outside of his foot and it passed the outside of the post. Dario Veron was proving to be very solid for Paraguay and was breaking up the play magnificently. The half ended goalless and Antonio Valencia was substituted due to him taking a knock early on in the game. He was replaced by Michael Arroyo.
Early on in the second half Ecuador produced a training ground set-piece routine which was great to see. Chucho shaped up like he would blast it from the centre of the field at 40 yards. Once he got to the ball he played a pass to Caicedo on the edge of the box who was only marked by one player on the near side as the defence expected the cross. He took a great touch then turned and shot. His shot was too tame and Villar gathered it with relative ease.
Ecuador began to play better and better, with Michael Arroyo having an excellent impact. He was moving the play around nicely and helping his team command a bit more of the possession. Despite this, the next chance fell to Paraguay and it was Estigarribia again at the heart of all the positive play for Paraguay. The left sided menace got his chance thanks to a well executed through ball by Santa Cruz. He took the shot on with his favoured left foot but the ball hit a divot as it crossed the goal. His shot skipped up allowing it to pass Elizaga but it also beat the post and another opportunity went begging.
The clock had reached the 72nd minute and it was still goalless. Estigarribia, on-loan at Newell’s of Argentina from French side Le Mans, beat two players out on the flank before floating a cross into the area. It was met by the head of Roque Santa Cruz and his header was well executed, down into the ground with decent pace. The ball bounced before the goalie but Elizaga managed to get a hand to it and turn it wide once again. The keeper was showing no signs of his age and performing admirably.
Nelson Valdez came on for the ineffectual Lucas Barrios of Paraguay with the hope of changing the game. He had little chance to make a significant impact in the last 15 minutes and the game petered to a close with no real opportunities for either sides. It was the second 0-0 of the night with only Marcelo Estigarribia providing something to be excited about.
No-one could have been expecting such a drab and dull day of football but that is what was served up. Judging from the opening performances, no team at the tournament looks capable of winning and it could be anyone’s trophy. Perhaps Chile and Uruguay, the last two potential contenders to get their campaigns underway, could change that. Uruguay face Peru in San Juan at 23:15 UK time, followed by Chile versus Mexico in the same stadium at 01:45.
There will be plenty of talent on display tonight including Luis Suarez, Diego Forlan, Edinson Cavani, Matias Fernandez, Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal and Juan Manuel Vargas. Peru are without Jefferson Farfan and Claudio Pizzaro due to injury this year and so may struggle to find goals. Hopefully a few of the players mentioned can add something missing to this Copa America and turn it into the lively, carnival atmosphere that we are craving.