South American correspondent Tom Webber brings you all the action from the Copa America.
The Monumental in Buenos Aires was shrouded in Argentinian winter sun as the final of the 2011 Copa America got underway. The bowl of a stadium, half filled with Uruguayan blue, half with Paraguayan red, eagerly anticipated the game. Their was plenty of history to be made, adding to the majesty of the occasion.
Paraguay could become the first team to win an international tournament without winning a single game outright, whilst Uruguay could become the most successful nation ever in South American football. Uruguay were the favourites due to the somewhat negative tactics of Paraguay throughout the tournament. They have slogged out games and hoped for qualification, rather than actively pursuing glory. This looked to be the case again as Uruguay had the better start in what was a frenetic opening twenty minutes.
It did not take long for the first chance to come about. In the second minute Uruguay won a corner after some good work by Luis Suarez. The ball was headed on target by Lugano but Justo Villar reacted instinctively to make the save. However, he was only able to push the ball back into the goalmouth and Alvaro Gonzalez headed the ball straight back at goal. Nestor Ortigoza managed to get in the way of the attempt but stopped the ball illegally with the use of a hand. The ball was cleared and the referee did not give the decision. Paraguay were lucky to be level and still have 11 men on the pitch.
Uruguay’s dominance continued as they maintained a high degree of pressure. They were rewarded in the 12th minute when a hopeful ball was played forward and was deflected towards Suarez. He made the most of the fortunate pass, cutting inside Dario Veron before striking the ball goalwards. He aimed for the near post but a deflection off of Veron altered its direction, putting it in at the far post. Following Jose Guerrero’s hat-trick for Peru in the third place playoff, Suarez would need another goal to match the Peruvian with 5 for the tournament.
As the game continued, Paraguay seemed to be lacking cohesion due to the vast number of changes, not only before the final but throughout the tournament. Their play lacked width and consistency, leading to a congested and scrappy midfield. The decision not to start Marcelo Estigarribia, probably their best player throughout the tournament, was an odd one. One could not help but think he would provide their attack with a much needed extra dimension.
Suarez was full of energy and determination and was proving difficult for the opposition to handle. He and Diego Forlan were linking up well, creating chances for themselves and others. After being thwarted by the Villar earlier in the half, Forlan came out on top just before the break.
Ortigoza was caught on the ball by Egidio Arevalo after uncharacteristically dithering with the ball. The midfield terrier nicked the ball off his Paraguayan counter part only 30 yards from goal. He then played a perfectly weighted ball into Forlan who executed a terrific shot with exquisite technique to give his country a 2-0 lead. Forlan struck right through the back of the ball, directing it across the goal and leaving Villar rooted to the spot. His clean, crisp strike provided his first international goal in 13 matches as well as a truly deserved lead to take in to the second half.
You would have expected Paraguay to react by coming out and displaying some passion and drive to get back into the game, but there was little sign of such virtues. Any attacks they managed to formulate were sporadic with no consistent spell of possession or pressure. This enabled Uruguay to sit back and move into cruise control.
Nelson Valdez provided a spectacular effort after 53 minutes. A wonderful lifted ball from Ortigoza, placed between the defenders, was struck, first time on the volley from the edge of the area by the Hercules striker. The effort drew a fantastic fingertip save from Fernando Muslera in the Uruguayan goal, tipping the ball onto the crossbar to deny Paraguay a route back into the game.
On the hour mark, Paraguay seemed to raise their game a notch. Dario Veron gave the impetus for an attack with a ball to Ortigoza before steaming forwards toward the box. Ortigoza clipped a ball down the line to Ivan Piris who got in behind the defence. Piris’ ball was low into the box and was met by an unmarked Cristian Riveros who’s run had gone undetected. However, he could get a clean enough contact with the ball to send it into the net, enabling Muslera to gather the ball safely.
It looks like Sao Paulo may have made a very shrewd signing in Ivan Piris. The young full-back who provided quality delivery all night, not matched by Elvis Marecos his teammate on the left. Marcelo Estigarribia finally came on shortly after but made little impact on the game and did not provide the attacking threat that was hoped for.
Uruguay secured a historic victory in the final minute of normal time with a swift counter attacking move. After a Paraguayan corner, the ball was cleared to substitute Edinson Cavani half way up the pitch and out on the left hand side. The Napoli record breaker switched the play to Suarez in a 2-on-1 situation with Forlan. Suarez headed the ball into the path of Forlan who stayed onside leaving him with just the goalkeeper to beat. As Villar rushed out, Forlan passed the ball under him and it rolled into the net, making history in the action.
It was a well deserved victory against a Paraguay side who struggled to provide any real attacking menace with the loss of Roque Santa Cruz and Lucas Barrios through injury. They lacked the desire that Uruguay seemed to display in abundance through Arevalo and Diego Perez in midfield, along with Suarez up front. Forlan equalled the all time Uruguayan top goalscorer Hector Scarone on 31 goals, as well as becoming the country’s most capped player during the tournament. Uruguay also became the most successful nation ever in South American football with their 15th Copa America title and their first since 1995.
It has been a fantastic 12 months for Uruguayan football. After a fantastic display at the World Cup last summer, they carried this form into the Copa America and have secured a fantastic victory. Coupled with the amazing run of Penarol to the final of the Copa Libertadores this year it has been a fantastic period for one a country with such a rich footballing history. They will hope to move forward from this title and rekindle the success of the Uruguayan teams from the emergence of international football competitions during the 1920s and 1930s.
Read more from Tom at his excellent blog Purple Patch