South American correspondent Tom Webber brings you all the action from the Copa America.
Argentina must have been hit with a defibrillator as there were some signs that this Copa is coming to life. It was set to be an exciting night with both Uruguay and Chile involved in the action. However, there are some critics of Uruguay who say they have lost that edge and spark that booked them a place in the Semi-Finals of the World Cup last summer. A dip in form since the tournament as they have lost to Germany, Estonia and Chile, coupled with the loss of form of Diego Forlan – who had his worst goal return this season for Atletico Madrid – is the reasoning behind this notion. This Copa presents Forlan with the opportunity of becoming the country’s most capped player ever and highest goal scorer ever.
Goals were back on the menu in both games last night. The first coming when Peru took a shock lead against Uruguay in the first half of their match in San Juan. The Peru squad does not include Jefferson Farfan or Claudio Pizarro who are both out due to injury. Juan Manuel Vargas was also declared unfit for the game but managed to get on for half an hour at the end. This meant Jose Guerrero had a lot of pressure on him as he had to lead the line for a weakened Peru side.
Uruguay had started well but could not seem to get the final ball right, whilst upfront for Peru, Guerrero seemed to be relishing the chance to be the main man. The temperamental striker was seemingly stronger as a result of his increased responsibilities and he opened the scoring in the 24th minute.
The goal came from nowhere as a long ball was played up the centre of the pitch from the Peruvian defence. Guerrero was standing between the two defenders and caught them sleeping as he turned to run on to the ball. The Hamburg striker had acres of space and Muslera rushed out to meet him. However, in his haste, Muslera came to early and was outside the box when he got to Guerrero meaning that he could not use his hands to take the ball away from Guerrero for risk of being sent off. This made it easy for Guerrero to pass him and he took is time to slot the ball into the goal before Lugano could get back on the line. Peru took a shock lead.
Guerrero continued to get his chances from free kicks and more ambitious shots though most sailed just over or wide. As the game wore on Forlan became more involved and his free kicks were a constant source of problems to the Peruvian back line. He whipped one in at goal from out wide on the far side but Fernandez made a good save getting a strong hand to the ball as he dove across the goal. If Forlan could have got the ball closer to the post then it would have been a goal.
Uruguay were beginning to play like the team we saw at the World Cup and were threatening to score. It would only be a matter of time until someone found that final killer ball. Unfortunately for Peru that came on the brink of the break and it was Nicolas Lodeiro of Ajax who made the pass. Having been injured for a whole season, Lodeiro’s touch was surprisingly cute. He span on the ball and slipped in Luis Suarez who slid towards the ball and poked it home beyond the onrushing Fernandez. Peru were crushed but the goal had been coming, they fell asleep at a vital moment.
Performances so far have given the impression that this will be a very open tournament and that anyone could win it due to the strength in depth of the teams. After the break Lodeiro became increasingly involved in the game and at points it seemed as though Uruguay had 4 strikers on the pitch. Both sides had fantastic opportunities to win the game. In the 69th minute Forlan had a golden opportunity after being played in by Suarez who performed well. Forlan only had the keeper to beat struck the ball on his less favoured left side. He skied the ball when you would normally expect him to score, leaving himself and his team mates shocked.
Peru’s best chance came in the final moments during a fantastic break. Juan Vargas, who had made a positive impact since coming on, played the perfect ball in to Guerrero with his pinpoint left foot. The Peru Striker dove down to head the ball but could not get it on target it. His header flew straight but he was positioned just wide of the goal and Peru’s chance to win disintegrated. The game was a tightly contested one, ending 1-1. It was a far more entertaining game then we have seen so far, and showed positive signs for improvement. However, as 8 out of 12 will progress through the group stage it is unlikely many teams will take risks and just hope they can get 3rd place with as few points as possible.
I do not believe that this Uruguay side has lost it’s edge as there is still plenty of quality within it. Forlan has only just turned 32 and I am sure you can count on him to still get a couple of goals in the coming weeks. They will need to play ever more like the side that finished 4th at the last World Cup if they want to have any realistic chance of winning the tournament though. This is not the end of a golden generation as they still have future prospects in Cavani, Suarez, Caceres, Godin and Cristian Rodriguez as part of a talented squad. These players are more than capable of filling the void left by players such as Forlan and Lugano in the coming years.