With the group stages completed the Copa America takes on a new level of intensity this evening as the quarter-finals get underway. Here is a quick guide to Saturday’s two games.
Colombia – Peru (Saturday 8.00pm)
Colombia have been one of the more accomplished sides in the tournament so far. Only Chile matched their points total of seven through the group stages and but for wayward finishing Los Cafeteros would have beaten Argentina comfortably in their 0-0 draw.
Much of the pre-tournament talk on Colombia focused on Radamel Falcao García, the Porto striker who had a remarkable season at club level. Falcao did get his first two goals of the campaign in the final group game against Bolivia but it has been at the other end of the field where his side have excelled. Colombia have yet to concede a goal and have looked like an excellent defensive unit with the experience of Mario Yepes and Luis Perea flanked by the outstanding full-back combination of Juan Zúñiga and Pablo Armero.
Their opponents this evening have shown rapid improvement since coach Sergio Markarian took over last year. Peru finished bottom of South American qualifying for the World Cup and little was expected of them in this competition with star players Claudio Pizarro and Jefferson Farfan out injured. However, much like the Colombians their defensive organisation has given them a platform to build on and in Paolo Guerrero and Juan Vargas they have a couple of players capable of unlocking defences.
Don’t expect this one to be a high-scoring affair but Colombia’s pace on the counter-attack and Falcao’s efficiency in front of goal is likely to prove decisive.
Argentina – Uruguay (Saturday 11.15pm)
Newcomers to South American football may be surprised to know that this tie and not Argentina v Brazil is the oldest rivalry in the region’s football history. Both have 14 Copas and two World Cups to their name and both after a difficult start are coming to the boil in this competition.
For the Argentines, headlines have been dominated by who from their glittering array of star strikers would best compliment Leo Messi. Early on Carlos Tevez and Ezequiel Lavezzzi were given the nod with a rigid midfield three of Javier Mascherano, Esteban Cambiasso and Ever Banega behind them.
Two draws and two poor performances saw that plan ripped up for their final group game against Costa Rica. The new plan that saw Kun Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain start-up front with Fernando Gago and Angel Di Maria replacing Cambiasso and Banega in midfield worked a treat against an inexperienced Costa Rica side. The 3-0 margin of victory could have been substantially greater.
Yet, that performance could be their downfall this evening. The side that started on Monday was very reminiscent of the one Diego Maradona used at last summer’s World Cup which similarly wiped away weaker opposition before it was found out by Germany’s dynamism and pace on the counter-attack. Germany coach Jogi Löw described La Albiceleste that day as a team split in two. Mascherano was simply overwhelmed as the four players in front of him contributed nothing on the defensive end.
Sergio Batista has already outlined his intention to go with the same line-up against the World Cup semi-finalists and while understandable it could prove a very flawed decision.
Uruguay have had selection issues of their own. Having started the tournament with Napoli’s Edison Cavani and Liverpool’s Luis Suarez leading the line with Diego Forlan in more of a playmaking position, Óscar Wáshington Tabárez has decided upon a more conventional 4-4-2 for the past game and a half.
Cavani was replaced at half-time in the second group game against Chile by Álvaro Pereira and despite losing one of their more talented players, Pereira’s presence has given Uruguay more balance. He has also scored his side’s two goals in that period.
With all the pressure on the hosts it would be no surprise to see Uruguay expose Argentina’s defensive deficiencies. That said, it is a dangerous game to bet against any side whose front line reads: Messi, Aguero, Higuain and Di Maria.
Written by Kieran Canning