Copa America: Brazil exorcises demons and dominates fading rivals

Brazil won its first Copa America title since 2007 when it beat Peru, 3-1, in the final of a tournament during which it outclassed its rivals.

Brazil stays firm under pressure. The Mineirazo of 2014 wasn’t the only agony that the Selecao exorcised with its ninth Copa America title on Sunday. A month before on match day one, Thiago Silva and Co. donned white for the first time since the Maracanazo (the agony of the Maracana) 69 years ago.

The team’s performance between those two games confirmed Tite’s coaching philosophy, affirmed the players’ — and the country’s — confidence, and delivered Brazil its first title in 12 years after winning four in the 10 years before that.

Tite may have benefited from an injured Neymar, whose ego, lack of work and black-hole-like center of gravity on the field slowed down a team that demands quickness in transition and discipline in a high-press defense.

This Brazil team is hardworking, creative, and ruthless — in other words, a modern super-team. Weaknesses are few and far between: Silva and Marquinhos anchored a defense that conceded once in six games. Allisson in goal is a splendid insurance policy, and that’s only if opponents can get through Casemiro and Arthur, who make up a deadly midfield.

Dani Alves must have hopped in a time machine before flying home for the tournament — he looked 10 years younger than 36 as he tackled and skilled his way up and down the right flank all Copa long. He won player of the tournament for his exploits. The free agent showed against Argentina in the semifinals just how much PSG will miss him, completing three tackles, all five of his take-ons, and 100 percent of his aerial duels.

The oldest captain in the tournament provided the highlight of the match when he torched Argentina’s defense on Brazil’s first goal.

Uncertainty surrounds Tite’s future, though, and the 58-year-old has another Copa America to navigate next year. The bigger question, though, is what happens when Neymar returns?

Ever the underdog, Peru. Back in Russia last year, Peru was everyone’s darlings. It was its first World Cup since 1982, and its fans — parents who quit their jobs, grandparents who remortgaged their houses, and children who were brought along for the ride — were ecstatic to sing Peruvian songs in another country.

Its team played an entertaining brand of soccer, too. It was an eerie twist of fate when Peru lost to France and exited the group stage: in all five World Cups it has played in, it's lost to the eventual champion. Peru is the ultimate underdog.

Los Incas stood in front of history plowing forward and duplicating once more in this year’s Copa America: Peru’s 5-0 group stage loss to Brazil meant that they had a chance to break the curse and reverse course in the final against the same opponent.

This may have been their best chance for major tournament success for some time: their two top scorers, Paolo Guerrero (38 goals) and Jefferson Farfan (27) are 35 and 34, respectively.

In the end, though, Brazil — and history — mowed them over. The 3-1 loss in the final was emblematic of a tournament that returned South American soccer to the status quo.

Argentina in shambles once more. With Neymar out of the picture, the runway was cleared for the other superstar of the tournament to shine. But it wasn’t Lionel Messi’s night against Brazil, and Argentina looked confused, disjointed, and sloppy for most of the tournament.

The tournament started with doubts hanging over caretaker coach Lionel Scaloni — doubts that were reinvigorated with a conviction-less 2-0 opening loss to Colombia. Argentina’s Copa somehow ended worse than it started: Messi was sent off in a less-than-amicable third-place match and alleged corruption in the post-game presser.

It was a tantrum from one of the world’s best that lasted all tournament long. In the group stage, he complained that the poor fields made the ball “jump like a rabbit.” A common critique of Messi is that he isn’t enough of a leader. He was just that at this tournament, though; he was vocal on, and — more surprisingly — off of the field.

Conmebol, which is still smarting after the FIFA corruption scandal, may even try to ban Messi for his comments. That’s unlikely, though, because Messi is too much of a commercial asset as he enters the latter stages of his career. In the past, Messi hasn’t needed anyone to tell him to leave the national team anyway — he quit (temporarily) after the Copa America Centenario, and he may well do it again.

Two years ago, Argentina was in crisis. Perhaps the best player ever had quit at 32. Today, it finds itself in a similar position: rudderless. At least Messi is still on the boat, albeit on the gangplank by his own volition. Third place never tasted so bittersweet.

The sun sets on Chile. The Chile team that reached third-place in the 2007 U-20 World Cup included Gary Medel, Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal, and Mauricio Isla. The foursome have since combined for 481 caps and were protagonists in Chile’s only two Copa America titles ever and their two World Cup round-of-16 appearances. It’s an astounding return for one U-20 squad 12 years on.

The midfield of Medel and Vidal have terrorized South American teams for the last decade: they’re both tough, tenacious ball-winners whose slick passing over the years provided Sanchez with enough service to become the nation’s all-time scorer. The wheels are starting to come off, though. Chile failed to qualify for Russia 2018, and the core players are all in their 30s.  Sanchez’s understudy, Eduardo Vargas, is 29.

If this wasn’t their swan song, then next year’s Copa America may well be. The biggest question Chile faces is who will replace its aging stars. Chile last made the U-20 World Cup in 2013 — of that team, only one player has over 10 caps: forward Nicolas Castillo, who saw a total of nine minutes in three appearances in the Copa America.

A bright, long-lasting sun is setting for La Roja, indeed.
1 comment about "Copa America: Brazil exorcises demons and dominates fading rivals".
  1. humble 1, July 9, 2019 at 12:39 p.m.

    dubious tournament to say the least ... a lot unanswered questions about the administration of the game ... CONMEBOL moved HQ to Luque Paraguay 22 years ago in 1997 ... when Paraguay was known as one of the most crime ridden countries in the region a virtual hiding place for criminals ... in 2016 Paraguayan police raid CONMEBOL HQ ... President of CONMEBOL from 2014 to 2015 is arrested in 2016 ... Charged and convicted in 2018 for rackateering and wire fraud sentence to 9-years in prison in US.  There were many in CONMEBOL that escaped conviction because they did not have residency or citizenship in the US and/or did not commit crimes in US (basically they did their banking ex-USA).  Seriously, the futbol is good, but the administration?  If you don't agree something is not right - watch all three Peru goals against Chile - the Chile keeper on the first seems to be trying to run out of the goal - on the second and third - he actually is 10 yards out of goal - and does not touch the ball or the man on either.  Dubious to say the least.       

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