Copa America 2011: The story so far….

By Chris Heathman

The group stage for the 2011 Copa America is now over and done with, and despite the moans and groans from spectators about the lack of excitement in the majority of matches, it was still as unpredictable as ever.

As a result of how the group stage eventually played out, we are left with some mouth-watering ties at the quarter final stage of the competition. To keep a long story short, here is what happened…

Group A
1 Argentina, 2 Colombia, 3 Costa Rica, 4 Bolivia

Any script written for Group A was quickly torn up and thrown aside in the opening game. Argentina not only has the pressure of being Copa America favourites, but they are also the host nation. With Bolivia as their first game they were expected to not just win, but win by some margin.

It was not to be and Batista’s side could only draw with Bolivia after coming from behind, thanks to a stunning volley from substitute Sergio Aguero. This gave dark horses Colombia a chance to take advantage of the host’s opening game failures, which they did with a 1-0 win over Costa Rica.

There were calls for Batista to make changes to the Argentine starting line-up, but he remained stubborn. Benega, Lavezzi and Tevez all started against Colombia as the 14 time winners escaped with a draw. Colombia missed a series of great chances which let Argentina off the hook. In the other match, the young Costa Rica side were stirring things up in Group A with a 2-0 win over 9-man Bolivia. Joel Campbell in particular impressed those watching and Costa Rica were above Argentina in the group.

The final round of games were delicately poised. Argentina faced off with Costa Rica as they tried to qualify for the next round and Colombia played Bolivia to seal top spot in Group A. Colombia were too strong for the hapless Bolivians and ran out 2-0 winners thanks to Porto’s Falcao scoring his first goals of the tournament. Bolivia were sent home with just a solitary point and one goal scored.

All eyes were now on Argentina now that the much needed changes to the starting line-up were made. Gago, Aguero, Di Maria and Higuain came in to replace Benega, Cambiasso, Tevez and Lavezzi. The differences were evident, and the favourites were finally playing with a fluency they had yet to show. Poor Costa Rica were the victims of a 3-0 loss, which could have been more if it was not for poor finishing. Messi put on an individual spectacle, whilst as a team, they were devastating. The third goal was a result of a 32 pass move that was finished off emphatically by Di Maria.

The final game results meant Colombia were through as group winners, Argentina runners up, but unfortunately results elsewhere meant Costa Rica were going home after a third place finish.

Group B
1 Brazil, 2 Venezuela, 3 Paraguay, 4 Ecuador
What started as the most uneventful group in the 2011 Copa America, finished in unbelievable fashion in the second and third round of matches. With Brazil and Paraguay in the group, it expected to be a foregone conclusion who would in fact make through as group winners and runners up. Many also thought Ecuador could possibly make it through as one of the best first place winners.

The opening games of the group saw title holders Brazil face Venezuela and Paraguay meet Ecuador, both of which finished goalless, and questions were soon raised over the quality of the defending champions.

Brazil now had the task of playing Paraguay in what turned out to be a goal full affair and saw Group B starting to heat up. Paraguay came from behind to be winning 2-1 after Jadson put the Brazilians a goal up in the first half, but a stoppage time equaliser from Fred rescued a draw for the Samba side. Venezuela were the ones to take advantage of the draw by beating Ecuador 1-0 thanks to a long strike from Gonzalez, only their third win in Copa America history.

The final games would not just affect Group B but, depending on the result, have a drastic impact on other teams in the tournament. First up was Paraguay versus Venezuela and they played out a six goal thriller after Fedor and Perozo scored stoppage time goals to rob Paraguay of a win and the game finished three all. Venezuela temporarily topped the group, and Paraguay would finish third.

Brazil versus Ecuador was exciting enough on its own, but depending on goals scored and conceded, could mean a coin toss to decide who finished top or who finished third. Caicedo scored twice to make things harder for the Brazilians, but Neymar, Ganso and Pato all announced themselves in the tournament with impressive displays to help Brazil to a 4-2 victory. Maicon would also prove to be a more productive asset than Alves in the right back position.

Brazil sealed top spot on goal difference with Venezuela remarkably finishing runners up, ahead of third placed Paraguay. Paraguay’s draw meant Costa Rica would be the third place finishers going home early.

Group C
1 Chile, 2 Uruguay, 3 Peru, 4 Mexico
The most fascinating of groups before the Copa America started, and it was certainly impressive to watch. Chile in particular dazzled spectators with their fluency and were without question the best performers in the group stage. The youngsters of Mexico made matters difficult for Chile in their opening game, but the Chileans were able to come from behind to win 2-1 thanks to goals from Parades and Vidal.

Uruguay also had to come from behind against Peru after Guerrero scored the opener in the first half, with Liverpool forward Luis Suarez scoring right on half time. It finished 1-1 and Chile took the opening initiative from Group C and was top after one game.

The most anticipated match up in the group stage was Uruguay vs. Chile, two of the favourites going head to head promised to be an entertaining clash. Despite Chile arguably being the more dominant, Uruguay opened the scoring through Pereira in the second half. It did not take long for Chile to be back on level term through Udinese attacker Alexis Sanchez, who finished well from a cross from Beusejour.

The entertaining match finished 1-1, which meant a win in Peru versus Mexico would set up Group C nicely for the final games. Probably the worst match of the Copa America group stage was won by Guerrero late on and Peru had a vital three points, whilst Mexico were all but out.

Chile went into the game against Peru with a weakened team and knowing a win would seal Group C. Peru seemed to be always on the back foot, but Chile failed to break them down. Eventually the breakthrough came in the form of a late own goal by Carillo. Chile deserved group winners, and Peru certain to be through but in what position?

Uruguay faced Mexico in their final game and needed a win to go through. The opening and only goal of the game came early when Alvaro Pereira poked home from close range. Forlan continued to struggle with his goal scoring form missing two sitters, but one goal was enough in the end. Mexico go home and Uruguay now face Argentina in the quarter final after finishing second, which promises to be a classic.

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