Ralph Hannah –
Day 2 Copa América: Messi outshone by Martínez while Fariñez and Venezuela thank VAR.
If yesterday’s Copa América opener was less about the result and more about how Brazil would fare without Neymar. Today’s main affair was all about what could Scaloni do with Messi and if Queiroz could go one better than the 2014 World Cup when his Iran side almost stopped the Barcelona man before he broke though in the 91stminute.
Day 2: Messi outshone by Colombia
The contest was expected to have a high technical calibre with James, Falcao, Di Maria and Aguero accompanying the world’s greatest player. And we were tricked into thinking that after 5 minutes with both teams keeping the ball well, crisper passing and a glorious James flick in central midfield.
It was Colombia’s number 10 that was playing free, given that license by Queiroz, while Argentina seemed to be focused on Juan Cuadrado who was on the end of two rough challenges in first 15 minutes. But soon those fouls began to dominate proceedings as Argentina struggled to get into any kind of rhythm and the more organised Colombia sucked any space for Argentina’s “diez” to work in.
A familiar 0-0 score line at halftime and not a single shot on target, the only real chance was substitute Roger Martinez’s effort that flashed just wide after excellent hold-up play by Falcao.
The second half saw De Paul enter the fray in place of an AWOL Di Maria who ended the opening forty-five with just seven passes losing all 5 of his duels with the opposition. The Udinese man had an impact, picking up good positions that stretched the compact Colombia side and opened up som space for Messi. On the 60thminute the game exploded with a hefty Cuadrado challenge on Messi finding his groove, he was quickly replaced by Lerma to ensure they kept 11 men on the field. Seven minutes later and Ospina was forced into a low save from Otamendi’s header, and then Messi nodded just wide.
So it was something against the run of play when Roger Martínez opened the scoring, the Club América player found himself one-on-one vs Renzo Saravia who was already on a yellow and skipped past the Racing right-back before unleashing an unsavable shot into the far corner. The 24-year-old almost couldn’t travel to Brazil for failing to pay child support, so it was somewhat ironic that on the eve of Father’s Day, he would be the man to break the deadlock.
Scaloni and Argentina had no response, and the game was put beyond doubt in the 86thminute when Duvan Zapata scored his 30thgoal of the season. It must have been rewarding for Carlos Queiroz to see all three subsitutes combining, Zapata began the move and used his strength to keep the ball and spread it to Martínez. Jefferson Lerma was on the overlap and then delivered a snapping low cross into the box that Zapata emphatically turned in.
And what about Messi? His night was summed up in the 93rdminute as he took a flailing arm to the face in the middle of the pitch. Queiroz had drilled his side to dominate the battleground in the middle and take whatever chance they could. Finishing the game with 17 fouls and only 2 shots on target to win 2-0 shows he got the formula just right.
VAR holds back Peru on Day 2
But before the match in Salvador, we saw two of the longest-serving coaches in the tournament lock horns in Porto Alegre. Rafael Dudamel has been involved with the Venezuela national team since 2015 when he took over the U20s and was put in charge of the senior side on year later. The Argentinian Ricardo Gareca took over Peru in 2015 finishing third in that year’s Copa América before taking them to the World Cup after 36 years.
While Newcastle’s Salomón Rondón became the vinotintos all-time topscorer with his brace against the US a week ago, it is young goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez who is the star of the side and the face of the new Venezuela. He was born just a year before Hugo Chávez took power and while the country has suffered economically and politically since it has experienced something of a golden era in sports. Chávez supported the hosting of the 2007 Copa América, the first time in their history, and passed bills such as the Physical Education and Physical Activity (2011) or the creation of the Nacional Centre of Applied Sports Science (2004), investing hundreds of millions of dollars into sport.
Such was the improvement of the sport in Venezuela, today they fielded a starting lineup without a domestic-based player for the first time ever in an official game (non-friendly).
Faríñez himself grew up in Catia which has been dubbed “The cradle of Chavism” but by the time he was 14 was in Caracas and at 16 became the youngest goalkeeper to pull on the national team shirt. Today was his day, producing an incredible stop from Edison Flores late on to keep a clean sheet for the vinotinto who had been reduced to 10 men and earn a valuable point. Although on seven minutes it seemed to have gone all wrong for the Millonarios stopper, he flapped at a high ball, and Christofer Gonzáles turned home what everybody assumed was the opener. But VAR intervened, there was no clear foul on the goalkeeper, but three Peruvian attackers had been offside when the freekick was floated in.
VAR would ultimately ruin the afternoon for this mightily experienced Peru side (five players had over 50 caps and only two had less than 35 appearances) because in the second half Jefferson Farfan headed home a Flores cross superbly only for it to be called back from “upstairs” again.
Flores had been a substitute for Christian Cueva who suffered a head injury just before the break and continued against medical advice until the doctor’s managed to make common sense prevail in the locker room. His flurries down the left side were a strong threat, only surpassed by his compatriot Advincula on the right who was a constant threat. His harrying of Luis Mago eventually got the Venezuela full-back sent off. While the 2ndyellow was for a foul on Andy Polo, the defender had been exposed so often by Advincula he had become frustrated and reckless.
The lack of goals indicative of the low quality performance that was high on competitive spirit.
Ralph Hannah is Londoner, who has lived in Luque and is now located in Miami, with a keen interest in Paraguayan football history and statistics. A frequent traveller throughout Latin America he attends games throughout the region and has written for a variety of publications and set up the first English-language blog on Paraguayan Football. When not in the Defensores del Chaco he’s looking after his two daughters. Follow Ralph on Twitter @paraguayralph.