Ralph Hannah –
Day 3 Copa America: The tournament comes to life. There were eight goals in the two match-ups on day 3 as we saw the most convincing display of the group stage yet. It seems like that finally, on Father’s Day, the tournament seems to have come alive even if the public are not willing to witness it.
Day 3 – Uruguay turned on the style against Ecuador
It was Uruguay who turned on the style. Statistically, they have won one in every three Copa Americas played, and as they haven’t won the last two, logic suggests they take the crown in Brazil. Their opener has justified that theory with a solid display against an Ecuador outfit still finding their feet under Bolillo Gómez.
The 72-year-old coach Oscar Tabarez is indicative of the stability that the Uruguayan side has, they started four players with over 100 caps and six of the Starting XI were over 30. The “maestro” has reached the knockout stages at the last three World Cups and won the Copa America in 2011.
Within 6 minutes their superiority was on the show, Nicolas Lodeiro scored a spectacular goal, and with his short stature and blonde hair, it was reminiscent of Gascoigne at Euro ’96. Soon things got worse for Ecuador as Quinteros saw his yellow card overturned by VAR into a straight red, he was adjudged to have elbowed Lodeiro.
Soon Edison Cavani converted a chance, his third attempt inside the box, to double the lead. It was a scissor kick after the Celeste had won two headers in the box. That was a dangerous sign for Ecuador, and more was to come before the halftime whistle. Luis Suárez netted his 57thgoal for Uruguay, lurking at the back post after another cross wasn’t dealt with by the Andean side.
After halftime, the game was more subdued that the sparse crowd, Uruguay had taken their foot off the pedal while Ecuador had decided to opt for damage limitation and sit back. The final period was played at a pedestrian pace with the charruas hardly trying to score; in fact, the fourth goal was courtesy of an Arturo Mina own goal who volleyed in on 78 minutes.
As Suárez and co jogged off the pitch in Belo Horizonte, they knew they had thrown down the marker as one of the favourites to win this championship. What they probably didn’t know is this was the first time in their rich history that they had won 4 games by three or more goals. By taking their recent friendly form into Copa America competition, they have put the rest of the continent on alert.
Day 3 – Qatar enter the tournament
Before Ecuador’s capitulation there was a pulsating game in the Maracaná as the guests of honour and current Asian Champions, Qatar, bounced back to rescue a point against Paraguay. No side has drawn more games than the Guaraní in the Copa América, and the Albirroja have been unbeaten in their opening game since 1975. So it was maybe inevitable that the final score in Rio de Janeiro would be equal.
Although at 2-0 it seemed like Berizzo’s side were going to come away with a hard-fought victory. They took the lead within a few minutes, a penalty by Oscar Cardozo after a clear handball by the Portuguese-born Ró-Ró in the Qatar defence. This came after some comical defending at the back by the Middle-Eastern side and it seemed the pace of the Paraguay front four was going to be their undoing.
Yet by halftime, there was a feeling that Qatar deserved more from the half, they had kept 64% possession and created more clear chances than their rivals. Berizzo reacted and brought on Santos winger Derlis González who had an immediate effect, first setting up Cardozo in the 52ndminute only for the goal to be disallowed by VAR. But minutes later he was on the scoresheet, a fantastic shot from a distance made it 2-0. It was set up by Newcastle’s Miguel Almirón who was the brightest spark in the side as usual; he finished the game with five key passes more than anybody else on the pitch.
It was the first time since 2015 (nine games) that the South Americans had scored twice in a Copa America match, last time it was to comeback and salvage a 2-2 draw against Argentina. Today they would throw away the lead after ceding the midfield.
Asian Cup topscorer Almoez Ali showed all his class with a curling finish to match the earlier González effort. Ten minutes later they were level, a well-orchestrated move by Felix Sánchez’s side saw the outstanding Akram Afif thread a perfect pass to Algerian-born Boualem Khoukhi who saw his shot loop off goalkeeper Gatito Fernandez’s legs before being headed in by Rodrigo Rojas. The Paraguay midfielder ended up entangled in the net and was subbed off, with the lack of options in the middle that could be a worry with Argentina to come in 3 days.
Paraguay will feel unlucky, they weathered the first-half storm and had added the important 2nd goal just as Qatar felt they might have a sniff at the equaliser. Despite a shaky defence, they did only allow two shots in the whole second half, but that was enough to deny them only a 2nd win since 2007.
Muslera – Cáceres, Godín, Giménez, Laxalt – Nández, Vecino, Betancur, Lodeiro – Suárez, Cavani
Manager: Oscar Tabarez
Domínguez – Quinteros, Mina, Achilier, Caicedo – Intriago, Orejuela – L.Valencia, Mena, Preciado – E.Valencia
Manager: Hernán “Bolillo” Gómez
Fernández – Valdez, Alonso, Balbuena, Arzamendia – Rojas, Ortiz – Domínguez, Almirón, Pérez – Cardozo
Manager: Eduardo Berizzo
Al Sheeb – Ró-Ró, Hisham, Salman, Hassan – Al Heidos, Madibo, Khoukhi, Afif – Hatem – Almoez Ali
Manager: Félix Sánchez
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.