While the top men’s teams in South America were making headlines in Chile, the best women’s teams representing countries all over the world were doing the same thing in Canada. The highlights are probably seared into your mind.
- Lionel Messi distributing the ball like a magician on Argentina’s march to the Copa America final against Chile.
- The heartbreak of Laura Bassett whose own goal in stoppage play allowed Japan to eliminate England, 2-1, in the World Cup semifinals.
- Host Chile playing like a champion, reaching the Copa America final and attempting to win the tournament for the first time.
- Japan trying to repeat its 2011 World Cup victory in the final against the United States and the U.S. just as strongly opposing.
- Hope Solo playing brilliantly in goal for the United States, reaching the World Cup final.
All along the way, all over the world, people took notice, proven by attendance records, huge television audiences and record ratings. It’s been a wild ride, to be sure, and also a magical one. But while it’s nearly over, it’s still one for the books.
Something’s got to give when Argentina takes on host Chile in Saturday’s final of the 44th Copa America. Both teams have something in common, two unsettling streaks they are trying to end – Argentina has not won the Copa America since 1993 while Chile has never won it.
So history will clearly be made in the final in Santiago.
Argentina, ranked No. 3 in the world by FIFA, seems to have all the momentum right now after its 6-1 semifinal thrashing of Paraguay, the 2011 finalist. Angel Di Maria scored twice and superstar Lionel Messi helped out on five of the six goals.
But Chile, ranked 19th in the world, cannot be discounted, and looked impressive in its 2-1 victory over Peru in the other semifinal. Chile relies on Arturo Vidal and Eduardo Vargas, who have combined to account for seven of the 13 goals Chile has scored in the tournament. Still, it has to rankle Chile that it is one of only three South American countries (Venezuela, Ecuador) that has not won the Copa America since it began in 1916.
Messi, as usual, counters for Argentina. His three assists so far ties him with Chile’s Jorge Valdivia for the most in the tournament.
Host Chile pushed it way into Monday’s semifinal showdown against Peru in Santiago de Chile as a result of its 1-0 quarterfinal upset of Uruguay – the first time Chile has defeated Uruguay in the Copa America since 1983. Peru earned its matchup against host country Chile with a bruising 3-1 quarterfinal victory over Bolivia.
Paraguay stunned Brazil on penalty kick shootout (4-3) after the game ended in a 1-1 tie. Derlis Gonzalez scored the game-winner on his penalty kick. It was the second consecutive time that Paraguay has ousted Brazil on penalties in the quarterfinals of the tournament.
Argentina made it to Concepcion and Tuesday’s semifinal against Paraguay, also on penalty kicks (5-4), following a scoreless tie against Colombia.
There is no extra time at the Copa America. The games go straight to penalties if the score is tied after 90 minutes.
The Copa America is hitting its stride this week, when the quarterfinal knockout round separates the teams that are going on from those who will be packing their luggage and heading home. Since the Group Stage was completed, the top teams have clearly made themselves known with host Chile creating the most noise.
Chile, which plays defending Copa America champion Uruguay in the first quarterfinal game Wednesday at Santiago de Chile, was the heavyweight in Group A. Chile scored 10 goals in three games – six more than any other team in the tournament. Even though Chile has never won the Copa America and Uruguay is a 15-time winner, Chile’s attacking style may be the difference.
Bolivia-Peru meet in Temuco on Thursday with the winner of that showdown advancing to play the winner of the Chile-Uruguay match in one of the semifinals. In Group A, Bolivia posted two victories, against Peru and Ecuador, and also tied with Mexico. Peru had one victory and a tie in Group C.
Colombia, one of the pre-tournament favorites, managed to edge into the semifinals against Argentina in Vina del Mar on Friday despite finishing third in Group C, scoring only one goal and drawing 0-0 with Peru in its last game. But Colombia still moved on when Brazil, the class of Group C, defeated Venezuela, 2-1.
Colombian star James has not scored a goal, but he remains confident. “Friday is a great match to try and make things better,” James said.
As for Brazil, Robinho and Roberto Firmino have been outstanding while Paraguay may be vulnerable after nondescript results in Group B – ties with Uruguay and Argentina and a victory over Jamaica. The Brazil-Paraguay match is Saturday night in Concepcion.
The women are more than up to the task of sharing the spotlight with their male counterparts. The knockout rounds are fast-approaching in locations all over Canada and the top teams are asserting themselves, just as many expected.
Germany and Norway look like the powerhouses in Group B, Japan seems poised to rule Group C, the same for Brazil in Group E. The most competitive may be Group F, where Colombia, England, France and even Mexico are trying to assert themselves and move on.
While we’re at it, remember that Xoom.com is the smarter way to send money to such Women’s World Cup participant countries as Canada, China, the Netherlands, Germany, Ecuador, the U.S., Australia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Spain, Colombia, England, France and Mexico.
For football fans, there is much at stake, whether it’s happening in Canada with the Women’s World Cup, or in Chile at the Copa America.
Two of football’s youngest, brightest superstars are on a collision course with destiny in the Copa America, where Neymar of Brazil and James Rodriguez of Colombia go up against each other at Estadio Monumental David Arellano in Santiago de Chile.
Consider this Group C showdown a rematch of the memorable 2014 World Cup quarterfinal, where Brazil edged Colombia, 2-1. It was a memorable afternoon. James scored Colombia’s only goal and Neymar was forced to leave after fracturing his vertebra while taking a hard foul.
Powerhouses Brazil and Colombia are certain to be leaning on their top players. Neymar, 23, scored four goals in group play in the last World Cup, two against Croatia and two against Cameroon. Captain of the Brazilian team, Neymar plays for FC Barcelona of the Spanish League.
James, who turns 24 in July, scored six goals for Colombia at the World Cup and was the top goal-scorer in the tournament, winning the Golden Boot. He also stars for Real Madrid in the Spanish League.
Brazil’s Oscar injured his thigh during practice with Chelsea of the Premier League, but he has been replaced by 31-year-old veteran striker Robinho. After missing the World Cup because of a knee injury, Radamel Falcao is healthy once again for Colombia and is likely to team up with James to head the offensive attack.
Remember that Brazil has won four of the last six Copa America titles.
When Jamaica takes on Paraguay at Estadio Regional Calvo y Bascunan in Antofagasta, all eyes will be focused on Jamaican star Darren Mattocks, who will be heavily counted upon if Jamaica is going to advance out of the group stage. The 24-year-old Mattocks, a skilled and inventive dynamo who plays professionally for the MLS Vancouver Whitecaps, must show the way for Jamaica. Still, Jamaica is likely to be overlooked because of the talented teams surrounding it.
The 44th Copa America features 12 teams, 10 of them from CONMEBOL and two other invited teams from CONCACAF – Mexico and now Jamaica. Mexico is a perennial invitee, but Jamaica has taken the second spot that used to belong to the United States and most recently Costa Rica.
Paraguay, going up against Jamaica, is a two-time Copa America champion and was runner-up in 2011. It may be that the best hope to advance for Paraguay, just like for Jamaica, is to be one of the two third-place teams that advance from group play. That issue may be settled when they collide.
Nothing has stopped him since. And now, with his 28th birthday only 11 days after Argentina opens its Copa America play against Paraguay, the eyes of the sport are once again trained on Argentina’s captain, wearing number 10, the unstoppable force. If he isn’t the top player in the game, he’s probably first in the conversation.
It’s true that Messi isn’t big, only 5-feet-7, but he has put up incredibly big numbers his entire career as he continues to try to measure up to the sizeable reputation of Diego Maradona as Argentina’s greatest football player ever.
Messi just ushered Barcelona to the Champions League title. No one had more goals in the tournament than Messi (10) and no one had more assists (5). For the season, Messi scored 48 goals on 187 shots in 38 games and had 18 assists.
The numbers keep on growing, but that’s not a new trend for Messi. A four-time World Player of the Year, Messi scored a European record 73 goals in 2012 for Barcelona.
Messi is one of 14 of the 23-player Argentina squad in the Copa America that made it to last year’s World Cup final. He scored four goals in the tournament and was chosen as named the best player in the World Cup.