The first round of Copa America group-stage play ended on Tuesday as Uruguay drew Peru 1-1 and Chile beat a young Mexican team 2-1.
Uruguay are my favorite team at this tournament. They did fantastically well at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, losing in the semi-final to runners-up Holland 3-2. But their star striker, Diego Forlan, has had a wretched year with club side Atletico Madrid. Not to worry: attackers Luis Suarez of Liverpool and Edinson Cavani, who scored 26 goals in 35 appearances for Napoli this season, are on fire.
All three started against Peru but Uruguay, like Argentina and Brazil, couldn’t get their attack going.
In the 23rd minute, Peru won the ball at the top of their own box from a Uruguayan throw-in. Midfielder Michael Guevara looked up and saw teammate Jose Paolo Guerrero making a perfect run between Uruguay’s stationary center-backs. Guevara’s long-ball over the top split the hapless defenders, who were playing far too high up the pitch, and found Guerrero in space. The Peruvian striker rounded Uruguay’s keeper, Muslera, and finished calmly into the back of the net.
Down 1-0 to a supposedly lesser team, Uruguay came to life. Peru’s keeper Raul Fernandez had to make a smart save from Diego Forlan’s well-struck free-kick. A few minutes later, Forlan missed an absolute sitter when one-on-one with the keeper. A shocking miss for Europe’s former top goal-scorer. Finally, just before the stroke of half-time, Nicolas Lodeiro played Luis Suarez into the box with a good pass. Suarez’s low shot beat Peru’s keeper for the equalizer.
Uruguay's Forlan (number 10) and Suarez (number 9) celebrate the latter's first-half goal against Peru
Both sides had chances to win in the second half but couldn’t capitalize and the score remained 1-1 at the final whistle. Highlights are here.
Chile v. Mexico was another even affair. Chile, the only team to beat winners Spain at the 2010 World Cup, are one of the strongest sides at the Copa. Mexico have brought a talented squad of young players whose ranks were forcibly depleted by scandal. On June 28th, the Mexican Federation kicked eight players off the roster after they were found with prostitutes in their hotel room during a pre-tournament training camp.
Despite the absence of nearly 1/3 of their original squad, Mexico struck first: in the 40th minute, Nestor Araujo, making just his third appearance for the national team, scored a fine looping header over the ‘keeper after a teammate flicked on a good cross.
Chile pressed but couldn’t equalize until the 65th minute when substitute Esteban Paredes knocked the ball home after Mexico failed to clear a corner. Chile’s Arturo Vidal headed in the winner seven minutes later from another corner-kick. Highlights.
Chile's defender Vidal (number 8) scores the winner against Mexico (Ricardo Mazelan/Associated Press)
So far, this Copa has been all about the smaller sides: Colombia, Chile, Paraguay, Bolivia and Venezuela have put in strong showings. Meanwhile, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, the continent’s dominant teams, have started slowly. Can the minnows keep it up? Or will the slumbering giants wake up as the tournament progresses?