New Firm in town as Uruguay eye record 15th Copa
Saturday 23 July 2011
A new order in South American football? Perhaps not, but there is something to savour in the fact that, despite the best efforts of the organisers, tomorrow's Copa America final will be between Uruguay and Paraguay and not, for the third time running, feature Brazil and Argentina.
Diego Lugano, Uruguay's captain, is sceptical about talk that there is a new order on the continent. "Maybe it's become harder to get good results against us," he explained. "Historically we're going from less to more, and we did that as well at the World Cup."
Given the fact that they reached the semi-final in South Africa 2010, this is more of a return to prominence than a rise for Uruguay. If they win tomorrow, they will lift the Copa for a record 15th time, and that is a striking statistic by any standards. There are no minnows in South America any more. Venezuela were the last of the whipping boys, but they reached the quarter-final on home soil four years ago, got to the last 16 of the Under-20 World Cup two years ago and maintained that rise by getting to the last four here.
There is far greater strength in depth in Conmebol than ever before – World Cup qualifying, with four automatic spots and a play-off available to nine teams (Brazil qualifying automatically as hosts) promises to be a fascinating dogfight – but the concern is whether as the base has broadened so the summit has become less lofty. Brazil, overtly building for 2014, are perhaps in a lull. Argentina have an abundance of attacking talent, but they have also been undermined by poor appointments as coach.
And this has been a tournament, above all else, about coaching. There have been complaints about the lack of goals, allegations of "anti-futbol", but the truth is rather, as Lugano said, that the likes of Uruguay and Paraguay are making the very most of their talent.
The image of one coach has been imprinted on this Copa. Sergio Markarian, the 66-year-old Uruguayan, took an unfancied Peru side to the semi-final, but he also helped shape the philosophy of Uruguay, by coaching their charismatic coach Oscar Washington Tabárez as a player at Bella Vista, and by laying the groundwork for Paraguay's two-decade-long rise from his work as their Olympic coach in 1992.
Many will lament the under-performance of the big guns, but the positive is that their rivals are now good enough to take advantage.
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