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Copa America so far has lacked sparkle

The 12-nation tournament in Argentina has yet to produce brilliant soccer or truly interesting news, Grahame Jones writes.

July 17, 2011|Grahame L. Jones | On Soccer
  • Brazil forward Neymar celebrates after scoring his second goal -- and the team's fourth -- against Ecuador during a 4-2 victory in a Copa America group game Wednesday at Mario Kempes Stadium in Cordoba, Argentina.
Brazil forward Neymar celebrates after scoring his second goal -- and the… (Antonio Scorza / AFP / Getty…)

Sooner or later, the Copa America now under way in Argentina has to spark into life.

Sooner or later, the tournament, already at its quarterfinal stage, has to produce some brilliant soccer, one radiant performance by a player, one bit of individual or team brilliance.

Sooner or later, there has to be a memorable meltdown by a coach, an angry rant at a referee, a quote or two that lights the fuse that starts the fire that warms the bitter Argentine winter.

So far, however, nothing.

Sure, 79-year-old Julio Grondona, president of the Argentine soccer federation and a FIFA vice president and crony of FIFA President Sepp Blatter, has warned that Barcelona's Lionel Messi might quit the national team if fan criticism continues.

"The solution," Grondona told Radio Cooperativa, "would be for Messi to say: 'I will not come any more, I will stay in Spain.' "

But that was mostly blather by Grondona as he sought to keep his own name in the headlines by linking it to someone in soccer who does matter.

Sure, Mexico went 0 for 3 and is guaranteed of finishing last in the 12-nation event. But that was Mexico's third-string team, a makeshift assemblage thrown together after some of the second-string players got caught with women in their hotel rooms while en route to the Copa and were banished.

It was a small-potatoes scandal, and one that later paled into insignificance when Mexico won the FIFA Under-17 World Cup with the next generation of players who will torment the U.S. in years to come. Copa, what Copa?

Sure, Peru Coach Sergio Markarian delivered a bizarre postgame diatribe after his team had been beaten by Chile, saying he was "fed up with labels, fed up with them. The media, the journalists, the coaches who put labels on everything, I'm tired of it."

Someone must have pasted a "boring" label on Peru's so-so Copa team, which was the only one of the eight teams to come into this weekend's quarterfinals with a loss. Peru, truth be told, has not been a presence on the world stage since 1982.

Brazil, favored along with Argentina to reach the July 24 final in Buenos Aires, has not exactly been firing on all cylinders, either. After a particularly feeble display in a 2-2 tie with Paraguay — which followed a 0-0 tie with Venezuela — the knives were out, especially for Santos forward Neymar.

"It's always me, me, me with [Neymar]" former Brazilian international Casagrande told Globo television. "He's forgotten, or maybe he never knew, that football is a collective activity."

The Brazilians improved in a 4-2 victory over hapless Ecuador, and Neymar got himself partially off the hook with a pair of goals. But the Brazilian player who has impressed more than the rest has been Neymar's Santos teammate, Paulo Henrique Chagas de Lima, better known simply as Ganso.

That should go down well with the Brazilian supermarket chain that owns 45% of his contract. If Santos sells him (AC Milan is the likely buyer), the chain gets that percentage of the money, which could top $42 million. Players as products has reached a new level.

Meanwhile, Ecuador's coach, Reinaldo Rueda, managed the understatement of the Copa so far when he said of his team's first-round elimination: "Given our hopes, this was negative for Ecuador."

You think?

Argentina, after a 1-1 tie with Bolivia and a 0-0 stalemate with Colombia, improved in a 3-0 whitewash of Costa Rica, but the win meant little since the Ticos sent a youth team to the tournament.

Argentina was preparing for a stiffer test in the quarterfinal against Uruguay, whose coach, Oscar Washington Tabarez, said in the lead-up that he was not all concerned about Messi.

"If you have a problem and don't know the solution, why worry?" Tabarez said. "Messi can give us a lot of problems which won't go away whatever we do to try to avoid them.

"But there are a lot of things we can do that neither Messi nor anyone else can prevent; those things are part of the identity of this squad, of being stubborn, of believing we can."

Uruguay almost could last summer, when it finished fourth at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Maybe it almost can again.

But in a Copa America so far devoid of truly interesting news (Diego Maradona's minor car-versus-bus fender bender in Buenos Aires does not count), transfer rumors have stolen the headlines, especially those involving Argentine players. For instance:

Will Carlos Tevez be allowed to abandon Manchester City for Corinthians, Juventus or some other club?

Is Javier Pastore destined to stay at Palermo or will a more-money-than-sense team cough up the $70-million asking price?

Where will Sergio Aguero go now that he has said he would not return to Atletico Madrid?

Will Real Madrid try to unload Gonzalo Higuain as it rebuilds?

"We want to win the Copa America to recover our aura," Argentine midfielder Javier Mascherano said before the tournament.

So far, the aura is still up for grabs.

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