Football Features

Messi’s magic fades as Sanchez finds form: The story of 2019 Copa America so far

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 11:39, 22 June 2019

The first two matchdays of this summer’s Copa América have come and gone.

Brazil, hosting the 46th edition of South America’s championship, seek a first title since 2007, while defending champions Chile hope to win three on the bounce.

Since 1993, due to CONMEBOL’s limited number of registered teams (10), two nations from other confederations have been subsequently invited so that the competition has 12 contestants.

Japan, who last took part in 1999, and debutants Qatar – the reigning Asian champions – are this year’s guest participants and both have started reasonably well. The same, however, can’t be said for powerhouse Argentina.

So, before the final group stage games are played, here’s a short overview of what’s been going down.

1. Colombia remain perfect

It’s normally super-competitive in South America, where teams are relatively close. Of course, there are the giants, but no one, with the exception of Colombia, are 100% after two games. Carlos Queiroz’s men humbled Argentina (2-0) – registering their first win over La Albiceleste since 2007 – before surviving a scare against Qatar (1-0). Consequently, their status among the favourites has risen, but it’s early days.

2. Miyoshi follows Figueroa

As mentioned, Japan can be proud of their efforts so far. More so, when you consider they’re not even fielding their strongest team, which makes their future even brighter. The reason behind the decision to effectively bring an under-23 team is next year’s Olympic Games – Japan, the hosts, want a good showing (going for gold), so this is perfect preparation given how much of those in Brazil are likely to form the core of their squad.

An opening 4-0 defeat to defending champions Chile was expected, but not demoralising. Throughout the game, there was enough to show this Japanese team are heading in the right direction. Uruguay, next up, was another daunting prospect. However, they’d go on to produce a result to remember. Koji Miyoshi would twice put Samurai Blue in front, thus becoming the first player to register a Copa America brace against Uruguay since Luciano Figueroa of Argentina in 2004.

3. Corner crazy

It goes without saying that set-pieces are fundamentally crucial, hence why teams put so much time and effort in training. As far as the 2019 Copa America is concerned, it’s already starting to pay off. We’ve already seen across the opening 11 games the same amount of goals scored from corners (4) as the last tournament – Copa América Centenario – in 2016.

4. Suárez joins an exclusive group

Such is the lofty standards he’s set, one can understand why Luis Suarez continues to come under heavy scrutiny. If the Uruguayan marksman isn’t bagging goals consistently, then expect folks to question him. Truthfully, he’d be the first to admit, but no one can deny his insatiable desire, especially when donning his nation’s colours. Suarez is Uruguay’s all-time leading goalscorer and his place in La Celeste’s pantheon of greats has long been sealed.

Brazil 2019 is only his second time at this tournament, having missed the last two editions through suspension (2015) and injury (2016). So, you can understand that he is determined to make up for lost time. Barcelona’s number nine has already bagged two goals at these championships. This, coupled with him netting in his previous two appearances, means he matches the feat of Pedro Petrone (1923-30) and Severino Varela (1935-42) to score in four consecutive Copa matches.

5. Four minutes from time

What a 2018/19 campaign Duván Zapata enjoyed. His goals – 23 across 37 league outings – played a heavy role in Atalanta reaching the Champions League against all odds. In fact, only Fabio Quagliarella (26) registered more Serie A goals than him. He’s brought his scoring boots to Brazil, striking against Argentina and then Qatar – interestingly, both of those efforts came in the 86th minute, talk about leaving it late.

6. Moyes (seleção) special

The pressure is on Brazil to end a 12-year wait. Since their 2007 success, it’s been one disappointing Copa after another for South America’s most illustrious nation. Tite’s honeymoon period is well and truly over, their lacklustre 2018 World Cup showing saw to that. Brazil, hosting the championship, are without marquee figure Neymar but they didn’t seem to miss him in their opening 3-0 rout against hapless Bolivia.

They could have done with the mercurial forward against Venezuela, though, who impressively contained the five-time world champions. Tite’s men huffed and puffed but couldn’t blow their opposition’s defence away. For a side determined to play with flair, they were heavily dependent on crossing from wide; no fewer than 37 made their way into the penalty area, but they could only manage one shot on target.

7. Evergreen Farfan

Peru boasts one of the oldest squads at this championship and nothing best sums that up with Paolo Guerrero (35) and Jefferson Farfán (34) scoring their opening goals. For the latter, it was a special moment against Bolivia as not only was it his 27th for Los Incas, but a first Copa goal since netting past Venezuela in 2004 – which clocked at 5457 days ago!

8. Disastrous opener

It’s hard to believe that Argentina are trophyless in the 21st century. But here we are. Having come near in recent tournaments, many expected Lionel Messi and company to be competitive this summer. Instead, they are on the brink of elimination.

It began horribly with a 2-0 loss against Colombia, a match where they looked clueless throughout, which turned out to be their heaviest opening Copa defeat as the other two – 2-3 vs. Uruguay (1919) and 1-2 vs. Bolivia (1979) – were by a single goal margin.

9. Sanchez still Chile’s hero

Alexis Sanchez hasn’t managed a single goal or assist for Man Utd since January 25th – yikes – but for Chile, he’s still the main man. The 30-year-old both scored and provided another as the Copa holders crushed a young Japan side 4-0 in their opener, while he also bagged the winning goal in their 2-1 win over Ecuador on Saturday, sealing promotion to the knockout rounds.

Sanchez completed two dribbles and had two shots on goal during that game and in this tournament so far, has looked more like the wing-wizard that terrorized so much for Arsenal back in the day, rather than the hollow shell he’s become at Old Trafford.