Football Features

“No Copa For Old Men” – Uruguay and Chile play out a battling draw as they try to find their future amid teams full of ageing stars

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 2:20, 22 June 2021

In a hot and humid night in Cuiaba, Uruguay and Chile played out a tense 1-1 draw at the 2021 Copa América.

The match was tensely fought and a game of two halves as Chile dominated the first period while Uruguay responded firmly after the break. The result gives Uruguay their first point of the tournament but it doesn’t paint a rosy future for either side.

This match honestly felt like two ghosts battling it out as Uruguay, managed by the 74 year-old Oscar Tabarez, saw all the dynamism and direction and thrust provided by their midfield let down by their ageing strikers.

Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani were nowhere near as mobile as they used to be and although the service into them wasn’t exactly consistently high quality, the likes of Fede Valverde and substitute Nahitan Nandez were full of thrust and intent.

But this is the limit of a side that has two 34 year-olds in attack. For all the undeniable brilliance they still possess, they can’t move with enough dynamism and movement is the key to Uruguay’s attack. It always has been. The way they sit back and absorb pressure before countering intelligently into space demands energetic movement and when the forwards cannot provide it, the team stutters.

Yes they did eventually equalise, with Arturo Vidal scoring an own goal as he tried to prevent Luis Suárez from stabbing home a corner, but it was a somewhat fortunate strike and that’s two games now where Uruguay have looked sluggish and old in attack and as a result largely ineffective as a goalscoring presence.

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Meanwhile Chile are doing somewhat of a better job moving on from their golden generation if only because Alexis Sánchez’s injury kind of forced them to in attack. The likes of Arturo Vidal, Gary Medel and Claudio Bravo are all still present.

But the lack of Alexis Sánchez is huge, not because they’ve got players who are “better” but in Eduardo Vargas and Ben Brereton they have players are younger, faster and more dynamic.

Alright Vargas at 31 is only a couple years younger, but he has much less football in his legs and is still rapid across the ground. His partnership with the Stoke-born Ben Brereton gives Chile the kind of dynamic movement they used to get back in their peak from Humberto Suazo and a prime Alexis Sánchez.

That movement means that all their passing still has a place to go, and even though Arturo Vidal is a faded force his manic style and the movement ahead of him keeps him involved especially as he’s backed up by Charles Aranguiz and the sensational Erick Pulgar.

But it really is the introduction of the lad from Stoke that has turned this all around. Ben Brereton gives Chile pace and thrust in a way that Alexis Sánchez hasn’t in years. The Blackburn striker has already scored one game winner against Bolivia and today it was his selfless run wide that pulled Diego Godin out of position and then delightful pass back to the middle that put Vargas through on goal to score.

That goal takes Vargas to 14 Copa America strikes, placing him fifth in the all-time scoring charts level with Paolo Guerrero. An incredible achievement cancelled out by Vidal’s unfortunate own goal later in the day. Although the point leaves Chile with 5, meaning that they are guaranteed to progress to the next round and neither Uruguay (1 point) nor Bolivia (0 points) can both surpass them as they play each other.

And for Chile, who are building a new side out of the ashes of their old one, that guaranteed progress will put minds at ease. Although as Brazil have shown this is No Copa For Old Men and Chile might need to speed up the transition away from their golden generation.