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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Too big to fail: The 2011 Copa America

Nearly a billion dollars worth of investment. Probably more. That's what South American players currently taking part in Conmebol's Copa America are worth. Messi? Probably $100 million. Neymar? Asking price of $50 million? And yet, for all their might, promise, prowess and skill, they still could not overcome the region's two weakest teams: Bolivia and Venezuela.

So is too big to fail really true when it comes to South American giants Brazil and Argentina? Well, unless the past couple of days were a particular fluke, it seems even great teams are vulnerable. And why not? On paper at least, Argentina is much weaker defensively. Their best defense is a good offense (pardon the cliche). In the back line is the aging Zanetti and the seldom-used Gabriel Milito. For Brazil there is no key number 10 right now. No Ronaldinho or Kaka. It is Pato and Neymar with Robinho calling the shots. Hopefully Neymar can do more than he did today because the Cariocas came out flat.

The other hopefuls in this tournament are Paraguay, Uruguay and Chile. The latter two have yet to play. Uruguay has a deep squad fresh off their 4th place finish at World Cup 2010. Chile has no Bielsa this time they have their ace in Udinese's Alexis Sanchez along with the always-dangerous Suazo.

Further down the line is a third group: Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Venezuela. In no particular order. You might argue that Ecuador and Colombia should be in the second tier but their form in recent years relegate them to this side of the table. Of particular interest is the Caicedo-Benitez tandem Ecuador has and the Falcao-Rodallega from Colombia. Invitees Mexico and Costa Rica are, by Concacaf rules, allowed to bring their U-22 squads with up to 5 overage players. The idea being that this would serve as preparation for the Olympics 2012 qualifiers.

So why the low scores? If anything that last year's World Cup taught us is that the first game tends to be overly defensive, disappointingly speculative and low scoring. It's not for lack of trying. Indeed, Argentina had their share of chances on Bolivia yesterday but the Altiplano team came up big with solid defense and by deconstructing the final pass from Messi. For Brazil it was a lack of ideas and group play. Venezuela countered by employing Bolivia's scheme. Crowd the middle of the pitch, close up the spaces for the short passes and play the counter.

Neymar and Messi can be contained for only so long. Difference-makers like these are keen on small spaces to play the ball for a lethal shot or pass. They have the fantasy that we love to watch. The jogo bonito and the classic 10. This is why we pay so much to see them. This is why, after the first set of games are done, they will be nearly unbeatable. This is why they are too big to fail.

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