The third and concluding round of group games are over and we picked as the…..
Best Game: Not a lot to choose from this time around. With qualification at stake, the games were tighter and teams were less willing to throw caution to the wind. So, there were far fewer goals and we got our first two 0-0 draws. But there was one game that if short on some of the skill this Copa has produced was nonetheless full of the emotion that at heart football is all about: Peru 2-2 Bolivia. Victory for Bolivia would have put them through. Peru just needed to draw but went behind. New Chelsea man Claudio Pizarro equalised with a header but Bolivia then went ahead again. Things got worse for Peru when they were reduced to 10 men. They kept trying to attack but it was increasingly desperate, at times shambolic. But just as time was running out Pizarro rose to head in his second of the game and put Peru through. Pure emotion.
Worst Game: Venezuela 0-0 Uruguay. For the first time so far in the competition, there were more bad games than good games. This one had some serious competition from the no score bore that was Mexico-Chile. But that at least that had the air of two decent sides playing out a gentleman’s agreement. Venezuela and Uruguay might have had the same idea but the quality on the pitch was wretched and it was not clear whether they were being canny or just incompetent. Even the home fans, not exactly used to Copa success, no mind topping groups, spent much of the game booing.
Unluckiest Team: We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, Ecuador do not deserve to be going home. Especially when you consider that Uruguay and Peru both made the quarters. Luis Suarez’s team showed more flair and were more positive than either of those two. But crucially, they were also more fragile and they were in a group with far better teams. Chile were stronger, Brazil were luckier, and Mexico were better.
Biggest Travesty: Without doubt, Dunga’s dire defensive formations. Sure, he’s missing Kaka and Ronaldinho, two of the best players in the world. But aside from the fact he helped bring their absence upon himself, he has packed his midfield with hard men and left out the creative players he does have at his disposal.
Team to put your money on: At the risk of getting boring, Argentina. They were not quite as convincing against Paraguay but they were playing with eight reserves against a team that set out for a draw. They have Peru in the next round which should present no problem to Alfio Basile’s first team.
Best outside bet: We said Chile after the first round of games and they went down 3-0 to Brazil. Then we plumped for Mexico, who after six points and five goals, played out a 0-0 draw with Chile. So we are beginning to think we are the kiss of death. If that’s true, we apologise to Brazil. They’ve been rubbish so far and relied on two men for both their wins, Robinho and the ref, who gave them soft penalties in two games. But they are Brazil and they are more than capable of turning it on.
Best Stadium: We’ve not been to them all but the Panchenco Romero in Maracaibo looks good, is well located and is actually finished and fit to host a football match. Diego Maradona’s contention it can compare with the best stadiums in Europe is errant tosh but we liked it, especially when it was filled with passionate fans watching great football as it was for Colombia-Argentina the other night. Would like to be in it when it rains though…
Worst Stadium: The Metropolitano in Barquisimeto, no contest. In fact, we’re not sure you can even call it a stadium. It’s half a stadium. It probably looks great on the telly. From the camera positions you see a modern arena and a stunning pitch. No matter where you are in the ground you get a perfect view of the action. But it’s not finished! Roofs are missing, corner sections were left out and the original capacity of 42,000 has been cut to 37,000. An embarrassment.
Best Goal: We had to wait till the end of the last match of the round but it was almost worth waiting for. Javier Mascherano admitted that him scoring goals “is nothing habitual” but if he scores one like this every now and then they’ll be worth waiting for. With time running out and Argentine fans starting to pack their bags for the trip to face Mexico, Mascherano brought the ball down on the edge of the box, looked up, and placed it perfectly into Aldo Bobadillo’s right hand post. Very nice indeed.
Pick of the quarters: Well, thanks to Conmebol’s blundering we’ve already seen two of the quarter-final match ups already and they were hardly classics. So that leaves Mexico-Paraguay and Peru-Argentina. Frankly, neither is particularly appealing but we’ll go for the latter purely because both teams can play open attacking football. We want goals and so we’ll cross our fingers and go for Peru-Argentina.