They said a Copa America wouldn’t work in “the country of baseball.” They said that political shenanigans would overshadow the football. And they said that the stadiums wouldn’t be ready.
They were partly right about the stadiums. The rest was nonsense. This Copa America has been the best in years. Not because of the goals, that goes without saying. Purely because the Copa got its mojo back.
For the longest time, Conmebol couldn’t decide how often the tournament should be held. There was a two-year break after Paraguay in 1999 and a three-year break after Colombia in 2001. The powerful nations came with under strength or under-21 squads – in 2001 Argentina didn’t even bother to take part.
This time all bar three of the teams were at full strength and Conmebol seems to have definitively decided that its place is every four years in the year following the World Cup. The Copa found itself. And in the unlikeliest of places.
Venezuelans love baseball but they developed a temporary crush on football. On Monday, that infatuation will wear off and they’ll go back to their one and only true love.
But that’s fine. A few have learnt to love the game and that can only be good. More importantly, that enthusiasm was an integral part of making the Copa a success.
I’ve lost count of the number of Venezuelans who told me their passion was baseball but that they were desperately pulling for la vino tinto. When the vino tinto weren’t playing they came to the stadiums and supported Brazil and Argentina.
I leave Venezuela having had a great time. I won’t be back any time soon. But I’ll be rooting for la vino tinto from afar.
Adios y muchas gracias.