Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Copa America 2007 Preview

Ever since I can remember I’ve been infatuated with soccer. I still recall the summer the United States hosted the World Cup. It was 1994 and I was eleven years old. Every morning I woke up early to dig through the newspaper to find the Sports Section. Soccer in the US was even less popular than it is today, but the World Cup coverage in New Jersey was intense. I read every article at least twice, trying to absorb every bit of information I could. I still remember being heart broken when Maradona was found to be taking performance enhancers, the antics of Mexican goalie Jorge Campos, and all of Roberto Baggio’s clutch goals for Italy.

Most people abroad don’t believe an American could ever truly follow the sport. Yet it’s true, I did and I still do (I will post my thoughts on the USA-Mexico Gold Cup final in a few days). This summer my love affair with the beautiful game continues with the Copa América, kicking off tonight. The Copa América is the South American nations’ soccer championship- think of it as a regional World Cup- and Venezuela is hosting the three week tournament for the first time. Brazil and Argentina- the two countries to historically dominate South American soccer- are this year’s favorites. Argentina probably has a slight advantage.

Currently Argentina has, in my estimation, the best side in the world. For the first time since my unforgettable summer as an eleven year old, Alfio ‘el Coco’ Basile is back coaching the national side, known as the albicelestes,. The Argentine senior side hasn’t won a competition in fourteen years (the 1993 Copa América during el Coco’s first stint in charge), and will be out for blood. The albicelestes have brought in a full strength side featuring a good mix of veterans and youth. Look for them to play attractive attacking soccer. Success will hinge on how well playmakers Juan Roman Riquelme and Sebastián Verón combine in the middle of the park. Also, Lionel Messi is ready to lead; he’s 20 and is the newest ‘new Maradona.’ If the team clicks they could steam roll the opposition.

Probable Lineup: (4-4-2)

- Abbondanzieri -

- Zanetti --- Ayala --- G Milito --- Heinze -

- Mascherano -

- Cambiasso ------------------ Verón -

- Riquelme -

-Messi - - Crespo -

Juan Pablo Aimar and Carlitos Tevez will make key contributions off the bench.

Brazil, while still a favorite, is not coming with its full strength squad. No Ronaldinho, no Kaká, no Ronaldo, no Adriano. All the same, Brazil is Brazil. The seleção has heaps of talent and will rely on young players eager to make an impression on new coach Dunga (Brazil’s number five from the 1994 World Cup winning team).

The two standout players of the group, Robinho and Diego, know each other well from their years together in the youth ranks and senior side of Santos (Pelé’s former club). Their success will depend on how quickly they come together as a team and the productivity of Robinho, who’s coming off a mediocre season with Real Madrid. Striker Vagner Love could be the tournament’s break out star.

Probable Lineup: (4-4-2)


-Maicon --- Alex --- Juan --- Gilberto

- Mineiro --- G. Silva -

- Elano -------------- Diego -

- Vagner Love - -- Robinho -