The quarter-final phase of the controversy America Cup is now complete. Four teams remain standing as matches unfold in empty stadiums across the country. Argentina easily taken into account Ecuador 3-0, while Colombia penalties needed to beat Uruguay after a 0-0 draw in normal times.
ESPN looks back on the action from the oldest international tournament in the world.
A strange reunion for Messi
Hernan Galindez is a 34-year-old Argentinian who, during this Copa America, became Ecuador’s first choice goalkeeper. He is the same age and from the same place as Lionel messi. Galindez was a striker in youth football and proudly records that when he changed positions the first goal he conceded was scored by Messi.
The last goal he conceded was also scored by Messi – a free kick in stoppage time that passed him from the edge of the box and gave Saturday’s quarter-final a 3-0 scoreline that may not be a true reflection of the game.
In the previous 92 minutes, Messi had failed to beat Galindez, although he saw a shot come back inside the post. Still, Messi had made the difference by taking out the keeper with two superb assists that established the goals that decided an intriguing game.
Galindez was not the only Argentine that Argentina had to pass. There was also Ecuador’s coach Gustavo Alfaro, a calmly skillful organizer of the counterattack teams. Alfaro’s side forced Argentina to show many of their virtues and managed to highlight some of their flaws.
The main virtue is the passing circuit in the midfield, with Messi well integrated and combining well with both. Young Lo Celso and Rodrigo De Paul, while behind them Leandro Paredes arranges the first ball out of defense. Ecuador worked hard to interrupt the circuit, pushing down midfield and defending high – and so Argentina have shown they can be more direct as well, hitting long in the center-forward Lautaro Martinez or move the ball quickly behind Alfaro’s defensive line. That’s how the first goal came in – Galindez had been pulled out to block a shot, and Messi played a wonderful diagonal pass to cut him out of play and give De Paul the chance to shoot at home.
Argentina had therefore made its usual quick start. But it was still likely that Ecuador’s pace at the break would give them problems. Twice in the first half Enner Valence came close to a goal, both times not getting enough contact on his head. Argentina have conceded just two goals in this tournament, but their center of defense still doesn’t inspire full confidence – and there’s also the issue that the team seems to be running out of steam in the second half. Feeling this, Alfaro opted for the jugular, making offensive substitutions in the interval and getting the better of most of the second half. Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni responded by stiffening the central midfielder with Guido Rodriguez and introducing Angel Di Maria wide on the right, going from 4-3-3 to a row of fours behind Martinez and Messi.
It paid off, in large part because of Alfaro’s puzzling persistence with the teenage center-back. Piero hincapie, which is no doubt promising but just as clearly not yet ready for this level. In the last 10 minutes, when the game was still very balanced, it was taken possession of by Di Maria, Messi played the right pass and Martinez scored the decisive goal. And there was still time for a magnificent diagonal ball from De Paul to put Di Maria behind Hincapie. The defender brought him back and was sent off – and Messi has stepped up his efforts to end his bizarre reunion with Galindez.
In the shadow of n ° 10
The goalscorer is part of a legendary tradition – the old-fashioned South American No.10, the gifted, sometimes forgiving individual who connects midfielder with attacking.
Rodriguez is certainly not spoiled at the moment. Last November’s disastrous results appeared to have left blood in the Colombian camp, and new coach Reinaldo Rueda was not convinced of Rodriguez’s fitness. So, much to the player’s dismay, he was excluded from the Copa America squad. The wonderfully talented Juan Fernando Quintero, kept in China by quarantine restrictions, is also absent. And Rueda clearly doesn’t trust Edwin Cardona of Boca Juniors.
After a deeply disappointing loss to Peru, Rueda appears to have concluded that Cardona is a luxury player and excluded him from the game against Brazil and Saturday’s meeting with Uruguay.
So Colombia had nothing that looked like a No.10 in their squad – an astonishing development from Carlos Valderrama’s country. Instead, Rueda played two at the top, plus two wingers, including an improvised striker and two other destructive players in the middle. It was a clear statement: Colombia didn’t want to, couldn’t, develop in midfield. They would be straightforward, dealing with quick transitions and trying to get Zapata tobacco behind the rival defense.
Uruguay, meanwhile, tried to go the other way. Veteran coach Oscar Washington Tabarez has been tempted to extend his long stint at the helm for one simple reason; the World Cup in Qatar is the great chance to have both the big punching pair of Luis Suarez placeholder image and Edinson Cavani, as well as young and promising midfielders Federico valverde and Rodrigo Bentancur.
But how do you link the two? In this tournament Tabarez gave extended opportunities to the playmaker Giorgian De Arrascaeta, a player who has been around the group for seven years without managing to carve out a place for himself. Indeed, Tabarez was quick to drop De Arrascaeta after the 2018 World Cup opener. The reason? It is not easy to integrate the player into Uruguay’s 4-4-2 formation. Without express or physical pace, he prefers to have the freedom to move in a centralized way.
For this game, we gave him what he wanted. Valverde’s dynamism covered the right side. Cavani’s spirit of sacrifice meant he occasionally fell to the left – allowing De Arrascaeta to walk behind the central striker.
It was not a failure, nor a success. There were times when it threatened, when De Arrascaeta was involved in quick passes that threatened to unlock the rival defense. But it was more sparkles than flames, and halfway through the second half Tabarez tried something else, pulling out De Arrascaeta and showcasing the more dynamic youngster. Facundo Torres placeholder image. The Colombian central midfielder duo Wilmar barrios and Gustavo Cuellar, however, turned out to be too difficult a wall to cross.
And so Tabarez leaves the game – and the competition – with his unresolved doubts. The game was a bit like a couple of heavyweight boxers charging but unable to deliver the final blow, and after a goalless draw, Colombia came out of the penalty shoot-out. In Tuesday’s semi-final, Messi becomes the last No.10 rival Barrios and Co. will seek to neutralize.