Justice was done. The better team actually won and quite comfortably. The Guarani had come to the finals with no wins in their five matches and it would have been a travesty of immense proportions if they had managed to pull off another penalty shootout win.
It never happened because Uruguay went on the fore foot right away and their two strikers delivered. Luis Suarez left no one in doubt about his quality opening the account and later providing a genius heads up assist for Forlan's second goal. The MVP of the World Cup finally found his scoring touch with his brace. Suarez deservedly picked up that honour in this Copa with his all around brilliance.
The Guarani had their own Mano de Dios moment in the 2nd minute itself when Sebastian Coates header was blocked on the line by Nestor Ortigoza's hand. It should have been a red card and a penalty. It could have been a lot worse for them but for Justo Villar's magnificent effort in goal. He's the real reason the Paraguayans are in the finals.
The Uruguayans are now the most decorated Copa America winners with their fifteenth title. Forlan ties Hector Scarone for leading national goal scorer with 31.
Can we say Kenny Dalglish was a bloody genius when he signed Suarez?
Oswaldo Vizcarrando's headed goal in the 38th minute was waved off by the linesman, Humberto Clavijo, who appears to have spotted an infraction - possibly Salomon Rondon standing in front of Justo Villar making inadvertent contact with the header while marginally offside. Maybe a correct decision but it still does not rid the feeling of being robbed.
Paraguay rode their luck as Venezuela the far better team on attack created more goal scoring chances but had the misfortune of finding the upright three times.
In the end that disallowed goal would have made the difference between a footnote and a red letter day in Venezuelan history. As it was Paraguay who seemed to have made a killing on penalty shootouts prevailed once again as Justo Villar stopped Franklin Lucena's shot.
There was some drama on the sidelines. Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino was ejected early in extra time for complaining and got into a verbal altercation with his Venezuelan counterpart, Cesar Farias, who signaled with his hands for his opposing counterpart to leave. After the shootout a brawl broke out between both teams as the Guarani celebrated. They make their first final since 1979 when they beat Chile in the playoffs and this is also the first time both neighbours meet in the finals.
Luis Suarez showed his uncanny ability off the ball and a lethal finishing touch to get both goals.
Peru's goalie Raul Fernandez spilled Diego Forlan's swerving left footed shot straight to Suarez who finished smartly with an angled drive. Minutes later Alvaro Pereira laid it on a thread for the motoring Suarez who beat the offside trap and the onrushing Fernandez to slide the ball home.
Peru's Juan Vargas was given marching orders in the 69th minute after elbowing Sebastian Coates in the face to make it a long evening for Peru.
Uruguay enter the finals for the 21st time. They will be looking to establish a record15th title, one more than Argentina.
Just to make sure that this Copa was not done providing upsets. Venezuela joined the eye widening list of semi-finalists as they overcame Chile.
Oswaldo Vizcarrando already a legend for his goal line save in the Brazil group match cemented his status as he diverted the ball into goal off a Juan Arango free kick with a perfect flick of his head.
El Chupete restored parity for Chile with his equalizer. It was another Arango set piece that proved their undoing when goalie Claudio Bravo spilled his free kick and Gabriel Cichero lurking in front of the goalmouth was at hand to deliver Venezuela a historic win.
Their first ever entry into the semi-finals means this line up is unprecedented in the 95 years of this championship. This puts 2001 into perspective when Colombia won the Copa beating Mexico and Honduras prevailed over Uruguay to capture the third spot.
Could there be any more dire penalty taking than the Selecao display against Paraguay? Elano and Andre Santos were completely off target while Thiago Silva's effort was saved by Justo Villar. Each miss left the Brazilians in the stands looking incredulous.
At the other end Paraguay kept its nerve after Edgar Barreto dragged his shot wide left. Marcelo Estagarribia and Cristian Riveros converted their penalties. Up stepped Fred charged with the onerous task of keeping Brazil's hopes alive as anxiety mounted with every passing moment. His body hunched over in tension the veteran broke a long run up with a series of stutter steps and launched the ball wide off the goal.
Villar was also outstanding in the previous 120 minutes - he had to be because the Brazilians were the far better team. He saved off Ganso who had a brilliant game and he also twice denied Pato and Neymar.
The US women can testify it is a cruel sport as their penalty shootout loss to Japan proves- its not always the better team that ends up winning.
The end of Colombia came almost anticlimactically in extra time after 90 minutes of spectacular shots which had both goalies jack knifing through the air, a missed penalty by Radamel Falcao, and two reprieves for Peru as the ball blasting Dayro Moreno and Fredy Guarin threatened to end the match. But Peru survived it all and in turn tested Luis Martinez with Luis Vargas and Adan Balbin coming close.
Peru administered a shock in the 102nd minute when Luis Martinez coming yards out to collect a free kick spilled it straight into the path of Carlos Lobaton. The midfielder taking a few steps blasted the half volley straight into the back of the net with Martinez sprawled out helpless on the pitch. At the other end Raul Fernandez had to endure another long distance thunderbolt from Fredy Guarin and after the teams crossed over Moreno had another go. It was Martinez at fault again with a rather casual return kick which Guerrero intercepted and racing ahead found Vargas who smashed the ball home.
Los Cafateros looking so good in the group stage were unable to finish their chances. Dayro Moreno and Fredy Guarin were the cream with their long range efforts. Guarin in particular weaved a mesmerizing mazy run down the left but his shot was saved by the excellent Fernandez. Peru make their first semi-final entry since the 1997 Copa.
The manager says he intends staying on and seeing his contract through to the end of the 2014 World Cup. The Copa America exit clearly hurts but the larger picture is the World Cup and its preparations.
Batista mentioned that the team did not play upto expectations against Bolivia and Colombia. But they found themselves in the Costa Rican match and played exceptionally well in the first half against Uruguay despite going behind early. He singled out Leo Messi.
"Leo played exceptionally well in those 30 minutes. The idea was to widen the game with more players. But our tactics changed after the bad luck with Mascherano and we could not find more offense even after bringing on Pastore."
"This is not failure. We did everything we could to win the Copa America. That we could not do so is not failure. That is just too strong a word. We gave it our best and that is why I am undisturbed."
These are revisionist words. The goal always was to win the Copa in home soil. Argentina last meaningful title was the 1993 Copa America and as Jonathan Wilson points out Batista lost the tactical battle to Oscar Tabarez.
Once again an Argentine squad packed with some of the best attacking talent in the world underachieved falling to a Uruguayan side in the Copa America quarterfinals. After 120 minutes, the teams battled to a 1-1 draw with both teams missing a number of chances.
Carlos Tevez, who's been the news for a strongly rumoured return to Corinthians could not put away his PK as the baby faced Fernando Muslera saved his effort. Minutes later the Uruguayan goalie almost stopped Javier Pastore as the Charruas showing the requisite composure came through in the penalty shootout. Martin Caceres did the honours with his match winning PK.
It was Caceres's flick of a Forlan free kick that got Sergio Romero into trouble and as the ball came lose Diego Perez was at hand to finish off the simple chance. Argentina came back with Messi showing his trademark control cutting in to lay a brilliantly placed cross which El Pipita gliding past the defense directed home.
Uruguay suffered a setback early after Perez already on a yellow was ejected in the 38th minute for a foul on Higuain. They showed some splendid regrouping and shut down the Argentinian attack well into the second half. The Albiceleste too played a man down after Javier Mascherano was sent off three minutes before match end.
The Messi slagging has begun - he's a choker and a pale imitation of Maradona, But Maradona, surrounded by lesser lights was remarkably fortunate to have players who knew what it took to play as a team. He only came alive in the quarterfinals and semi-finals of the 1986 World Cup as the group stage was carried by Oscar Ruggeri, Jorge Valdano, and Jorge Burruchaga.
With a core like that Don Diego was freed of the burden of expectations to take on England and Belgium where his performance is now the basis of all these comparisons. They also had a great coach in Carlos Bilardo who unfortunately has taken a hiatus from the national scene after his fallout with Maradona.
Messi like the 2010 World Cup had to endure changing roles in the same tournament on the whimsy of his coach as Fernando Gago and Ever Banega were unable to step up as creative playmakers. His circumstances have also left him with the burden of proving his national identity. Much of this has to do with years of living abroad in the protective confines of La Masia in his growing years and later on at Barca.
Maradona on the other hand spent his years abroad getting disillusioned paving his way for an eventual return much to the delight of the home crowd. He's enshrined in the national consciousness. It's an impossible act to follow and there have been many meaningless second comings of Don Diego (including his son in law, Sergio Aguero).
Messi and to a lesser extent, Mascherano were the two best players for Argentina and undoubtedly playing in a system that values the collective made that possible. It left them naively expecting the same sort of cohesion from the rest of the team.
A note on the victors. The Uruguayans once again showed they seem to possess that necessary mental toughness to win close matches.
Uruguay just about made it to the Copa America knockout stage as Alvaro Pereira's goal proved decisive. But if you were Luis Suarez or Diego Forlan the match was a nightmare with their poor finishing. Mexico fielding a team of second stringers proved to be a tough team to breakdown.
From what one reads Leo Messi will never be the people's player no matter what he does. There are too many questions when it comes to where his heart lies. But the question really should be does Argentina deserve Messi?
The best thing Checho Batista did against Costa Rica was to put that £250,000 per week mercenary Carlos Tevez on the bench. Tevez of course is the people's player so this was a gutsy call by Batista. In his place Angel Di Maria got his start and right away the winger's mobility and unselfish play lifted the team.
The other thing Batista got right was to promote Fernando Gago over Ever Banega and his organizational skill was key to the team's success. Finally after two matches we had a shape and structure to the Argentinian squad. But this match was all Messi. And it is a good thing he created a half dozen chances because Gonzalo Higuain was dire. At times the Real Madrid striker resembled John Arne Riise in hoofing the ball into the stratosphere.
Not so Sergio Aguero, a grateful recipient of Messi's lovely little through ball for his second goal. Angel Di Maria was also the beneficiary of number 10's vision as he smashed in the third goal. All through the match Messi was given special attention by the Costa Rican defense and clearly in one instance a penalty should have been called but the referee chose to wave it off. That inexplicable bit of ignorance was nothing compared to Higuain held back in full sight of the linesman with a clear path to the goal treated as a non-event.
Argentina made their intentions amply known in the first half as they showed their impatience to get on the board quickly but their finishing let them down.Things became tense as Higuain and Aguero missed miserably with Messi's impeccably delivered service. The breakthrough finally came at the stroke of half time after the Costa Rican defense failed to clear a cross adequately with the ball falling to Gago whose volley was initially saved by Leonel Moreira but the resulting rebound was picked up by Aguero for an easy finish.
The second half was all Argentina with Messi leading the way. By the time Ezekiel Lavezzi, Lucas Leiva, and Javier Pastore came on it was all over. Ricardo La Volpe, the Costa Rican coach very obviously played for a draw but he came across an Argentinian squad that finally played as a team. It was heartening to see them come across an energized Messi to hug him after the match. A stunning contrast from the forlorn droopy shouldered image he cut in the draw against Colombia.
Fred's last gasp goal saved Brazil from a quick exit from the Copa America. Ganso's flick found the veteran striker who took it one bounce and laid it past Justo Villar. After that the team celebrated as if they had won the World Cup. The way they're playing such celebrations might be in order.
The big names Dani Alves, Pato, and Neymar were just terrible. Alves in particular got taken to the cleaners by Marcelo Estigarribia for both of Paraguay's goals. Neymar went in for ball hogging glory and Pato did not show up.
Brazil's first goal was the result of Ramires industry- the Chelsea winger striding through midfield, falling after getting tackled, recovering the ball and passing to Ganso all in one continuous sequence. Ganso found Jadson cutting in from the right. The Shakhtar Donetsk striker angled a scorching grounder past Villar to give Brazil the lead.
Paraguay answered back in the second half after Estigarribia blowing past Alves found Santa Cruz with his cross which the Blackburn striker clinically converted. It was his 25th international goal which makes him Paraguay's joint top scorer along with José Saturnino Cardozo. There was a comic interlude on the sidelines as Gerardo Martino brusquely waved off Haedo Nelson Valdes's celebratory overture.
Valdes was the focal point of Paraguay's second goal as the indefatigable Estigarribia bundled Alves off the ball and laid the ball across goal to find Valdes whose attempt led to an inadvertent ping pong of rebounds with the ball finally lodged at the back of the net.
Just when the Albirroja looked like they were going to pull off a memorable win came Fred's equalizer. In Group B the Venezuelans occupy the top spot with Paraguay and Brazil tied for second. Ecuador brings up the rear.
A worried Checho Batista faced with a must win against Costa Rica
Watching Leo Messi, a shadow of himself struggle against Colombia throws into sharp relief the magnificent Barca midfield that makes goalscoring look so easy. The Albiceleste should on first look fare just as well with their squad teaming with the creative talent the likes of Ezequiel Lavezzi, Ever Banega, Javier Pastore, Fernando Gago, Esteban Cambiasso, and Angel Di Maria.
They, however could not find their way through a dogged Colombian defense led by veteran Mario Yepes. There was no one in midfield to take on the responsibility of orchestrating the attack. In the initial stages of the 2010 World Cup, a cautious Maradona looked to Juan Sebastian Veron to provide the linkage between midfield and the upper third and it worked admirably till the devil got to Maradona and he jettisoned Veron to the disastrous result against Germany.
Against Colombia, Batista employed Javier Mascherano and Esteban Cambiasso as holding midfielders with Ever Banega as the creative nexus but the disjointed and frantic performance at times saw Cambiasso out in front of Messi with Tevez stuck out in the left where he was ineffective.
Passes went helter skelter as players played out of position and the Colombians found it easy to garner the ball. In the last Copa, the Albiceleste were buoyed by Juan Roman Riquelme and Veron until the finals against Brazil where they were spanked when Riquelme did one of his disappearing acts. Batista went to his bench bringing in Aguero, Gago, and Higuain but it made no difference.
At the other end the few times the Colombians did mount an attack they looked very threatening with the speedy Adrian Ramos, Radamel Falcao, and Fredy Guarin testing Sergio Romero a number of times but the AZ Alkmaar goalie proved equal to the task preventing a shock victory. He was the man of the match.
It's not just Argentina but other big names like Brazil and Uruguay who have struggled against swarming defenses disrupting the attacking flow. The results so far have been a series of disappointing draws with many of them scoreless. So far only Chile have played to expectation but that too was against a completely new look Mexican team.
The Seleccao were unable to find their way around a tough Venezuelan defense. Alexander Pato spurned a couple of very good chances. Neymar was ineffective down the left and Ganso was underwhelming in his role as playmaker. Robinho was dire. Mano Menezes brought in veteran Elano after half time but there was no change in potency.
The man of the match was definitely Oswaldo Vizcarrando sliding down on the ground to stop Robinho's goal bound shot with his shoulder. The referee turned down the Brazilians appeal for a handball penalty and the replay shows it was the right decision.
The match was temporarily halted for a few minutes to escort out a dog who obviously decided he had enough of the desultory proceedings and wanted his money back. The other topic of interest was Robinho and Dani Alves sporting variations of Neymar's mohawk.
Fredy Guarin will be one of the most sought after players after this Copa America is over. The Porto winger's almost laconic but inch perfect through pass from midfield fell in front of the surging Adrian Ramos who took it past Leonel Moreira to put Colombia up for good. Guarin's Porto team mate, Radamel Falcao meanwhile is getting all the attention. The Colombians dominated the match but Moreira's superb display between the sticks ensured just that one goal damage.
The Ticos played a man down when Randall Brenes was sent off in the 27th minute after a dangerous tackle on defender Luis Perea. The other Group A match between Argentina and Bolivia ended in a 1-1 draw.
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