Copa América Semi-Final Preview: Uruguay - Brazil
What: Copa América Venezuela 2007 Semi-Final F1
Who: Uruguay (LWD, W), Brazil (LWW, W)
When: 10/07/2007 (Tuesday) 21:50 (Venezuela), 01:50 CET
Where: Jose Pachencho Romero Stadium, Maracaibo, Venezuela
The first semi-final of the Copa América Venezuela 2007 wil take place at the Estadio Jose Pachencho Romero between Uruguay and Brazil. Rated one of the best stadiums in Venezuela, the 1971 42,000 capacity venue (remodelled in 1998) for Tuesday’s semi-final will also be the scene for the Final which will determine this edition’s champs on Sunday.
Both nations are no strangers to success in the South American trophy, although, perhaps to the surprise of some readers, Uruguay have exactly doubled Brazil’s triumphs. The Celeste (Sky Blues) have won no les than 14 times (a feat only equalled by Argentina’s Albiceleste), whereas the Seleção have bagged seven trophies so far.
The Uruguayan Copa América record is impressive. As in World Cup terms Uruguay began harvesting the silverware earlier than Brazil by winning the first two editions and have only conspicuously struck out in one decade – the seventies. The last win came 12 years ago…against Brazil (Uruguayan Triumphs 1916, 1917, 1920, 1923, 1924, 1926, 1935, 1942, 1956, 1959, 1967, 1983, 1987, 1995).
Brazil have found themselves runners-up eleven times, hoisting the Copa just seven times, although the Seleção have had more modern success than a Uruguay who have, with few exceptions, petered out after the early golden years. The Canarinha (Little Canary) has flown high since 1989, winning four of their seven titles and being runners-up in 1991 and 1995 (to Uruguay).
The first Brazil triumphs date way back to 1919 and 1922 before a long drought ended in 1949, followed by an even longer sojourn in the wilderness that was only ended in 1989; the start of the recent streak of Seleção successes. Both nations have met three times in Finals, 1919 and 1995 seeing Brazil downed by Uruguay, but Brazil finally beating their nemesis in Paraguay eight years ago (1999).
As far as the present edition goes, Brazil have the better record with an initial draw being bettered by three straight wins. Uruguay had a rockier start with a defeat being balanced by a win and then a draw seeing the brakes screech before the quarter-final win over hosts Venezuela lifted the Celeste to face the Canarinha once more in a South American Classic.
Dunga’s Brazil may have only suffered a single setback so far, but the team has only just started to get its act together after a shaky start. Few fans have been convinced by performances that relied more on the errors of opponents and the individual inspiration of Robinho right up until the quarter-final stage.
In part this has been due to the lack of time that the team has had to fuse together into a unit made up of players capable of real mutual understanding on the pitch. Strangely enough it’s been the last arrival – Robinho, turning up after helping Real Madrid bag La Liga in Spain – who’s been Dunga’s saviour rather than those who have been listening to the Coach for longer.
Coming to head the coaching staff in the wake of a total failure of his (over) cerebral 1994 boss Carlos Alberto Parreira, Dunga hasn’t managed to bring Brazil to the elite ‘special forces’ unit that he promised when taking up the post. His mission was to snap the ‘high heels’ off a side that had let club success and stratospheric club salaries overcome national pride. Ironically his neck has been saved by a star (Robinho) rather than the Brazil-based hopes he’d said he would bring in.
On the bright side, the last game saw others getting on the scoresheet. Juan – a solid performer throughout the Copa – culminated a Dunga fave: the corner-header combo that accounted for over half Brazil’s goal since the World Cup. São Paulo midfielder Josué – one of the few Brazil-based players to find a place on the pitch, Júlio Baptista – coming back after a so-so brace of post-Sevilla seasons – and Vágner Love getting their first goals.
Nevertheless it’s Robinho whose star is now set to shine ever-brighter at national level. The number 11 has now scored six goals in this Copa América – only two short of equalling Pelé’s Seleção record of eight strikes. The odds on him going even further than O Rei (The King) have now shortened significantly and many see this as his Copa.
Despite no less than nine of the goals being banged in against a Chile that was, frankly, as soft as baby excrement, Brazil can count on a whopping goal difference. Even though Mexico pumped two past the Seleção in their drab and panicky debut, a +8 goal difference is a commendable morale-boost for the Brazilians as they face their first real challenge after Mexico.
Dunga has replaced the weary look of one waiting for a CBF boot on his backside for a new feeling that he may be about to be vindicated despite the lack of enthusiasm in his work that most Brazilians still express. The Coach can see the pieces that he has painstakingly put together over the past year fall into place despite the conspicuous absence of Kaká and Ronaldinho.
"Our game is flowing more now. As the matches have gone on it has been clear than the synchronicity between the players has been growing and growing", explained Dunga, although he refused to confirm one particular line-up as a winning formula. "Every player is important, and every one will have his chance. We’re getting to find the ideal line-up bit-by-bit", he stressed.
Dunga also went on to defend the use of up to four holding midfielders at times, something that hasn’t gone down well back home in a Brazil that wants to see flair rather than a belt-and-braces (US suspenders) approach. Using Gilberto Silva, Josué, Mineiro and a more conservatively fielded Júlio Baptista (as per his São Paulo FC days) together has raised some hackles in Brazil.
Nevertheless the Coach was newly confident that he knows what he is doing. “A victory like this [against Chile] always brings confidence and the confirmation that just because some people are complaining we shouldn’t change our approach”, jabbed Dunga, a strong proponent of the view that in modern football there needs to be strong marking by all midfielders.
“People need to remember that football has evolved. It’s not the same as it was in 1970 and our team reflects a modern trend, not just this coaching staff’s opinion”, Dunga reminded his detractors. As to opponents Uruguay, Dunga described the Charrúa side as a "a team that comes from a long and proud tradition, a national side that always rises to the challenge in knockout tournaments."
Seleção assistant and fellow 1994 World Cup winner Jorginho also added that the current rise towards more convincing wins is the fruit of planning over the past year. “The key thing has been the physical side, partly because we haven’t had the time we’d like to go into the technical and tactical sides in more depth, but it’s been a clear evolution”, he explained.
He also put the anchors on any premature ‘Oba Oba’ (Brazilian euphoria) that may be a stumbling block. “We’re very happy but not getting carried away – and we mustn’t. There are still two high hurdles in our way and we must clear those first before even considering any celebrations”, Jorginho warned.
Jorginho commented on the opponents as well as the possibility that Juan and Gilberto Silva could miss out on a hypothetical Final if they see yellow on Tuesday. “Uruguay are a strong side and if we go onto the pitch worried about what may come later then things just won’t work. We just have to play calmly – as we usually aim to do.”
Maicon was praised by Seleção sawbones José Luís Runco and physiotherapist Odir de Souza for an attitude that reflects Dunga’s ‘warrior’ ideals. “With real sacrifice and dedication Maicon managed to get over his injury and play an important part in the win [over Chile]”, stressed the doctor.
The player is till in treatment to make sure that Dunga can count on his right-back of choice in the Celeste game on Tuesday. His attitude is seen as a positive yet silent message for the rest of the squad, and players are starting to really believe in their chances – despite the still lukewarm comments from press and public back in Brazil.
Júlio Baptista stood up for himself as not just the defensive player most Brazilians remember. “I think that people in Brazil only really remember me as a holding midfielder. My characteristics have changed since leaving Brazil [for Spain and then England]. I’m now more of an all-round midfielder”, underlined the player.
Robinho and Love are expecting to face a tough test against Uruguayan centre-back Diego Lugano in the match. The Charrúa Captain came to prominence as a key member of the São Paulo FC team that landed the 2005 Libertadores Cup (South America’s equivalent of the Champions League) as well as the FIFA CWC (Club World Cup) against Liverpool in Tokyo.
Brazilian number 9 Vágner Love, an ex-Palmeiras striker, is looking forward to meeting the ex-São Paulo idol for the first time. “I never actually played against him. The only time we could have met on the field [in Brazil] I was benched, but I think that it’s going to be a fierce duel with Lugano”, explained Vágner Love, joking that “I just hope he doesn’t pull my hair!”, flicking his tranças (cornrow dreads).
Robinho is conscious that the Seleção are facing a dangerous adversary at a critical time – when confirmation could so easily turn into failure. “Knockout rounds are really tricky and Uruguay is a far more complicated rival than Chile”, stressed the striker. “On the plus side we are starting to really feel like a team in our bones as we’ve now had the time that we lacked before the Copa started.”
Dunga was also alert to the increased challenge ahead. “We have to raise the bar from the performances we gave against Chile and show that we mean business from the second the game gets underway – although not by losing balance. That balance in all three lines [defence, midfield and attack] is critical to our final success”, explained the Coach.
Uruguay have had a rocky ride through the Copa so far, 28 year-old Diego Forlán being the Celeste top scorer – although paling into comparison with Robinho in terms of effectiveness in front of goal. Nevertheless, the ex-Villarreal and Manchester United man has the ability to shoulder the burden of responsibility when it really counts…although can worrying disappear at times.
The recent Forlán brace was supplemented by a Pablo García goal and another from number 7 Cristian Rodríguez, turning Mallorca man Juan Arango’s goal into cold comfort for eliminated hosts Venezuela. Diego Forlán has been seen by Coach Oscar Tabárez as a more solid bet up front than Alvaro Recoba as the hugely talented (yet injury-prone) Inter man has lacked the sort of minutes that makes Forlán a keener blade up front.
Despite the fact that the 31 year-old Recoba has been a minor character at Inter Milan, many feel that Tabárez should give the axis with Forlán another starting chance (they both played in the first eleven in the rather anaemic showing against Bolivia) if damage is to be done to a more confident Brazil. All things point towards El Chino (now dyed blond after beating Venezuela) being given the chance against Brazil
Forlán’s recent partner in attack has been Deportivo La Coruña forward Fabián Estoyanoff (Monaco’s Vargas being his habitual sub), but he has hardly been a great foil for the Atlético Madrid man. Toluca man Sánchez (who scored the winner against Bolivia) and Danubio’s González are both potentially in the running for a place in the sun, although the European-based names have a better chance of getting a starting nod.
So far in the current Copa, keeper Carini and midfielders Rodriguez and Russo Perez (Monaco) have earned more applause than the front line. This is clearly a symptom that all is not well with the Celeste attack although it would be foolish to write off players of such high calibre – especially in a knockout round.
Other players who should come into their own – or face a damning tide of criticism – are in a rearguard that will probably be bombarded mercilessly by the Seleção. Fenerbahçe’s Diego Lugano and Real Madrid offcuts Carlos Diogo (Real Zaragoza) and Pablo García (on loan to minnows Murcia after being relegated with Celta) all have more to offer than they have been doing in Venezuela.
Players with such a high cache and experience of top-flight competition should rally against Brazil, although Carlos Diogo has shown a worrying tendency towards fisticuffs with Brazilians and Pablo García hasn’t recovered the great play that brought him a Merengue offer while at Osasuna. Lugano, however, has experience of Brazilian play and was crowned 2007 Turkish Super League Champion with Zico’s Fenerbahçe.
60 year-old Coach Oscar Tabárez is between a rock and a hard place as he faces Brazil, the man who coached Boca Juniors, Vélez Sársfield and AC Milan – as well as Uruguay in Italia 1990 – being criticised for making the Celeste play with a fusty outmoded air. Despite having a great line-up he’s keen on making Uruguay the rank outsiders…many feeling that he’s doing little but paving the way for an embarrassing defeat.
“Uruguay cannot be considered favourites to continue at the Copa América”, he began with perhaps a tad too much sincerity, “but what we do have is a great tradition in this tournament and I have a squad of capable men who can deal with adverse situations. There are no secrets in football and that’s why I ask my men to go out there and do their best”, Tabárez explained recently as elimination in the group phase rumbled ominously.
He seems to have gained succour from the win over Venezuela, stating to Montevideo daily El Pais that “Another Copa América begins now”, although that’s al the online edition puts…and almost at the bottom of the front page: a sign that an imminent elimination of the joint leading trophy winners is on the cards? The woefully poorly updated paper doesn’t say, beyond seeing Uruguay attacking with a 3-4-3 and defending with a 5-3-2 formation.
More ample news comes from Montevideo’s other large daily La Republica. After leaving San Cristóbal for Maracaibo, the Celeste had a light training session, the only injured absence being holding midfielder Diego Pérez, although he’s expected to recover in time to face Brazil. The players themselves seemed relaxed and reinvigorated – perhaps free of the pressure to win that may weigh the Seleção down.
The last time both met in the semi-finals of the Copa América was in Peru 2004, almost exactly three years ago, Brazil going through 5-3 after the 1-1 match went to spot kicks in Lima. More hope comes from remembering 1995, a 5-3 triumph (also on penalties) sealing the fourteenth Celeste triumph at a Copa América.
Diego Forlán feels a hell of a lot better after breaking his duck with the brace against Venezuela. "I’m a lot calmer now that I’ve beaten the ‘curse’ and scored twice. I just wish to carry on along the same lines with my team-mates and win the Copa América". Diego Lugano sees a growing stability in Uruguay that has come at the perfect moment.
"Our main virtue is concentration and we also applied pressure at just the right times without taking too many risks. We did make some mistakes, missing some good chances, but nobody can doubt that we deserved to win – and did so in style", emphasised the Captain.
Pablo García pooh-poohed those who say that the Celeste is outdated. "Uruguayan football is still great football and, although we respect our opponents [Brazil] they have to respect us as well."
First Elevens (Unconfirmed)
URUGUAY (3-4-3/5-3-2): Fabián Carini; Andrés Scotti, Diego Lugano and Darío Rodríguez; Maximiliano Pereira, Jorge Fucile, Diego Pérez, Pablo García and Cristhian Rodríguez; Diego Forlán and Alvaro Recoba (Estoyanoff)
Coach: Oscar Tabárez
BRAZIL (4-4-2): Doni; Maicon (Daniel Alves), Juan, Alex, Gilberto (Kléber); Gilberto Silva, Josué (Elano), Mineiro and Júlio Baptista; Robinho and Vágner Love
Players To Watch
Following great reader response, instead of the habitual choice of one player for each team, Goal.com throws open the forum for readers to choose a player – for one side or one for either side – who they feel will make the difference in Tuesday’s clash…and why.
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