Group B was undoubtedly the group of draws. While the other groups saw as many as 4 wins, the teams from this group managed only 2. Expectations were high from day one for some eye-catching footballing moments, but fans were left high and dry from the very beginning. We had to wait for the last day of league matches to see some goals, with as many as 12 goals coming in the last two games only.
In a group comprising of Brazil, Paraguay, Venezuela and Ecuador, it goes without saying that Brazil would be the favorites on paper and also on field. However, what transpired on the ground was a different scenario altogether. The first two games of the group were drab affairs, where all the teams played out 0-0 draws. The hype surrounding Brazil was always high, and it showed on the defending champions. Comprising of star players from all over the globe, Brazil failed to find the right combination from the word go. The position of right back can be clearly marked as a place where Menezes’ team selection failed. He chose to go with Dani Alves for the first two matches, but regained sense in the last one. Defensively, Alves provides very little and when Maicon took the field in the last match, he not only was defensively strong, but was a real threat going forward.
Paraguay, Venezuela and Ecuador had to fight among themselves for the second spot in the group. Going by their past records, it was expected that Paraguay would sail through, but instead the surprise package turned out to be Venezuela. With only one victory in 3 games, they sailed through to the next round at the cost of Paraguay. Even in their last game, Paraguay were leading 3-1 at one point, before Venezuela clawed their way back in and carved out a thrilling 3-3 draw. Having drawn all of their matches, they were rightly shown the door in this year’s Copa.
Ecuador started the tournament on a bright note, but were pegged back with the injury to their star player, Antonio Valencia. The only bright spot for them this tournament was the performance of Felipe Caicedo. In the match against Venezuela, Caicedo had a glorious chance to draw level, when they were trailing 1-0, but somehow managed to shoot straight at Vega. This exposure will do a world of good to the 22 year old, who scored 13 goals for Levante last season.
Venezuela played out their matches with minimal fuss, scoring 1 goal and letting in none till the last match. Reno Vega, who is having an amazing tournament so far, ably backed up their solid defensive line. Grenndy Perozo also shone in the back four. Another player who stood above the rest was Cesar Gonzalez, who incidentally scored the only goal for them before the last match.
With only 2 goals in the opening two matches, Brazil burst to life in the last one. A team full of young stars started off on a horrible note, when they drew their opening match against Venezuela. It was supposed to be cakewalk for the South American giants, but they flattered to deceive. Even in their second match against Paraguay, they were hopelessly trailing them till Fred rescued with a late equalizer. Menezes rightly decided to bench the incompetent Robinho for Jadson in their second match, and he repaid his faith with Brazil’s opening goal in this year’s Copa. However, Robinho returned to the starting line up once against Ecuador and needless to say, his barren run continues to haunt not only him, but also Brazil. Famous for missing one-on-ones, Robinho continued this “trend” here also. Ganso and Neymar had come in for a lot of stick after their performance in the opening match, but as the tournament progressed, they came into their own. Their combination in the last match was orgasmic to watch, to say the least. When the good gets going, the rest of the world simply stands still.
Top Goal Scorers
|Felipe Caicedo (Ecuador)||2|
|Roque Santa Cruz (Paraguay)||1|
|Nelson Valdez (Paraguay)||1|
|Antolin Alcaraz (Paraguay)||1|
|Lucas Barrios (Paraguay)||1|
|Cristian Riveros (Paraguay)||1|
|Cesar Gonzalez (Venezuela)||1|
|Salomon Rondon (Venezuela)||1|
|Grenddy Perozo (Venezuela)||1|
Goal of the Round – Pato’s first goal against Ecuador
In a match, which saw as many as 6 goals, Pato’s opener stands out from the rest simply because of his sheer pace, accuracy and clinical finish. Both the teams had their shots on goal, when suddenly Pato burst forward to meet Santos’ perfectly placed cross. A fraction of a second later, the back of the net bulged, while the goalkeeper stood motionless. The celebration showed an extremely jubilant Pato. Later, he also scored another goal and to top it all, he dedicated his brace to his girlfriend Barbara Berlusconi.
Save(s) of the Round – Renny Vega against Ecuador
This 32 year old keeper was the main reason why Venezuela managed to keep a clean sheet against Ecuador. At the end, Venezuela won 1-0 and Vega made as many as 4 saves.
Substitute of the Round – Fred against Paraguay
Brazil was trailing 1-2 against Paraguay when Fred came on, replacing Neymar. Included in the squad at the cost of Nilmar, Fred repaid the faith put in him by Mano Menezes when he scored the equalizer in the 89th minute. Needless to say, if Brazil would have lost that match, Menezes’ squad selection policy would’ve come under intense scrutiny.
Flop of the Round – Robinho
Robinho was the oldest and the most experienced among the three strikers that Brazil deployed in Copa America. In the two matches that he played so far, he has had 4 shots on goal. But sadly, none of them found the back of the net or landed even remotely close to goal. His affinity for missing one-on-ones is legendary, and he proved the same once more in this year’s Copa. He is an important cog in the Brazil wheel, but if he keeps on firing blanks, he would be replaced with Jadson, as was seen in the match against Paraguay.
Goal Keeper of the Round – Renny Vega
Once again it’s the keeper from Venezuela. Not only has he been exemplary under the bar, but his saves have kept Venezuela in the competition, when most of the cynics scoffed at their chances to qualify. In the solitary win that Venezuela garnered in this group, Vega worked extremely hard to keep Ecuador strikers at bay, including the effort from Cristian Benitez at the dying moments of that match.
Forward of the Round – Pato (2 goals)
It took two games and some “sound” advice from Barbara for Pato to find his goal-scoring touch. In the first and the second match, Pato had chances to open his scoresheet, but rarely made any shots on goal. He came alive in the final match against Ecuador, which was a do-or-die for the Selecao. A brilliant header got them off to an astonishing start, but Pato did not stop there. He completed his brace and rightfully took Brazil into the quarterfinals.
Midfielder of the Round – Ganso (3 assists)
Before the tournament started, Paulo Henrique Ganso generated a lot of noise, some even claiming him to be the next big thing to emerge out of Brazil alongwith Neymar. Call it coincidence, but both Neymar and Ganso failed to live up to their pre-tournament hype as the matches went on. Ganso finally found his stride against Paraguay, where he was the architect behind all the goals Brazil scored. In the final match also, he had a hand in Neymar’s opening goal. It took some time for Ganso to find his feet going, but once it gets going, it would be hard to stop him.
Defender of the Round – Thiago Silva
Silva has had a superb last season with the Rossoneri, and his form continued for the national team too. His pairing with Lucio was an extremely mouth-watering one on paper, but as it turned out on the field, maybe it’s time for David Luiz to partner Silva on a regular basis instead of Lucio. Silva was strong at the back, snapping at any forward that got closer to the Brazilian penalty area.
Miss of the Round – Pato against Paraguay
It was the 18th minute of the game when a beautiful through-ball from Neymar found its way into Pato’s feet. With acres of space to prance around, all Pato did was to shoot directly at Villar. It was an important moment of the match, as a goal at that time would surely have put Paraguay on the back-foot.
TheHardTackle’s Team of the Round
Goalkeeper: Vega (Venezuela)
Defenders: Maicon (Brazil), Grenndy Perozo (Venezuela), Thiago Silva (Brazil), Antolin Alcaraz (Paraguay)
Midfielders: Cesar Gonzalez (Venezuela), Ramires (Brazil), Marcelo Estigarribia (Paraguay), Ganso (Brazil)
Forwards: Pato (Brazil), Felipe Caicedo (Ecuador)
Manager: Cesar Farias (Venezuela)