After many surprises, mix of insipid and exciting displays of football, incredible misses, wonderful goals, media pressure, crowd expectations and loads of attention towards the only real football tournament being played right now, we have reached the knockout stages of Copa America 2011.

Mexico, Ecuador, Bolivia and Costa Rica bid farewell to Copa America 2011, leaving behind eight others to fight for the trophy. After reviewing Group A, Group B and Group C previously, TheHardTackle tells you what to expect in the quarter-finals.

 

COLOMBIA

v

PERU

July 16, 2011,
1900 hours GMT

 

While the world has been busy dissecting the under-performance of the big guns, one team that has made football viewers across the world stand up and take notice of them for the right reasons is Colombia. After beating Argentina to top spot in Group A, the Los Cafeteros have been given a very realistic chance of winning their second Copa America title. Their next test involves facing Peru; a side that has qualified as the best third-placed team in the competition.

Tournament so far

Colombia go into the match as hot favourites to reach the semi-finals after notching up two wins – against Venezuela and Bolivia – and a prestigious draw against Argentina. Coach Hernán Darío Gómez’s 4-1-4-1 formation has proven to be the perfect way of utilizing his resources. Not only does the formation give ample protection to the defence – Colombia being the only team not to have conceded a goal in the tournament – it also provides enough ammunition in offence to either counter-attack teams such as Argentina or to break down defensive walls like the one posed by Bolivia.

Discarding Peru’s chances will be a major mistake. Although they entered the tournament with the tag of the worst team in South America having finished bottom of the World Cup qualifiers and with key players missing, the Peruvians have been anything but pushovers. They notched up a creditable draw against Uruguay after taking the lead, beat an under-strength Mexico to gain a crucial win and gave Chile a run for their money in an ill-tempered contest before an own goal in the dying minutes downed their efforts.

Giancarlo Carmona is suspended for Peru after picking up a red card against Chile.

Talking tactics

The Peruvians will take a lot of heart from their performances in the group stages. Their weakness still lies in attack and their strength in their defensive organisation and solidity. The problem for Peru is that Colombia’s situation isn’t any different and they are certainly at least one notch above Peru in both, attack and defense.

Both teams lack the creativity in midfield but will attempt to make up for it in their own ways. Colombia favours bombarding down the flanks through their full-backs, intelligently pushing their midfielders into offensive positions without risking being exposed at the back and finally, utilising the striking ability of Porto sensation Falcao. Sergio Markarian’s Peru, on the other hand, are very direct in their play – hitting long balls to their target-man Guerrero to hold-up while his team-mates join in the attack; a job he has been doing extremely well in the tournament so far. Peru are known to deploy a 4-3-3 formation, but that will take the shape of a 4-2-3-1 with extra cover in front of the defence.

Key players

Colombia – Radamel Falcao

Peru – Juan Manuel Vargas, José Paolo Guerrero

TheHardTackle’s Prediction

Colombia 2-0 Peru

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URUGUAY

v

ARGENTINA

July 16, 2011,
2215 hours GMT

 

What do Uruguay and Argentina have in common? 14 Copa America titles each, for starters. The world is rubbing their hands in anticipation of this match; by far, the pick of the quarter-finals. If you consider the stature of the teams and not the tournament form, this match is worthy of a semi-final or even a final. Another common ground between the two teams before the final round of the group stage was under-performance. While Uruguay still haven’t given enough evidence supporting any talks of a 15th title, Argentina finally put behind their miserable, overly-criticized campaign by bursting into life in their previous match. Both teams ended up second in their group, despite being favorites for the top spot.

Tournament so far

Argentina, being the hosts and owing to their demolition of Costa Rica, go into this contest as favorites, although marginally. La Albiceleste finally burst into life with a wonderful display of attacking prowess in their final group game; a game in which Lionel Messi temporarily silenced his critics and Sergio Aguero’s top-notch finishing quality was on show. Before this, Argentina had struggled in their opening two games. Against Bolivia, Aguero’s late equaliser saved the home side’s blushes and against Colombia, only their opponents’ disastrous finishing saved Argentina from defeat.

Uruguay haven’t set the world alight in a fashion they were expected to. Being the most successful South American team in South Africa 2010, they were one of the favourites going into the tournament. However, like Argentina, they only managed a come-from-behind draw against Peru in the opening game and were held by Chile in the second, as well. Their only triumph was a narrow 1-0 win over an under-strength Mexico.

Talking tactics

There was immense similarity in the failures of Argentina and Uruguay to set the tournament alight. Both teams attempted to play to their strengths of a three-pronged attack that would, on paper, strike fear in any opponent. However, on the field, the story was very different. Accommodating three solely offense-minded players meant that players behind them needed to be of a more defensive nature, either in their roles or in their natural play.

Better late than never, though, Argentina’s coach Sergio Batista changed his formation from a 4-3-3 in the first two games to a more fluid one, nearing a 4-2-2-2, in the last game; and how that worked! With attack-minded midfielders replacing defensive-minded ones, personnel changes in the starting line-up, Messi’s magic and Aguero’s ability, Argentina were utterly dominant over Costa Rica. The home side are expected to line-up in the same formation against Uruguay as well.

 

Under the Mess(i) of pressure?

Oscar Tabarez is very flexible when it comes to tactics, which sets up an intriguing battle against Argentina. Similar to Argentina, Uruguay rung the formational changes, switching to a narrow 4-4-1-1 from the usual 4-3-3 in the final game against Mexico; although it was less effective than the formational switch deployed by their next opponents. Tabarez also toggled between 4-4-2 and 3-5-2 against Chile depending on the match development. The Uruguayans are likely to play the same narrow formation they deployed against Mexico, hoping to hit Argentina on the counter. But guessing the players that will take part is a difficult task when it comes to Tabarez’s selection.

Sebastian Coates is suspended.

Key players

Argentina – Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero

Uruguay – Luis Suarez, Diego Forlan

TheHardTackle’s Prediction

Uruguay 1-2 Argentina

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BRAZIL

v

PARAGUAY

July 17, 2011
1900 hours GMT

 

Anticipation is a pre-match symptom when Brazil is involved – when will we be treated to the trademark Samba magic? Unfortunately, with today’s Brazil, the ‘when’ changes to an ‘if’. Although the South American giants managed to top the group, there performances did not suggest any clear reason why one should pick them as future winners of this Copa edition. Their next test is a test they almost failed – Paraguay. These two teams have already played out a delightful 2-2 draw in this tournament.

Tournament so far

Brazil were held to a goalless draw by underdogs Venezuela in the opening game as an uninspiring performance raised major question marks over Brazil’s chances of winning Copa America 2011. Against Paraguay in the second game, Fred’s last-minute strike saved Brazil’s blushes as the South American giants failed to match their off-field reputation. In the final game of the group stage, Brazil managed to win, following a brace each from Neymar and Pato but Ecuador caused them major problems. All is still not clicking in the Brazilian dressing room, yet.

More magic off the field than on it!

Paraguay, on the other hand, are winless in the tournament. They have played out two exciting games, though; one of them being the draw against Brazil. While the Brazilian draw was a major point of encouragement, the 3-3 against Venezuela was a little frightening. Paraguay conceded two late goals to let slip a comfortable lead and allow Venezuela a passage to the next round. In their opening game, they played out a goalless draw against lowly Ecuador.

Talking tactics

Since these two sides have already played before, let us look at the strategy deployed by the two coaches in that game. Gerardo Martino set up Paraguay in a 4-3-3 formation that often ended up like a 4-4-2 owing to Santa Cruz drifting in from the right. Bundesliga sensation Lucas Barrios was Paraguay’s main man upfront. Paraguay were very narrow, in general, forcing Brazil to use the width of the pitch.

Mano Menezes’ Brazil, on the other hand, modified their 4-2-3-1 from the goalless draw against Venezuela to support Ganso’s creativity better. The 4-2-3-1 deployed in this game was more narrow due to the exclusion of Robinho, which resulted in better supply to Ganso in the centre.

Brazil’s only win of the tournament saw a major change on the right side with Robinho and Maicon replacing Jadson and Alves. The changes brought fluidity upfront but failed to reduce the vulnerability at the back. Ecuador’s need to go for broke opened the game up and Brazil exploited that to pick up their first win. Although Maicon’s inclusion is expected in the quarter-finals, the overall set up of the teams may not differ too much from their group encounter.

Key players

Brazil – Ganso, Neymar

Paraguay – Barrios, Santa Cruz

TheHardTackle’s Prediction

Brazil 2-1 Paraguay

——————

CHILE

v

VENEZUELA

July 17, 2011
2215 hours GMT

 

Chile topped Group C ahead of Uruguay but similar to many teams in the Copa thus far, they failed to rise to the levels expected of them. Chile is, perhaps, the best supported team apart from Argentina due to their proximity to the venues. The Chileans’ dream of a Copa America title is well intact, right now. Their opponents, Venezuela, can hardly believe they are in the quarter-finals after notching up an incredible 3-3 draw that sent them into the knockout stages.

Tournament so far

Chile started off slowly in the tournament and were given a major scare by an under-strength Mexico when the Mexicans took the lead in the opening game. However, Chile rallied to put in a dominant performance that eventually led to a 2-1 win. This was followed by a come-from-behind draw against Uruguay and finally, an own goal in their ill-tempered final game against Peru meant the Chileans topped Group C.

Venezuela were out. Or so everyone thought, when Paraguay took a 3-1 lead in the final group game. But two late goals in dramatic fashion meant the match finished all square and gave Venezuela a Copa lifeline. Earlier in the tournament, Venezuela had managed to hold Brazil to a goalless draw and had beaten Ecuador by the narrowest of margins to gain a crucial win.

Talking tactics

Claudio Borghi, or ‘Bichi’, usually sets up his Chile side in an interesting 3-4-1-2 formation with the top two being Suazo and Sanchez; both a handful for any opposition. However, he switched to a more fluid 3-3-1-3 to counter Mexico when Chile were a goal behind. Against Uruguay, Borghi’s personnel changes in the same shape lent it an even more offensive nature. This is what makes Chile so potentially devastating. There is a lot of pace and flair in their approach and it is a pleasure to see such positivity from them in the tournament.

Attack, attack and attack!

Venezuela’s rise is a great story for South American football. Their victory over Ecaudor was only their third ever win in this tournament. With so many variations of formations thrown around, coach Farias’ Venezuela stuck to a solid 4-4-2 in the goalless draw against Brazil. Although the formation became a 4-5-1 on quite a few occasions, two banks of four were a constant on that night. Venezuela are likely to line-up in a similar manner against Chile.

Jean Beausejour is suspended for Chile after picking up a red card against Peru.

Key players

Chile – Sanchez, Suazo

Venezuela – Rincon

TheHardTackle’s Prediction

Chile 3-1 Venezuela

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