Venezuela continued the theme of upsets on day 4, as Jose Salomon Rondon’s singular strike settled the tie, condemning tournament favourites, Columbia, to a shocking opening defeat. At Temuco, Neymar and co. left it late as Brazil edged out Peru 2-1, to avoid yet another giant killing in the tournament thus far.
Absolute unpredictability seems to be the theme that largely encapsulated the Copa America thus far.
Underdogs are out-performing, tournament favourites flatter to deceive, and short spells of verve and vigour, are followed by long spells of stagnancy that don’t do justice to the South American style of play.
With that in mind, here are the major take-aways from Day Four.
Venezuela could be the unlikeliest Hero of the tournament.
Despite comprising of two of the four world cup finalists, Brazil and Argentina have fluffed their lines. A draw for the former, and a narrow win for the latter leaves room open for an unlikely team to steal the spotlight.
Venezuela might just be that team.
Without having many of their stars plying their trade overseas, Venezuela proved, like Paraguay before them, that strong teamwork super-cedes individual flair.
Venezuela had come into the tournament with few people giving them a chance of matching their 2011 performance, when they reached the final only to be defeated by Uruguay.
Noel Sanvicente’s team were by far the better side against their more illustrious opponents and fully deserved the shock reward they earned.
Salomon Rondon proved to be the hero of the houra quite literally in this casea as his 60th-minute header sealed the points for Venezuela.
Against a Colombia side that boasted Radamel Falcao, James Rodriguez and Carlos Bacca, Los Vinotinto did not enter the game as firm favourites. However, La Copa has a consistent habit of pulling out more than a few surprises every year. This Copa around, Venezuela might prove to be the proverbial rabbit, as the bigger team will have to be mighty careful when they dip their hands in the magic hat.
Columbia’s lack of balance is more than a temporary setback .
It was with a heavy heart that Columbian fans accepted Radamel Falcao’s World Cup absence, through injury.
However, it was just the catalyst that Los Cafeteros required, as their diamonds-in-the-rough rose to the challenge and spearheaded a Colombian charge that saw them narrowly defeated by hosts Colombia.
Heroes like James Rodriguez, Juan Cuadrado and Christian Zuniga represented the new age of Colombian football, that was finally going to move past it’s horrific recent past and challenge to be South America’s best.
One would logically assume, that Falcao’s re-entry would prove both a boost in skill, experience and team morale. What it didn’t account for however, was the form of the striker coming in.
Despite signing for one of England’s biggest clubs, Falcao’s tenure. In sharp contrast, Carlos Bacca and Jackson Martinez netted an impressive 28 and 32 goals respectively.
Either one could have lead the line, but Pekerman’s die hard faith in the former Atletico Madrid and Porto ace lead to him plying a 4-4-2, which didn’t make the best use of either of the two strikers, or Rodriguez, who often plied wider than he’s accustomed to.
Moreover, Columbia’s lack of finishing, both from open play and set-pieces was accompanied by defensive mediocrity. The experienced Christian Zuniga and Calino Zapata committed more than one rash error of judgement, something that woefully encapsulated much of Colombia’s play.
Though Pekerman will take heart from creative plays that comprised the latter stages of the game, he will have to find a system that works, and quick, because Colombia can ill-afford another slip-up.
Neymar’s continues to define Brazil’s success.
Under Scolari, Neymar was the golden boy, the heir to the illustrious throne at the apex of the Brazilian attack. The true embodiment of the Samba Spirit that has captivated the hearts of fans the world over.
Under Dunga however, Neymar has become a different monster. Trading in the Golden hair for a straightforward mohawk, Neymar has now become the undisputed leader of Brazil. Despite his age, it’s very difficult to see otherwise. His 43 goals in 63 appearances make him one simple thing- the best national team player in the world.
The last match Brazil played without him, they lost 7-1 to Germany. Since then, they’ve won every match under Dunga, with the Barcelona attacker netting in 9 goals in the last 5 games.
With the likes of Oscar, Willian, Firminho, Tardelli, Elias and Firminho, one would expect the weight to be distributed equally. However, theory and practice are two polar opposites in the world of the Seleccao as Brazil seemed to be plagued by similar demons. The 23-year-old was a constant thorn in the side of the Peruvians throughout the 90 minutes, but fortunately for Ricardo Gareca’s team, the majority of his team-mates remained a few steps behind his thinking. His equaliser for Brazil displayed the confidence and class of a bonafide number 9, while his assist to Douglas Costa was one of surgical precision, taking the metaphorical scalpel straight through the heart of the Peruvian defence.
Dunga’s insistence on deploying David Luiz ahead of Thiago Silva, shows how little he trusts the latter. Apart from the occasional crunch tackle and set piece finish, David Luiz contributes glaringly little to Brazil’s defensive line. Cueva’s opener for Peru when David Luiz and Jefferson dithered over a long ball into the area before the Brazil goalkeeper promptly placed the ball into the path of the Peru winger. The entire incident harked ominously to their 5-1 defeat, nearly a year ago, showing that while Brazil might constantly impress up-front, their defence succumbs to the same demons, regardless of their manager.
With the Copa America likely to produce more surprises and giant-killings, Every team must sleep with one eye open, because the moment someone blinks, is the moment a game can be lost.