Thursday, July 21, 2011

Copa America Championship Preview


Uruguay goes for their record 15th Copa America title as they take on rival Paraguay in the championship match of the 43rd edition of the Copa America. Paraguay has won the title just twice, and not since 1979. Paraguay is in the finals despite drawing all five of their matches, being forced to win the last two in penalties. And three of those five matches didn't see a goal, largely in part of the strong play of keeper Justo Villar. Uruguay meanwhile has three draws of their own, opening the tournament with back to back 1-1 draws with Peru and Chile before finally dispatching Mexico 1-0 to round out Group Play. Uruguay then beat Argentina on penalties in the quarterfinals before beating Peru 2-0 in the semifinals giving them their 21st appearance in the Copa America Finals. 

The two sides split their matchups during 2010 World Cup Qualifying which each side winning at home, Uruguay by a score of 2-0, and Paraguay by a 1-0 margin. Considering Paraguay is coming off of back to back overtime matches, I have to think Uruguay has the edge here. That, and the fact that Paraguay has still yet to win a match. Uruguay has yet to be shutout in this tournament and while Paraguay's defense does have three shutouts, including two in a row, they have shown that they can be broken down as in group matches against Brazil where they conceded a pair of goals and Venezuela where they were beaten three times including twice in the final minutes. Prediction: Uruguay 1 Paraguay 0.

Here's some quick background info on some of the stars for both teams:


Justo Villar - The 34 year old Villar has been a part of Paraguay's last three World Cup teams starting out as Jose Chilavert's backup in 2002 and then being the starter in both 2006 and 2010. His 2006 tournament was cut short due to injury, however he led the 2010 squad all the way to the Quarterfinals conceding just 2 goals in 5 matches before eventually losing 1-0 to Spain in a match where he saved a penalty kick. He's spent the last few seasons playing in Spain for Valladolid. After his release in June, he signed a deal with Argentina's Estudiantes de La Plata. Villar has played every minute of the tournament in goal for Paraguay tallying three shutouts and winning a pair of shootouts.

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Cristian Riveros - The 28 year old midfielder is on loan from Enlgand's Sunderland to Turkey's Kayserispor for the 2011-2012 season. He represented Paraguay at the World Cup in both 2006 and 2010 scoring against Slovakia last summer while helping lead Paraguay to the Quarterfinals. Riveros has started all 5 games in the tournament for Paraguay and had a goal in their 3-3 tie against Venezuela. Before joining Sunderland, he played for Cruz Azul in Mexico.

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Lucas Barrios -  A year 26 year old Borussia Dortmund striker from Argentina who became a Paraguayan national last year (his mother is from Paraguay) thereby renouncing his Argentinian citizenship. Barrios' citizenship came just in time for the 2010 World Cup and he was added to Paraguay's squad. Barrios has scored 35 goals in the Bundesliga the past two seasons for Dortmund and he already has six goals for Paraguay in just a little over a year. With star striker Roque Santa Cruz battling an injury, Barrios has served as Paraguay's main weapon up front in the tournament scoring against Venezuela in Group Play.

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Diego Lugano - The 30 year old center back plays for Fenerbahçe of the Turkish Super League where he has tallied 26 goals in 5 seasons. Lugano captained the 2010 World Cup squad leading them to the semifinals and an eventual 4th place finish. The captain of the 2011 Copa America squad as well has scored 5 times for Uruguay in his international career with 4 of those goals coming in World Cup Qualifying. That includes a goal against Paraguay in Uruguay's 2-0 win in 2009. 
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Luis Suarez - The 24 year old Suarez made a name for himself at Ajax where he scored 81 goals in 3 1/2 seasons including 35 during the 2009-2010 season. Suarez continued his strong play at the 2010 World Cup where he scored 3 times, once against Mexico and twice against South Korea. Following the World Cup he was transferred to Liverpool where he scored 4 times in 13 appearances, and now he has 3 goals in the Copa America, including both goals in Uruguay's 2-0 against Peru in the semifinals.

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Diego Forlan - The 32 year old striker won the Golden Ball at the 2010 World Cup where he scored 5 times including twice against hosts South Africa, and once against Ghana, the Netherlands in the semifinals and Germany in the Consolation Game. While he hasn't scored for Uruguay since the World Cup, his ability to strike from long range forces defenses to keep tabs on him wherever he goes. Forlan plays professionally for Atlético Madrid for whom he's scored 74 goals since joining the club in 2007. Forlan also has ties to Manchester United in the EPL where he played from 2001-2004.

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