BARCELONA, Spain (AP) – And then there were two. Copa America 2011 has provided its fair share of shocks over the past three weeks, but over the last two nights we finally saw a round of fixtures that went with the form book.
Suarez Fires La Celeste to El Monumental
"Now we are one step closer of getting this done, but Uruguay is not favorite," said triumphant goalkeeper Fernando Muslera after his side secured its place in the final at El Monumental this Sunday. "This Copa America has shown that there are no favorites"
"This is an important victory, but we must keep our feet on the ground," added Alvaro Perreira. "There are always mistakes and we made mistakes [today], but now we must correct them and hopefully we can win this cup."
"It is journalism and the people who put you as favorites. We now know that football is very even and that we have to respect every team," warned Diego Forlan.
"Finishing second wouldn't be a disaster," said coach, Oscar Tabarez. "We will try to win... I never [try to] predict the result, I have tried before and I was wrong. We will play the final and we are very happy [about that]."
They were just some of the many comments symptomatic of what La Nación columnist Román Iucht dubbed a "cup of the humble" this week.
Uruguay became the first team to book a spot in Sunday's final thanks to four frantic minutes in La Plata; what El Pais labelled "Four minutes of pure talent."
Tabarez's men had been the better side for the 53 minutes before that talent, Liverpool's Luis Suarez, capitalised on an error from Peru goalkeeper Raul Fernandez to squeeze his La Celeste into the lead. Forlan's 25-yard strike was heading wide, which Fernandez should have known had he marked out his area properly (or even just used those of his opposite number Muslera, which would likely have remained from the first period).
Suarez's second, just four minutes later, could also be put down to a defensive error from Peru, as Suarez was afforded way too much space between Alberto Rodriguez and Walter Vílchez - but that made Alvaro Perreira's through ball no less sublime; neither did it Suarez's consummate finish.
"He is an elite player in world football," said a delighted Tabarez.
For Peru, defeat signalled the end of its Copa America dream, but, ultimately, the past three weeks will be seen as a big step forward for coach Sergio Markarian and La Blanquirroja.
It will play the third place playoff against Venezuela on Saturday. An achievement that looked highly unlikely after a bottom placed finish in the 2010 round of World Cup qualifying.
"It is not nice to lose," lamented Markarian, "[but] we must congratulate our opponents and start working towards third place."
"We have to accept that it's the end of our adventure... It was a great effort from the coaching staff and all the players," he added. "We're growing and we need to take it slowly."
Striker Paolo Guerrero echoed his coach's sentiments, insisting the players had worked hard to get this far and that they must "keep working towards the World Cup Qualifiers for 2014."
Goals Are Overrated
"Uruguay, here we go!" roared ABC Paraguay this morning as after La Albirroja sealed its passage into the final with its fifth consecutive draw and second straight penalty shootout victory; another in the final would see Gerardo Martino's side become the first team ever to have won the Copa America without winning a match. It has managed five goals in its five games and has a goal difference of zero.
"We didn't play well but we are in the final," said midfielder Nestor Ortigoza, who expertly dispatched his penalty following the dullest of goalless draws in Mendoza.
Fans flocked to El Panteón Nacional de los Heroes in Asunción last night to see Paulo Da Silva slot home the winning penalty after Justo Villar had stopped Franklin Luceno's kick.
Fatigue was cited by some of the Paraguay players for their lacklustre performance, with Villar admitting "We were tired after playing 120 minutes against Brazil."
"Obviously we were very tired from the games we have been playing," added defender Paulo da Silva, "but we will recover as quickly as possible for Sunday's game."
The evening would in acrimony, however. As Paraguay celebrated their victory, both teams, including substitutes and members of the coaching staffs, became involved in a mass brawl. Police were forced to intervene as tensions boiled over, and Paraguay will be lucky not to face suspensions to some of its players ahead of the Sunday's final with Uruguay.
"We didn't go out to provoke [them]," said Venezuela coach Cesar Farias. "Some of the Paraguay players and officials came to the game ready to provoke us... They were making fun of us. We will no longer accept being disrespected the way we were yesterday."
Coach Gerardo Martino didn't attend his post-match press conference.
For Venezuela, defeat marks the end of the Copa America campaign, but the beginning of their soccer future. La Vinotinto have exceeded expectations and could yet go one further by snatching third.
"Now to Peru," said goalkeeper Dani Hernandez. "We must show with the same enthusiasm [and] to try to finish third."
Farias' side have grown throughout the tournament, and not only earned the respect of their peers but left themselves with a realistic chance of achieving World Cup qualification for the first time in its history. Martino was sufficiently concerned by Venezuela to drop Marcelo Estigarribia and send his side out to defend.
"We had a great Cup and now we have the match for third and fourth, it will be difficult, but we will try to win," striker Solomon Rondón told Venezuelan sports daily Meridiano, whose number of column inches dedicated to soccer today show just how far Venezuelan soccer has come in the last few weeks.