PART SIX: A Cup of Nations – COPA 2004

A Cup of Nations: Copa 2004

Clash of the Titans

South America could not have asked for a greater pairing for its COPA final – as the continent prepared for its own version of THE CLASH OF THE TITANS, Argentina versus Brazil; a deadly rivalry that bordered on the boundaries of pure distain for each other.
It could not have ended in a more dramatic fashion, high in the mountains of Peru’s capital Lima.
Argentina could have been forgiven for thinking the game had been won, especially after Cesar Delgado had put them ahead with so little time remaining. Their superiority had been so great that they looked set for their first major honour since back-to-back COPA victories in 91 and 93. However, Adriano’s last gasp, last second equaliser finished on the spin with a shot left the seeming victors in waiting in a state of shock, leaving them in a nightmare of a predicament and totally unprepared psychologically for any penalty shoot-out – with its most competitive neighbour – that was to follow.

Form at the group stage had seen glimpses of brilliance, skill, awesome finishing power but unlikely defeats for both finalists. A feature for Brazil throughout was how they consistently scored important goals at vital moments too frequently to write it off as luck – proof of character and immense belief. It had been the second occasion that Brazil had pulled themselves level in the tie; Luisao had equalised Kily Gonzlalez’s opener 24 minutes earlier.
In June the nations had contested a World Cup qualifier in Belo Horizonte, and despite Argentina dictating play they were crushed by a treble of penalties from Ronaldo – a mesmerising super show.
Brazil, the kings of the global game, certainly had not played the football of dreams of some of its predecessors. There were few intricate moves, little creation of space, no artistic elaboration with the purists disappointed maybe with the lack of magic. They were strong, efficient and made of sterner stuff in many ways as physical preparation seemed an important part in its successes now and had taken on a higher significance; perhaps at the cost of traditional values, a sign by some of Brazil losing in identity. They had shown the ominous strength in depth that would put them good shape in the build-up to Germany 2006.
For Argentina, it was a triumph for the philosophy of Bielsa; the style wonderful to watch, but lacking somewhat the knockout punch in attack, especially in the final. New talented players such as Boca Junior’s Carlos Tevez came through and were sure to add to his two appearances before the tournament and become a regular feature in years to come. There was the individual brilliance, the constant pressure on the opposition and precision passing at speed that culminated in a high quantity and quality of goals with outstanding individual strikes. There were also fine memorable collective moves such as the four-man move rounded off by Luis Gonzalez in the game with Colombia, not to forget the exquisite dribbles of Carlos Tevez, and his clever free-kicks.
Brazil’s passage to this July 25th Lima confrontation could afford a last day group defeat at the hands of Paraguay 2-1, and relegation into a 2nd position. The world champs had found it extremely hard to deal with the conditions at Arequipa, 2,300 metres above sea level. Altitude had become a kind of trauma for Brazil, unable to find the correct rhythm due to the effects of playing at that atmosphere which took away the lung power that has become increasingly important to their style of play.
They started off slowly against Chile and survived a penalty miss by its opponents before Luis Fabiano’s last minute opening goal brought victory. In a second match with Costa Rica they yet again survived a penalty miss in another game in which they looked troubled, only for Alex and Adriano, to conjure his first goal, and open the floodgates; Costa Rica seeing itself swamped in a glut of three goals from sharp-shooter Adriano – 2 years after a 5-2 meeting in a Group C World Cup duel.
Argentina, with a record identical to that of Brazil’s, also suffered defeat once in its second game against Mexico. Ecuador had been annihilated 6-1 in Chiclayo with Saviola helping himself to a sublime treble – seemingly marking his coming as Argentina’s leading striker. After failing to impress in the Mexico defeat he picked up an injury and took no further part in the knockout stages. A crucial final ten minute two goal spree ensured a 4-2 victory over Uruguay in the group’s final game, this after Argentina did not look probable winners at 2-2; not until the Uruguayan dismissal following an over-zealous challenge.
As the competition headed back to Lima the consensus was that Argentina faced a very difficult semi-final (against Colombia) while Brazil’s task was easy in comparison against Uruguay; quite the reverse as Argentina’s splendid form continued with the current holders and 2001 winners Colombia swept by three goals in a crushing Lima encounter. They had produced one of their most convincing performances of the post-Maradona era; Tevez’s free-kick put them ahead, Gonzalez got the second rounding off a memorable move with Sorin finishing it on 80 minutes.
Colombia coach Rueda admitted that his side never had the ball and had not put any kind of pressure on Argentina.
The second semi-final was seen as a triumph for Uruguayan coach Jorge Fossati, this despite losing on penalties. The only one-way attack Brazil policy worked to a tee as Uruguay, taking risks with its offside trap, applied constant early pressure, continually hitting the space behind Brazil’s full-backs.
Uruguay, far superior in the first-half, were the first to strike on 22 minutes, Marcelo Sosa’s weak header somehow evading keeper Julio Cesar. It should have been two; instead Dario Silva from 2-yards-out blasted against the bar for one of the all-time great misses.
Adriano equalised straight after the restart when the offside trap let Uruguay down, this as they began to tire allowing Alex more room to slip passes to his strikers. Brazil would be largely on top for second half, though either could have snatched a winner. So the competitions first shootout ensued, and Brazil, the 5-3 victor’s over the joint 14-times winners. They had been seen practising penalties at training and took nothing for granted – test of technique and nerve.
The quarter-finals had seen match ups for Argentina with hosts Peru and for Brazil against the conquerors of Argentina at the group stage, Mexico.


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