Alastair Costello's analysis of the Copa America 2015
ALASTAIR Costello has a love of the round ball game and last year kept readers up to date with his analysis of the FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
He is originally from a sheep and cattle property at Thane west of Warwick and has a thirst for writing, particularly football.
This is his analysis of this weekend's Copa America 2015 final with the teams fielding players from many leagues, including England's Premier League.
As if a full season of England's Premier League, Spain's La Liga and Australia's flourishing A-league aren't enough to satisfy even the most devout football fans hunger for the game, those with a burning desire to watch even more football during the off season have been treated to South America's showpiece event, the Copa America.
Having been founded in 1916, Copa America or America's Cup is the world's longest running continental football championship.
Surprisingly Uruguay, a team whose recent form resembles that of a has-been heavyweight fighter, still swinging punches but having to play dirty to continue to be relevant, won the first title way back when.
I shouldn't be too harsh on them, let's not forget they did win the first ever World Cup as well and currently hold the record for most Copa wins, 15.
Argentina, everyone's beloved Albiceleste, are hot on their heels with 14 trophies and will be looking to add another to their cabinet in Santiago come Sunday morning eastern time.
It's not going to be easy though, La Roja, Chile are ready to win their first ever crown, waiting, like a jaguar prowling the snowy slopes of the Andes ready to defend their territory against a slicker, wiser puma, overdue for Copa glory but still licking its World Cup wounds of a year ago. The final that every neutral fan asked for is nearly upon us. Let the battle for South American supremacy begin.
Chile's thirst for a history breaking title
La Roja have been the undisputed kings of the Copa thus far. Scoring 13 goals to cruise to the final in Santiago where, conveniently, they have played all of their games in the fantastic Estadio Nacional.
With a capacity just shy of 50 thousand, it has been the perfect place for Chile to show off their stunning array of attacking talent and man oh man have they done just that.
It started slowly against the energetic Ecuadorians, with the first goal of the tournament coming in the 67th minute, after Arturo Vidal had his shirt tugged in the box. He stepped up and slotted the penalty home to ease the nerves of every Chilean in red. Queens Park Rangers striker Eduardo Vargas was then assisted by Arsenals Alexis Sanchez for Chile's second goal.
A solid and extremely professional start to the tournament for La Roja who kicked on against Mexico, who arrived in Santiago with its B team. Yes it's true, 10 of the usual starting 11 were lounging somewhere other than the Chilean capital, saving themselves for the Gold Cup later in the year. It didn't stop what was still a very experienced Mexican outfit, full of stars of their League MX putting on an instant classic with the host, a 3-3 draw chock full of drama and most importantly goals. The disappointment of only one point was quickly swept aside as they dismantled Bolivia 5-0 with Alexis's spectacular diving header after a lightning fast counter attack icing what was a delicious Chilean cake.
Next on the cards was a quarterfinal with the utterly pathetic Uruguay who were without the goal hungry (pardon the pun) Luis Suarez. The Uruguayans, true to form completely killed the match with what can only be described as dastardly and wholly dismal tactics. What a sad excuse for an international football team. They were put out of their misery by a goal from the incredibly industrious Mauricio Isla in a match stained by controversy and littered with bitter Uruguayan tackles which resulted in two red cards. A bench clearing 'brawl' complete with handbag throwing and coaching staff rage saw the game stopped for nearly 10 minutes before Uruguay's manager Oscar Tabarez was sent packing with his team closely behind, flipping the bird to the crowd as they were rightly dumped out of the tournament. They are a complete disgrace.
Chile weren't bothered, you could tell they were ready for the fight and didn't back down an inch and were duly rewarded with a place in the semifinal against Peru, a side that pushed Brazil all the way in the group stage. The contest was exactly that, a polar opposite of the slug fest initiated by the Uruguayans. A match played in the greatest of spirit ended 2-1 to the host with Vargas once again scoring a double, his second a stunning hit from what must have been 30 yards out. So that brings us to the final and there is no doubt the Chileans deserve their spot in it. They have been the best team at a tournament often marred by controversy and the pitiful diving that continues to tarnish the game, especially in South America. It time for football referees to step up and take control; players seemingly get away with things that would be an instant red card in any football code played in Australia and it's truly disgusting to watch. Being a ref myself I'm often yelling at the TV screen for players to stop touching the ref, it's disgraceful the way they get treated and it needs to stop. Rant over.
Argentina's golden generation needs to cement their legacy
It's time for one of the greatest teams in the world to finally win a trophy. The likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Javier Mascherano have been playing together since they were whippersnappers and it's time for them to get the job done. They couldn't do it without Aguero and the equally excellent Manchester United man Angel Di Maria in the World Cup last year. They will have a few more chances but their time, it seems is now. After underwhelming in the group stages once again, Messi's men needed penalties to see off a disappointing Columbian outfit who've struggled to live up to their heroics in Brazil. Paraguay weren't so lucky however. After holding the Albiceleste to a 2-2 draw in their group stage encounter they were summarily dispatch 6-1 in the semifinal. Wow what a performance it was. Leo Messi is simply the best player in the world and has been for a long while now and he made the Paraguayans look rather silly as he danced his way around their desperate challenges having a hand in absolutely everything. The pre-tournament favourites now need to step up against the might of the La Roja who will be desperate to finally win the Copa crown. It promises to be a cracker.
Copa America Final: Full Preview
So the time has come. A winner of the Copa America needs to be crowned. Will it be Chile, who have never won the trophy and are desperate to do so in front of their insanely passionate support. Or Argentina, the sleeping giant of world football still stinging after falling agonisingly short a year ago. So who will win, and who will light up the Estadio Nacional on Sunday morning. Let the wild speculation commence!
Expect Argentina to stick with what brought them to the dance. A potent front four of Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria, Lionel Messi and Javier Pastore will once again be Argentina's driving force with Javier Mascherano anchoring the midfield. Centre back Ezequiel Garay missed the semifinal and will most likely be back to partner Nicolas Otamendi. As for Chile it will be as you were for the decider. Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas will spearhead the attack while Gary Medel will look to continue his run of solid performances alongside Jose Rojas in the centre of defence. The bench will be as important as ever; remember who scored the World Cup winner? Yep, Mario Götze, a man off the bench. A substitute at just the right time can turn a game on its head and Argentina have a bench that could put most first choice squads away. Names like Lavezzi, Higuain, Banega and the unmistakable Carlos Tevez send chills down the spine of most international defences and that's a scary array off attacking talent to bring off the pine, they will make their mark as the game wears on.
Lionel Messi vs. Marcelo Diaz & Gary Medel
Messi has been in stellar form despite critics pointing out that he hasn't scored for his country in open play for more than a year. Who cares, he was in unstoppable form again Paraguay and has shown his class throughout the tournament. Can Chile stop him? If they do Diaz and Medel will have to play the games' of their lives. Messi will drop deeper and deeper if Argentina cannot breakdown La Roja and it will be up to the midfield to halt his progress. This of course will leave space for a few others in the Albiceleste attack. Namely Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria, two of the most potent counter-attacking weapons in the game today. If Messi can't score than one of these two will.
Jorge Valdivia vs. Javier Mascherano
What a battle this promises to be. Chile's main creator in Valdivia will be pitted again Argentina's second in charge, Javier Mascherano. Valdivia has come from nowhere to entrench himself as Chile's midfield maestro will have to get passed the man known as El Jeficito or Little Chief. He's not called that because he's small, bald and bosses people around, Barcelona's treble winning rock has once again proved that he's the best in the world at what he does. There is often no way passed this little pitbull. Such a strong presence in the defensive area of midfield is invaluable to any footballing side who strives to play attractive attacking football. Someone needs to do the rough stuff so the magicians can we've their magic. If Valdivia does just that and the little chief can't stop him, his incisive, creative passes will rip the Argentinians apart.
Alexis Sanchez vs. Pablo Zabaleta
It's Arsenal against Manchester City in this battle of Premier League heavyweights. Alexis has used this tournament to showcase that he's deserves to be called one of the best in the world and he will need to get passed the world's best right-back in Zabaleta if he hopes to take all the marbles in this one. Sanchez loves to cut inside from the left-wing and slice through hapless defences which he has been doing all season with his London club. Zabaleta has seen it all before and will enlist the help of Garay and Mascherano to help stem the flow of the former Barca mans almost invincible running, jumping, Energiser Bunny style of play. It won't be easy, defences have been trying to stop him all his life and like Messi, he revels in the challenge of taking on a whole team and beating them. If he can link with his mate Eduardo Vargas and find Arturo Vidal and Mauricio Isla down the opposite flank Chile could run riot against a defence that hasn't been properly tested since last year's World Cup. If Zabaleta can steal himself for the battle and shut him down then Argentina's u20 World Cup winning captain will add the Copa America crown to his long list of accolades.
The tactical battle
This tournament has been graced by the tactical nous of some of the world's best coaches and astonishingly all of the four semi-finalists were managed by Argentines. Jorge Sampaoli has been a revelation for the Chilean squad, invigorating his men in a way no other coach has done all tournament. He would dearly love one over his compatriot Geradro 'Tata' Martino who knows his men extremely well after coaching Barcelona for a season two years ago. Both men like to play attacking football, Sampaoli more than most. Martino has copped some criticism for playing too negatively at times but I don't buy it. Results speak for themselves and despite only scoring one goal against an invited Jamaican team and only four in its first four matches his men exploded into life against Paraguay rattling in six goals. As always tactical decisions on the touch line will be crucial and the team who uses its bench most effectively will dominate the latter stages and extra time if need be. Both men are touchline prowlers and will need to keep their cool in the heat of battle, don't forget that Martino was rightly sent to the stands in the group match against Paraguay.
So, what will happen?
Expect a rip-roaring start by both teams and hopefully plenty of goals to shout about. Diving and player theatrics should be kept to a minimum by two teams who play hard but ultimately fare. An early goal by either team will be absolutely crucial in shaping the match. If the hosts net first then Argentina will throw everything at them and La Roja will play on the break, using Sanchez and Vargas to chase long balls in behind, most likely from the boot of Valdivia. If La Albiceleste get the early breakthrough they will push men forward all the same but the pace of the game will be less frenetic. Possession will be the key for the men in sky blue, Chile can't win the game without the ball. Messi, as always, is the key. He's stated that he's been saving his shooting boots for the final after failing to make his mark in last year's decider. It's the pre-tournament favourites against the home team heroes and don't underestimate the refs ability to affect the game for the Chileans. If he knows what's good for him the man in the middle will let the game flow and swiftly punish any rough challenges and niggly behaviour. No one wants a repeat of the Chile-Uruguay debacle. As always the hordes of La Roja supporters will be doing their best to pressure the officials and have managed to swing many decisions in their favour thus far. Hopefully there will be no howlers to overshadow what should be a classic Copa America final. Chile will take an early lead before Argentina pull it back and the match will go to extra time where Chile will seal the deal and become Copa America for the first time. For the sake of Santiago and the whole of Chile, I hope I'm right.
Tune in to the final this Sunday morning or follow it live online then join me again next week for my post game and customary team of the tournament on www.warwickdailynews.com.au. Enjoy the final!