Copa América winners and losers so far: from magical Messi to Dunga's disaster

Soccer: 2016 Copa America Centenario-Argentina at Bolivia

If you’re going to pay $100 for a ticket with a great aerial view of a corner flag, you deserve a chance to glimpse the tournament’s top player in action as well.

Winners

Lionel Messi

Absent from Argentina’s first group game with a back injury and on the bench against Panama last Friday, the Barcelona star’s questionable status fostered the sort of feverish excitement that builds in concert venues when the main act is late on stage. The wait only heightens the anticipation. Fans at Soldier Field chanted his name even before he took to the field.

Some high-voltage electricity surged through the crowd when they realised Messi was indeed coming on, in the 61st minute. Oh, and then he scored a hat-trick in 19 minutes during a 5-0 win. And one of the goals was a brilliant free kick.

Juan Carlos Osorio

Mexico are coached by a Colombian who, as the New York Times pointed out, worked in construction in New York, used to watch Liverpool training sessions from behind a fence and got a key break when he became the conditioning coach of the Staten Island Vipers.

And along with Argentina, they might well be one of the two best teams left in the competition. Mexico’s eighth manager since the 2010 World Cup has tightened the back line, while El Tri still look exciting going forward. Monday’s 1-1 draw with Venezuela ended Osorio’s winning streak at nine games but was enough to win Group C, courtesy of a superb late equaliser from Tecatito.

Venezuela

Bottom of South America’s World Cup qualifying standings, with one point from six matches, only Tecatito’s goal denied La Vinotinto a first-place finish in the group. And they were excellent for much of the game, taking an early lead in Houston through a spectacular strike from Jose Manuel Velazquez. The feelgood story of the tournament so far, and that’s even before considering the economic and political troubles blighting the country.

Jürgen Klinsmann

While his charisma, embrace of perky Californian one-love psychobabble, propensity for occasional unduly harsh rebukes of his underlings and inconsistent but sometimes excellent results, Klinsmann right now is the coaching equivalent of Don Draper in the final scene of Mad Men.

Spoiler alert: with things on the brink of collapse, Jon Hamm’s ad exec crosses the country, finds harmony from the edge of chaos and invents the greatest TV commercial in history. Like the USMNT, except for the last bit.

Klinsmann must be feeling a degree of inner peace right now after his decision to pick the same starting line-up in all three group games paid off with a 4-0 dismissal of Costa Rica and a ten-man 1-0 grind past Paraguay – vital ripostes after the opening-night 2-0 loss to Colombia.

Just a few hours before kick-off against Costa Rica, Klinsmann’s boss had placed him under the sort of pressure to deliver short-term results that would be normal for most coaches, but which he has barely faced since taking control five years ago.

Maybe, had Costa Rica turned early chances into a goal and not conceded a foolish penalty, we would still be talking about Klinsmann’s job security. But the Americans won their group and now, with a quarter-final looming against Ecuador – a team the US beat in a friendly only three weeks ago – it’s reasonable to think they’ll make the semi-finals.

And then probably meet Argentina, and lose bravely. Which, while providing yet more proof that Klinsmann has not met the target of shaping the US into a team capable of beating the world’s best when it matters most, would likely be viewed as good enough to see him lead the nation into the 2018 World Cup (where the same thing will happen again).

Losers

Dunga

It was tempting to describe Brazil’s 7-1 win over Haiti in their second group game as a ghostbusting moment, coming as it did two years after their 7-1 loss to Germany at the World Cup. Tempting but wrong, given that Dunga’s side then lost 1-0 to Peru and finished third, exiting the Copa before the knockout stages for the first time since 1987. True, this was a weakened and much-changed Brazil squad, with the Rio Olympics as the nation’s priority. But on Tuesday, to nobody’s great surprise, the former captain was fired.

At least he was in form after the Peru match. Asked whether he was worried about losing his job, he replied: “I only fear death”.

Referees

Bad refereeing decisions at high-profile tournaments are as inevitable as over-priced stadium food, but Dunga rightly pointed to the preposterous nature of Peru’s goal, a handball by Raul Ruidiaz obvious enough to make viewers wonder if they had switched over to the NBA finals. Somewhere, Thierry Henry and Diego Maradona were watching and thinking: “Woah. That guy has chutzpah.”

Yet even though the referee and his assistants spent minutes discussing the moment, they allowed the goal. Coming after the calf injury to referee Julio Bascunan that delayed the second half of US vs Paraguay for several minutes after what seemed like an innocuous challenge from Jermaine Jones, it’s been a tough few days for Copa whistleblowers.

Synchronisation

There’s a reason that the last group games in major tournaments kick off simultaneously, and it’s known as the Disgrace of Gijon: West Germany beating Austria 1-0 in a shamefully uncompetitive match at the 1982 World Cup, because they knew the scoreline would allow both nations to progress since the other group fixture between Algeria and Chile had taken place the day before.

The Copa has avoided a Shame of Santa Clara or Outrage at Lincoln Financial Field, but more through luck and judgment since the third round of group games did not kick off simultaneously, risking giving the teams playing the last matches of the night a clear advantage and creating the sort of cries of “fix” that would have embarrassed the tournament and called its credibility into question. (And the very existence of this centenary edition, in the US, only a year after the last Copa, is hardly without its detractors.)

Amid such stakes, the only counter-argument – more football to watch on TV! – is less than persuasive. We’ve got Euro 2016 as well, let’s not get greedy.

Jamaica

The 2015 Gold Cup runners-up were a surprise package at this tournament: surprisingly bad. Turns out, having a Premier League-winning captain can be a disadvantage – when that captain is ruled out of your first match because he was, according to his coach, partying too hard in London and on a victory tour in Thailand.

As such, we can posit that Jamaica’s Copa dreams were dashed by the globalised nature of modern football and the party-hearty siren call of Chelsea legend John Terry.

Without their eroded rock, Jamaica had a shambolic start to their opening group game against Venezuela, and were a man and a goal down by the time Morgan was introduced in the 40th minute. Winfried Schafer’s side looked much better after that but were unable to find an equaliser. A predictable loss to Mexico in their next match, followed by a 3-0 reverse against Uruguay, ensured that Morgan would have nothing to celebrate this month.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Tom Dart, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 15th June 2016 11.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

 

Register for HITC Sport - Daily Dispatch