The Petchary is going to miss the drama. The Copa America 2011 football tournament is over, in a blaze of pale blue, as Uruguay emphatically beat Paraguay in the final at El Monumental, the majestic stadium in Buenos Aires.
The contest certainly had its high and low points, and was by turns dull, irritating, baffling and downright exhilarating. For a start, the hosts Argentina, whose hordes of fans filled the earlier games, did not stay the course and were beaten in penalty shootouts in the quarter finals by their fierce rivals and ultimate Copa winners, Uruguay. How humiliating for them to hear the Uruguayan cheers resounding in Buenos Aires over the weekend! But hey…there were many sublime moments from Argentina to enjoy, before they sadly bowed out. And there were far too many penalty shootouts in the entire competition, with their engineered drama and inevitable “sudden death” atmosphere. One always feels so sorry for the goalkeepers.
And then there were the other giants of Latin American football, Brazil, who have won four out of the past five Copas. They were beaten by the finalists and at that point low-ranked team, little Paraguay, also in the quarter finals. And woe of woes! No less than four of Brazil’s penalty takers – star boys Elano and Fred, Thiago Silva and Andre Santos – failed to score. The kind of event that makes football fans clutch their heads in despair.
And so Paraguay somehow, astonishingly, sailed on to the finals without having actually won a match (unless you count shootouts). Their defensive displays, however – especially the trusty goalkeeper, Justo Villar, who was named best goalie of the competition - were admirable. ”We got in the final because we had guts and luck,” Villar said bluntly.
There were other spills and surprises. The Venezuelan team – complete underdogs, who have never reached the Copa finals – was remarkably skillful, and as unlucky as Paraguay were lucky – balls bouncing off the framework of the goal with regularity. Their slick play was often a pleasure to watch, but the result was often unrewarding. They worked hard, and ended up fourth, beaten in the third-place match by a combative Peruvian team. Their ailing President Hugo Chavez constantly urged them on via Twitter.
But when it came down to it, the rugged Uruguayans were worthy champions (for the fifteenth time – one more than Argentina). Luis Suarez played with an increasingly fiery energy as the competition progressed. With his crooked teeth and his short crest of hair, he was a dynamo and deserved the Best Player award. He waxed poetic after their victory, speaking of the “unlimited sacrifice that every member of the team has within.” And indeed, their teamwork was remarkable. They were not, like Argentina and Brazil perhaps, just a collection of stars. They were a formidable attacking force.
But one individual has to be mentioned – the dashing Diego Forlan. The Petchary has always hugely admired the talisman of the Uruguay team (and, if you recall, the top player in last year’s World Cup). He of the flying yellow curls and laser-sharp long balls scored two beautiful goals in the finals, after a slow start to the tournament. But then, it’s in his blood. His father and his grandfather were both footballers, playing for Sao Paulo and Independiente respectively in their time.
And then there were the coaches. Paraguay’s coach Gerardo Martino was sternly sent into the stands and suspended for two matches after an unpleasant scuffle following a semi-final win over Venezuela. His assistant Jorge Pautasso – who bore an odd resemblance to the comedian Peter Sellers in a fake nose and wig – carried on with the harassment after Martino’s sending off, and was similarly banished a few minutes later. They sat calmly together in the stands, unrepentant.
As you would expect from Latin American football, there were tears, remonstrations, protests and much discussion. Latin players do much more talking than the rather dour players of the English Premier League (go Arsenal!) After every incident – a foul or perceived foul – there is often a discussion of sorts. The fouled one discusses the affront with the fouler, his team mates, members of the opposing team and, of course, the referee, who finds it very hard to remain aloof. Arms are waved, shoulders are shrugged, but there is often some humor and pats on the back when all is resolved.
Top scorer Paolo Guerrero of Peru was particularly adept at this. He is what the British would call “lippy.” In many European games in such a situation, there is just the short four-letter expletive (read their lips) and a contemptuous spit as the offended one walks away. I prefer the discussions and debates.
Viva Copa America, and all who sailed in her! If you missed it, you missed a treat.