Argentina, Chile through to Copa quarters

Published June 23, 2021
CUIABA (Brazil): A shot from Luis Suarez (L) of Uruguay is deflected in by Chile’s Arturo Vidal (rear, L) for an own goal during their Copa America Group ‘A’ match at Arena Pantanal.—Reuters
CUIABA (Brazil): A shot from Luis Suarez (L) of Uruguay is deflected in by Chile’s Arturo Vidal (rear, L) for an own goal during their Copa America Group ‘A’ match at Arena Pantanal.—Reuters

SAO PAULO: Argentina and Chile on Monday booked their places in the Copa America quarter-finals, ending top of Group ‘A’ after low-scoring matches that left the other two spots up for grabs.

Argentina logged their second win in three group matches played, beating Paraguay 1-0, with Alejandro “Papu” Gomez scoring the sole goal of a lacklustre match in Brasilia in the ninth minute.

Gomez took a delightful pass from Angel Di Maria and dinked the ball over the diving Paraguay goalkeeper Antony Silva.

The win placed Lionel Messi’s La Albiceleste top of Group ‘A’ with seven points — enough to secure their spot in the next phase of the tournament being played in empty stadiums in coronavirus-battered Brazil.

The match marked a personal milestone for Messi, who tied Javier Mascherano’s record for the most games played for Argentina — 147.

But it was not a night of glory for Messi or his team, who in the second half seemed to resign themselves to defending a spirited, but ultimately fruitless, Paraguayan attack.

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said he was concerned about players being tired after a long season and three straight Copa America matches.

“These conditions were not the best to play,” he said. “The second half is also to Paraguay’s merit. But we obviously have to improve.”

In the other match on Monday, Chile drew 1-1 with Uruguay to end the day with five points.

Veteran striker Eduardo Vargas fired La Roja ahead on 26 minutes before Uruguay salvaged a point through an own goal from Chile’s Arturo Vidal in the 66th minute.

With four matches left to play in Group ‘A’, Paraguay have three points, Uruguay one, and Bolivia zero, meaning they all still stand a theoretical chance to go to the quarter-finals.

Uruguay will play their third match of the tournament on Thursday against Bolivia. On the same day, Chile will have their last group-stage game against Paraguay. Argentina’s last group-stage match will be on Monday against Bolivia. The top four in each five-team group will advance.

Brazil have already qualified from Group ‘B’.

Despite opposition from politicians and citizens, Brazil agreed at the 11th hour to host the world’s oldest international tournament after South American football’s governing body CONMEBOL took it from co-hosts Argentina, battling a pandemic surge, and Colombia where dozens have died in anti-government protests.

The contest had already been delayed by a year due to the pandemic and many players and coaches spoke out against it going ahead before the tournament began.

The build-up to Monday’s Chile-Uruguay game had been overshadowed by controversy in the Chile camp after revelations the team had breached Covid-19 protocols by bringing a local hairdresser into the team hotel.

CONMEBOL said it would fine those involved $30,000.

However there was no sign of the controversy affecting their play, with Vargas firing Chile ahead from a tight angle after latching onto a clever pass from English-born Ben Brereton.

Uruguay grabbed a share of the points in the second-half when Matias Vecino nodded a corner into the six-yard box and as Luis Suarez grappled with Vidal the ball was knocked into the roof of the net.

Manchester United striker Edinson Cavani almost snatched victory for Uruguay in the 85th minute, but his glancing header flashed just wide of the post.

Published in Dawn, July 23rd, 2021

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