As we look ahead to July’s Copa America, here’s the second of our three-part preview by the wonderful Ed Malyon, looking at Group B.
There’s not much to say about Brazil that hasn’t been said previously. Mano Menezes is currently using the 4-2-3-1 that’s been very popular in domestic football in the last 18 months. It allows the wealth of attacking talent to all fit into the XI with, of course, plenty in reserve. Santos starlet Neymar plays on the left of the attacking three, most probably alongside Robinho and former Manchester City man, Elano.
The question mark seems to be hanging over who plays up front as the lone striker. Menezes is a big fan of Alexandre Pato but he isn’t the right build or style of player to lead the line in this system. Against Scotland, Leandro Damiao – a tall and classy front-man – played this role and impressed with an assured display. Nilmar will also fancy himself for a chance following his good season in La Liga but only time will tell.
Brazil will be expecting to be battling Argentina to win the competition. Where the Samba boys have the advantage over the Albiceleste is in defence, with genuine world-class defenders like Lucio, whereas their southern rivals have Nicolas Burdisso and Gabriel Milito. With the increasing importance of attacking full-backs in recent years, Brazil have the edge in this department as well.
Star Player: Lucio is getting older but is a defender of unrivalled class. A gargantuan figure and immensely underrated.
One to watch: Paolo Henrique ‘Ganso’ may be one of the few names in this squad that isn’t particularly well-known. A brilliant attacking midfielder who will be heading to Europe shortly from current club Santos.
Prediction: Champions. The edge over hosts Argentina will be in defence and in goal. World class from front to back.
Paraguay had a successful world cup and will be hoping for a semi-final place in this year’s Copa. From back to front:
In defence they have Dario Veron who is one the most respected defenders in the Mexican league, some good European-based players like Antolin Alcaraz and marauding left-back Aureliano Torres (San Lorenzo, Argentina) has a dangerous long-distance shot.
In midfield, their main man is Cristian Riveros. A peripheral figure at Sunderland and a one in five goal ration for the national team. Nestor Ortigoza is a nationalised Argentine who was named best player in La Primera when he won the title with Argentinos in 2009. He is a playmaking central midfielder who is one of only a handful of players to have never missed a penalty in the Argentine top flight.
Up front, they deeply miss Salvador Cabañas, their star striker who was shot in the head in early 2010 and has all but retired from football. Now they have looked to build around nationalised Argentine Lucas Barrios (Borussia Dormund) who is now used to the setup having been a new addition for the South Africa campaign. Roque Santa Cruz is all-time leading scorer but doesn’t feature particularly regularly anymore. They have depth up top with players like Nelson Haedo-Valdez on the bench.
Star Player: Lucas Barrios has just won a Bundesliga and is in the form of his life. A big player and natural goalscorer who could be in golden boot contention.
One to watch: Victor ‘Topo’ Caceres is a domestic-based player. He is supremely comfortable on the ball and a key figure at the world cup in South Africa although he somehow failed to secure a move abroad, even to Mexico or Argentina.
Prediction: Outside chance of a semi place. Assuming they are runners-up in this group, a tough fixture against Uruguay or Chile is likely to wait for them in the next stage.
Ecuador have qualified for two of the past three world cups but their record in recent Copa America history is decidedly underwhelming. Needless to say that their key player is Luis Antonio Valencia. The first Ecuadorian to win a Premier League, to play in a Champions League final, the list goes on… He has proved himself as an absolutely key part of Ferguson’s team following his move from Wigan and his return from injury this season brought a vital late boost to the Red Devils’ title-winning campaign.
Up front, they have two former Premier League strikers who have impressed this season elsewhere. Christian ‘Chucho’ Benitez had a season at Birmingham City but was too expensive for the Blues to sign on a permanent basis. He is now scoring goals for América in Mexico and has a marvellous record for the national team. His striker partner will be Felipe Caicedo who was on loan at Levante this season from Manchester City. He scored plenty of goals in La Liga and has a turn of pace and big frame that is likely to cause problems for even the best of defenders.
At the heart of this side, Segundo Castillo and Édison Mendez are experienced players who have Champions League experience. Ecuadorian hopes will be pinned on getting something against Paraguay, and if they can’t get second then they’ll be looking to qualify as a best third-placed side.
Star Player: As discussed, it seems impossible to look beyond Valencia.
One to watch: Michael Arroyo is 24, but a good tournament could see him move to Europe this summer. A talented attacking midfielder who plays in Mexico now, his development was stalled by a six-month ban after testing positive for Marijuana.
Prediction: Qualifying as best third-placed side, Ecuador will be outclassed in the quarter-finals.
Venezuela can’t boast many household names and will be lucky to get hold of any points from this group. Their most famous player of recent years is Juan Fernando Arango who played for many years in Spain before moving to Borussia Mönchengladbach in Germany. An attacking midfielder with great technique and a wicked left foot, he is coming to the end of his career. Tipped to replace him as the example in Venezuelan football is young Tomás Rincón of Hamburg in Germany. In style, he is a different sort of player completely. A defensive midfielder who has played at right-back, he has already drawn scouts from Champion League sides and was rumoured to be on Bayern Munich’s shortlist to replace Real Madrid-bound Hamit Altintop.
There are a handful of European-based players who will need to use their experiences on the old continent if Venezuela are to provide any shocks this July.
Star player: Arango will be the decisive figure, his dead-ball prowess may be their best chance of breaching some very good defences.
One to watch: Charged with providing the goals will be Salomon Rondón of Malaga, a striker who has physical presence and a raw ability that is so common yet exciting in young South American forwards.
Prediction: They’ll need to beat Ecuador to get anything from this group, but they seem destined to be on the first plane back to Caracas.
Thanks to Ed for another fantastic preview, why not have a look at the Group A preview if you missed it.