Copa America – Nine-man holders out as knockout stages begin

Just like Europe’s leading club competition the Champions League, the Copa America has become exceptionally difficult to retain over the years due to the endless conveyer belt of quality that seems to come from right across the world’s smallest permanently inhabited continent. Uruguay are the latest team to fail in their attempts to triumph for a second time in succession, losing to hosts Chile in an ill-tempered clash on Thursday morning.

It was not a major surprise that the holders fell, as they never looked convincing in scraping through the group stage as one of the best third-placed sides, while they clearly do not possess the all-round quality that they had in 2011. Missing the talismanic Luis Suarez to suspension also lengthened the odds against their tournament hopes, but the manner of their exit will be particularly galling to Oscar Tabarez’ side.

The dismissal of Edinson Cavani provided the game’s biggest talking point, but it allowed Chile to capitalise on their dominance with Mauricio Isla grabbing the winner eight minutes from time. Uruguay were clearly riled and constantly surrounded the officials in the latter stages of an ugly encounter, with Jorge Fucile seeing red amid all of the chaos.

For Chile, it gives them added belief that they can win this tournament for the very first time. This result certainly provides the psychological boost of winning a tight game when the stakes are at their highest, something that they may have been accused of not having the ability to do in recent years despite their increasing promise.

They now have a brilliant chance of making the final, especially as their last four clash will be against either Bolivia or Peru, both real outsiders who have done well to even reach this stage. It is a match-up that provides a massive incentive for two of the lesser lights of South American football to reach the dying stages of a tournament. It is difficult to pick a winner, but Peru’s greater resilience makes them marginal favourites.

The most eagerly anticipated quarter-final is the meeting of Argentina and Colombia. With Sergio Aguero in fine form in front of goal and Lionel Messi always expected to produce more than the odd moment of magic, the World Cup runners-up are beginning to look formidable after an indifferent start to their campaign against Paraguay. As he looks to disappoint his homeland, Colombia boss Jose Pekerman will surely be hoping for better having laboured through the group stage. The win against Brazil showed what they are capable of, and they must produce a similar performance to shock the Argentines.

The biggest headline that the competition has produced is the suspension of Neymar for an unbelievable display of petulance in the aftermath of the Colombia game. Brazil managed to win without him against Venezuela, but it will be a tougher ask against a Paraguay side that knocked them out on penalties at this stage four years ago. Five points in a tricky group suggests that the side in red and white are on their way to rejuvenation. Brazil will come into it as favourites, but a tight clash looks in prospect as a typically dramatic Copa America edges towards its resolution.

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