Copa America Group C preview
Uruguay's three-man forward line is among the most devastating in world soccer
Chile has a new coach but is still expected to retain an attacking approach
Mexico is fielding a U-22 squad but had eight players sent home for scandal
A look at the teams in Group C and their projected order of finish:
1. Uruguay -- Only Argentina can match Uruguay's record of 14 Copa America titles, and La Celeste will be fighting tooth and nail to ensure the hosts don't add a 15th this year. Eight of Uruguay's titles came before 1950, though, and that history has at times weighed on Uruguayan sides. At the World Cup, the coach Oscar Washington Tabarez repeatedly stressed that Uruguay should be proud of its past, but should not judge the present side by its standards; that psychological shift, along with an investment in young talent resulted in some impressive displays and qualification for the semifinal. The task now, after reaching the last four in Venezuela four years ago, is to maintain that momentum. Tabarez is a tinkerer, but the base formation is likely to be a fluid 4-3-3 with Diego Forlan dropping deep behind Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, a potentially devastating front three.
2. Chile -- Chile was the only of the Conmebol qualifiers to fail to reach the quarterfinals of the World Cup, but that was largely because it was drawn against Spain in the last 16. Marcelo Bielsa's side, with its radical, hard-pressing 3-4-3 was one of the most eye-catching teams in the competition. Bielsa's resignation following elections for the presidency of the federation has left the future uncertain, but the new man, Claudio Borghi, has a reputation for attractive soccer, and achieved the miracle of winning the 2010 clausura with Argentinos Juniors. He is likely to retain the policy of three central defenders, but in a 3-4-1-2 shape.
3. Peru -- Peru finished bottom of the Conmebol World Cup qualifying group, and while the FIFA rankings place Ecuador, Venezuela and Bolivia below it, a series of injuries in the buildup has done nothing to improve its hopes of proving the rankings right and the qualifiers wrong. Werder Bremen forward Claudio Pizarro is definitely out after tearing a thigh muscle, as is Schalke forward Jefferson Farfan who suffered a thigh strain in training last week. The good news is that Fiorentina midfielder Juan Vargas has recovered in time from his injury. Peru's Uruguayan coach Sergio Markarian has tended to prefer a 4-2-3-1, but with the entire creative trident stricken, he may be forced into a change.
4. Mexico -- If Mexico entered the side that won the Gold Cup, it would have been a genuine challenger, but instead, like Costa Rica, it will send an U-22 side bolstered by five overage players. Even the coach, Jose Manuel de la Torre won't be there, with his assistant Luis Fernando Tena taking the reins. Those restrictions meant Mexico's chances were slim, but they got even slimmer when eight players were sent home earlier this week for allegedly consorting with prostitutes. With no competitive history, trying to workout a putative lineup is little more than educated guesswork, but it seems reasonable to assume Tena will use the same 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1 shape the senior side employed to such great effect.
F, Diego Forlan, Uruguay -- Having been named player of the tournament at the World Cup, the 32-year-old Forlan comes to what will almost certainly be his final major tournament. His versatility, his ability to drop off and create the play, combined with the instincts and the finishing of a bona fide striker, seems the perfect blend with Uruguay's other two forwards -- Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, both of them also fine finishers who instinctively pull wide. The intelligence and potency of the front three means Uruguay can effectively get on with the business of scoring goals and pack midfield with three ball-winners.
F, Alexis Sanchez, Chile -- At Udinese, Sanchez has operated wide almost as an orthodox winger and also as a second striker. In Borghi's system, he'll be a second striker, playing to the right but cutting in to support the center forward Humberto Suazo. His goal record in Serie A suggests he'll be more than comfortable doing so. The concern for Chile is whether he'll be distracted by talk over his future. Udinese value him at $70 million, which places him out of range of all but a handful of clubs. Barcelon is thought to be leading the hunt for a player who is quick, smart and probably the best dribbler in Serie A.
M, Giovani dos Santos, Mexico -- Still only 22, Giovani dos Santos is by some way the most experienced player in Mexico's squad with a total of 45 caps. He is a player who frustrates as often as he delights, rarely producing at club level the sort of form he showed, for instance, in helping Mexico to the Gold Cup last week (although he excelled on loan at Racing Santander last season). The sense is that Tottenham has followed Barcelona in losing patience with him, and he may well be playing in the Copa to impress potential suitors. His younger brother, Jonathan, was one of the eight players sent home as part of the prostitution scandal.
M, Juan Manuel Vargas, Peru -- With injuries sweeping through the squad the news about Vargas was a huge relief to Markarian. It's not just what the Peru winger offers from an attacking point of view -- he is a fine crosser, and his volley against Udinese last season showed just how sweetly he can strike a ball -- but also for his defensive qualities. Originally a left back, he moved forward because of a lack of positional sense, but he is still more capable than most wingers of tracking back to become a third midfielder. He's another player who may be distracted by transfer talk, having been linked with a range of clubs from Liverpool to Zenit St Petersburg.
The group begins with a pair of doubleheaders, first in San Juan and then in Mendoza. Uruguay should beat Peru in the opener, while the second game of that first day looks key. If Chile beat Mexico then it should be confident of going through with Uruguay while Mexico and Peru battle it out to be one of the two third-placed teams who make it through to the quarterfinal. Peru meets Mexico in the first game of the second doubleheader, while the second game that day sees Uruguay meet Chile, which should be the game that determines first and second in the group. The reward for winning Group C is a meeting with whoever finishes second in the Brazil group -- probably Paraguay -- while second faces second from group A -- in theory Colombia; if third place qualifies it will probably have to meet Argentina or Brazil in the quarterfinal: the rewards are clear.
Jonathan Wilson is the author of Inverting the Pyramid; Behind the Curtain; Sunderland: A Club Transformed; and The Anatomy of England. Editor of The Blizzard.
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