South America stunned as quarterfinal favourites all crash out of Copa

With the tournament’s most fancied sides having stumbled through to the quarter-finals, it was expected that they would learn their lessons and finally saunter stylishly into the last four.

Indeed, in Argentina and Brazil’s respective final group stage matches, two disappointing campaigns had already looked to be on an upward curve.

However in two nights of unthinkable results, the favourite for each quarter final found themselves out of the competition, leaving South America stunned.

Among the sides to exit the competition, an alarming profligacy in front of goal has been an inescapable theme; Gonzalo Higuaín, Neymar and Humberto Suazo being the principle exponents.

Impatience in breaking teams down has been another obvious flaw, but it points towards a more general feature of this tournament - the defensive attitudes of the so-called ‘weaker’ sides.

Of the four winning quarter-finalists, it could be argued that at least three are there having adopted an overly defensively mindset throughout the tournament.

From a pragmatic point of view it is completely understandable - where a side lacks the technical ability of a rival, it would be hopelessly naïve to attempt to outplay them. Greece’s triumph at Euro 2004 is possibly the most notable example of a somewhat limited side triumphing through this approach in recent years, but it seems likely now that this Copa America may be won in similar fashion.

Similarly, the very format of the competition encourages such an attitude, with eight of the twelve sides qualifying for the knock-out stages, it places a perhaps lamentable early emphasis on not losing, rather than winning.

While Venezuela and Peru have found their way to the semi-finals with a largely defensive system in place, their swashbuckling counter-attacking play has also attracted the neutral fan. Venezuela, in fact, have opened the scoring in each of their games in the tournament - bar their goalless draw with Brazil.

Paraguay, on the other hand, boast the bizarre record of being in the semi-finals without winning a game yet. In their last eight internationals the Paraguayans have won just two in ninety minutes - but their penalty shoot-out victory over Brazil will not have been any less sweet because of this record, nor the fact their opponents amazingly failed to convert any of their four spot-kicks.

Uruguay have disappointed many observers by not impressing as they did in the World Cup last year, but have made it to the semi finals despite a disappointing third place finish in their group.

In their knock-out tie against Rioplatense rivals Argentina, they were fortunate enough to come up against a side devoid of ideas that despite having a personnel advantage for a large period – with Uruguay’s Diego Perez sent off after just 38 minutes, failed to make it count.

Seeing the ‘big two’ both crash out may not be good for sponsors and organisers but both the hosts and the holders failed to live up to their reputations in any way.

Argentina only managed to win one game in the entire competition, and that was against a Costa Rica under-23 side that had been drafted in at the last minute with little preparation.

Brazil have also been mightily disappointing, but had made little secret of their intention to use this summer’s tournament as a stage in their World Cup 2014 development. Argentina have no such claims to hide behind.

Seemingly every pre-competition declaration from Sergio Batista has since seen a backtrack that in the eyes of many has left his position untenable.

Certainly, ‘Checho’ doesn’t seem keen to leave his position, claiming the campaign “has not been a failure” despite him guiding the most talented squad in the tournament through a pathetic campaign in front of their own fans.

The semi-finals may have an unfamiliar appearance, but it demonstrates the perpetual improvement of the perceived ‘lesser’ nations of CONMEBOL football.

So even though the sides that are out of the competition may be talking about looking towards the next World Cup in 2014, just qualifying for the tournament in Brazil looks set to be harder than ever.

Quarter-final results:
Colombia 0-2 Peru (a.e.t.)
Argentina 1-1 Uruguay (4-5 pens)
Brazil 0-0 Paraguay (0-2 pens)
Chile 1-2 Venezuela