The football season is far from starting in England and we have to look toward foreign shores to keep our football appetite at bay and what better place to look than South America. The Copa America kicks off on July 1 and the world will be watching as South America’s finest line-up and battle it out to get their hands on the coveted trophy. This year takes the tournament to the Argentinian shores and I have had the chance to catch up with Sam Kelly, owner and editor of Hasta El Gol Siempre, to have a few words about the up and coming tournament. Sam lives in Buenos Aires and as such has insights into the Argentinian footballing lifestyle that we can only otherwise read about. A view from within grants great perspective on anything from unknown to us English folk so I want to extend my thanks to Sam for answering a few questions for me. Take a read and be sure to follow Sam’s writings and movement on twitter, all contact information for Sam and his website are given in full at the bottom of the article.
Hi Sam, the Copa America will soon be upon us and Argentina line-up for the competition as one of the front runners to come away with the trophy. How has the Argentinian domestic campaign gone and how will it affect Argentina’s chances in the competition?
The Argentine domestic season isn’t quite over yet but so far it’s been as crazy as those of us who watch regularly have come to expect. Vélez Sarsfield are worthy Clausura champions after playing some lovely football, whilst giants River Plate will be kicking off the first leg of a relegation playoff against Belgrano de Córdoba a few hours after I send you back these answers! It is the lowest River have ever been in their 110-year history. They were promoted to the top flight 101 years ago and haven’t left it since (the only club in the country to complete an uninterrupted century at the top). Although Argentina’s third-choice goalkeeper Juan Pablo Carrizo plays for River, though, it is unlikely to affect Argentina’s Copa América challenge. Practically all the players in the squad play their football in Europe.
Do you consider Argentina as the favourites for the competition or do you think Brazil have recovered from their World Cup hangover?
I can see why Argentina are favourites and as someone who has them as my ‘second team’ internationally (I’m English, and therefore have to put up with John Terry & Co. representing my primary hopes) I feel some qualified optimism but personally I’m finding it hard to look beyond the way the last two Copas América have gone. In both, Argentina looked the best side all the way through playing fabulous football on their way to the final, where they got eaten alive by Brazil. Last year’s friendly, won with that magnificent late solo goal from Lionel Messi, was Argentina’s first win over Brazil at senior level in a long time, but it was a friendly, and when Brazil play Argentina with a trophy at stake, recently, Brazil win. Brazil aren’t the same side they were four years ago, it’s true… but then four years ago, they won with a B team. So Argentina are favourites, but I’ve got this niggling doubt at the back of my mind.
Who do you see as a dark horse in this years competition?
Colombia. I wouldn’t describe Uruguay, Paraguay or Chile as dark horses, because after last year’s World Cup we all know what they can do (especially Paraguay, who’ve had an extra year now to get used to not having Salvador Cabañas around as the focal point of their attack – his absence last year was a big reason Paraguay looked so defensive in South Africa). Colombia, though, have some cracking young players – Fredy Guarín, Hugo Rodallega and Radamel Falcao García only the most obvious – and ought to qualify out of a group that includes Argentina, Costa Rica’s Olympic side and Bolivia (especially considering the two best third-placed sides from the three groups also go through with the top two). Depending on the luck of their draw, I can see Colombia springing a surprise and reaching the semis.
With stars such as Messi and Aguero in the squad, are there any young prospects that could break through for Argentina in this tournament?
Other than in the Argentina squad, are there any other youngsters that you will be keeping your eye on in the tournament, such as the 21 year old Santos playmaker Ganso?
Ganso’s a good shout and I’ve already mentioned Guarín for Colombia. There’s Neymar too, of course – if he can just stop bloody diving all the time. He’s a great player to watch when he has got the ball at his feet. I suspect plenty will be interested to see how Alexis Sánchez gets on, in the midst of his ongoing transfer saga with Barcelona.
If you had to choose an individual who you think will emerge as the tournament’s best player, who would it be and why?
I deeply, deeply hope it’s Lionel Messi. I shouldn’t need to say why I think it could be, but why do I say ‘hope’? Because if there’s one country in which his greatness is questioned, it’s here in Argentina. He simply doesn’t have bad games, even when he plays poorly he’s still doing everything right for the team. But too many Argentines remain convinced he doesn’t do for them what he does for Barcelona. Even though he’ll only be 24, he is already within three goals of entering the selección‘s all-time top ten goalscorers. Even though his goalless World Cup last year was entirely down to bad luck, or man-of-the-match performances from opposing goalkeepers. Even though he represents everything Argentina prizes about its football. Never having played his club football here, he’s underrated enormously in Argentina. Hopefully this Copa América can change that. I don’t think he needs to win with Argentina to be considered on Maradona’s level – football’s changed too much since Maradona’s time, and a tournament is full of so many near misses that it’s simply unfair to say so. But I do think an impressive performance and a Copa América win would go a long way to making the people of this country realise just how lucky they are to have him.