Jul 172011

When the Copa America was due to start at the beginning of July, I checked out the TV coverage. South American teams are always a joy to watch, playing a brand of football where the emphasis is on skill.

The schedules of ESPN and Fox Soccer Channel quickly revealed that they were passing on this competition. My last hope was the Spanish channel Gol-TV but it too offered no coverage. It looked as if I was destined to miss out.

On Saturday night, I saw The Guardian’s report on the Uruguay versus Argentina match and learned that Uruguay had won 5-4 on penalties to reach the semi-final stage of the competition.

I was both pleased an annoyed. Pleased that my favourite team of the last World Cup, Uruguay, had won through; annoyed that I had missed the opportunity to see the likes of Forlan, Suarez and, of course, the best football player in the world, Lionel Messi of Argentina.

I did a Google search, typing in “Copa America on TV USA”. The search threw up an entry on by bleacherreport.com, entitled Copa America 2011 TV Schedule: What and When to Watch. Perfect.

I discovered much to my chagrin that the entire competition had been televised live on the Latino Univision channel. I do not speak Spanish but when the likes of Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil are playing I can put up with the Spanish commentary..

The schedule revealed that Brazil were taking on Paraguay this afternoon, with Chile versus Venezula kicking off in the early evening.

Brazil create an unexplainable ambiguity in me. I am the first to admit they are one of the best footballing sides in the world but they are perhaps too good and machine-like, tending to sweep opponents aside with ease.

For that reason, I did not tune in when Brazil’s match kicked off at 3:00 pm. But 30 minutes later, growing tired of sorting through images taken yesterday, I decided to sample Univision’s coverage.

I joined the match with the score at 0-0.

With Paraguay playing in red and white stripes, as a Stoke City supporter I find myself drawn to supporting them. And the similarity between Paraguay and Stoke City extends beyond red & white stripes. Paraguay play like Stoke City. They have an organized defence, closing men down quickly, and hitting long balls to lone striker Valdez. Right back Veron with his shaven head even reminded me of Stoke’s full-back Andy Wilkinson.

Paraguay defended brilliantly and when Brazil did penetrate the wall of red and white shirts, they found goalkeeper Justo Villar in unbeatable form.

In the hour of the game I saw, he pulled off five brilliant saves to keep his side in the game. On the one occasion when he was beaten, a teammate headed off the line.

The scoreline remained at 0-0 until full-time. Thanks to Villar’s heroic display. In cricket, one can describe a captain’s innings, alas football has no equivalent phrase but captain Villar certainly led from the back.

In extra-time, the game boiled over and Brazil’s Leiva and Parguay’s Alcaraz were sent off – the former for an over-the ball challenge; the latter for wading in with his fists to exact justice on behalf of the injured party.

The period of extra-time ended 0-0, although Valdez did have the opportunity to snatch victory in the closing minutes but he opted to volley a shot rather than bring the ball under control and pick his spot.

But more drama was to follow in the penalty shoot-out. Brazil, usually the masters of every footballing skill, were suddenly reduced to mere novices. First, Elano took a kick that had the trajectory of a field goal in the NFL.

Barretto stepped up to take Paraguay’s first spot-kick and the chance to pile the pressure on Brazil. He put his shot wide of the left-hand post.

Then Villar reproduced his unbeatable form of the previous 120 minutes, diving to his left to beat out Thiago Silva’s spot-kick.

Paraguay’s Estigarribia powerful shot gave his country the lead.

Brazil’s Santos had the chance to restore parity but blazed his shot high over the bar and then turned away and pointed at the penalty spot and an imaginary divot.

Riveros blasted into the roof of the net to give Paraguay a two goal advantage.

When the hapless Fred fired wide of the post for Brazil, it was game over. Copa America champions were out of the 2011 tournament in the most dismal of circumstances – four penalties taken and four penalties missed.

After the game, Paraguay’s jubilant captain Villar paid tribute to his team’s fighting spirit.

“It is difficult to analyse,” he said. “Brazil were much better and we had to defend ourselves.

“We had almost no opportunities to score, but we fought a lot. Order and focus were the keys of the game.”

The last sentence was straight out of an interview by Stoke City manager Tony Pulis.

For Villar’s sake, I am glad Paraguay won. I am also glad that I found the live coverage on Univision. It was a cracking match, entertaining throughout and with a dramatic finale.

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