Paraguayans and Ecuador in goalless stalemate


Paraguay and Ecuador fought out a goalless stalemate in Group B of the Copa America on Sunday, as did their rivals Brazil and unfancied Venezuela. A tight match saw neither side able to make a breakthrough before a 40,000 crowd at Santa Fe’s Brigadier Estanislao Lopez stadium on a cold, wintry evening.
Gerardo Martino’s Paraguay had gone into the encounter as favourites having shown some impressive form in qualifiers for last year’s World Cup, but their forward line of German-based Lucas Barrios and Blackburn man Roque Santa Cruz was unable to make their greater experience of the big occasion count. Both gave way in the closing stages to Nelson Haedo and Pablo Zeballos. Ecuador gave a solid, if unimaginative, account of themselves although Manchester United man Antonio Valencia only lasted until the interval.
Brazil’s magic quartet not so magical: Now you see the jogo bonito; now you don’t.
Brazil were supposed to turn on the style Sunday and ease past rank outsiders Venezuela in kickstarting a bid for a hoped-for third consecutive Copa America triumph. Instead, the Venezuelans, straining every sinew for every ball, put the hex on the auriverde at the Estadio Unico in La Plata and secured a second goalless draw with their much-lauded rivals in a row. Just over a decade ago the five-times world champions slaughtered their counterparts from the Caribbean nation, where baseball remains sport numero uno, 7-0 to get a triumphant Copa campaign under way. But where Ronaldo, Ronaldino and Rivaldo found rich pickings on that occasion, Brazil this time were left to contemplate only sour grapes as they found this year’s ‘Vinotinto’ made of sterner stuff.
Brazil coach Mario Menezes, in charge for his first tournament after replacing unlamented pragmatist Dunga, had hoped for better things in choosing an attacking line-up. Hot young talents Neymar and Ganso from Santos, plus comparatively elder statesmen and Milan stars Pato and Robinho were supposed to form the Magic Quartet to create the kind of sumptuous fare served up for France two decades ago by Michel Platini, Alain Giresse, Luis Fernandez and Jean Tigana.
Those four midfield musketeers were dubbed the “carré magique” or magic square and they lit up the 1984 European championship in particular – even if at World Cup level they never quite managed to land the big prize.
But on Sunday’s evidence it’s more back to square one than magic square for the Brazilians.
Fans at the Estadio Unico in La Plata outside Buenos Aires found little to cheer their chilled bones in close to zero temperatures. Many could have been forgiven, in their frozen state, for wishing they were instead cheering on the auriverde’s women’s team at the ongoing World Cup in Germany, where Marta produced the kind of finishing earlier in the day against Norway which was sadly not in evidence from the men. The parallels are intriguing with the men five-times world champions yet unable to find the net against traditional continental whipping boys whereas Marta, herself a five-time world player of the year, floored muscular Norway almost single-handed with two goals and an assist in a 3-0 win.
Brazil tried the magic quartet approach in 2006 at the World Cup with the Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Adriano and Kaka variant, but that model likewise failed truly to ignite. Menezes did at least recognise his men were making little headway and withdrew the ineffectual Robinho on the hour for Fluminense’s Fred – but he also drew a blank. Robinho and Pato defended the team’s lacklustre showing, however,
“We played well in the first half and were just mising a goal,” Robinho insisted. “We created a lot of chances and so that stands us in good stead, even if it is always better to win,” he insisted.
Pato insisted that “a draw is not such a bad result. We had a lot of chances which we just could not convert. But there are no easy opponents these days.” Robinho did admit, however, that an improvement is clearly needed – and quickly. “We must correct the things which we did poorly when we meet Paraguay” next Saturday, he said. More of the same against the tough Paraguayans and thereafter against a hard to break down Ecuador and the holders would be struggling to convince their fans that they still possess, deep down, the magic touch.