Like the global scenario, football in South America has reached the point where tactical discipline and physical power help minnows give favorites a hard time. It didn’t start in the last few days. In 1994, for example, Colombia reached their first World Cup by thrashing Argentina 5-0 in Buenos Aires. Another debutant, Bolivia, used the home advantage of playing 3,000m above sea level to inflict Brazil their first-ever defeat in qualifiers. Decades before, even with the likes of Pele, Brazil qualified with simple 1-0 victories over Peru and Paraguay to reach the 1958 and 1970 tournaments.
Could this year be different? Of course it could. However, one has to remember the Copa America is a generous tournament given the math problem of a continent where not all countries field teams. With only 10 competing nations, inviting the likes of Mexico, Japan and even Spain, whom the hosts of this year’s competition dreamed of having in the draw, is mandatory to avoid bizarre formats such as the automatic semi-final bye received by the then defending champions Uruguay in 1987.
That means there are three groups with four teams, with the top two making it to the quarterfinals. As well as the best third place sides overall. Which gives breathing space for any team, including stumbling favorites. So while Argentina supporters must be angry, the biggest danger for their team still is the possibility of locking horns with Brazil or even Uruguay very early in the tournament. Unless Costa Rica can pull the shock of a lifetime next Monday against the hosts – actually a second shock of a lifetime, for Honduras kicked Brazil out of the 2001 Copa America.