Everything you need to know about the Copa América quarter-finals

After the end of the Copa América group stage, the quarter-finals were set and ready to begin on Thursday (the night between Thursday and Friday in Europe). Wyscout contributor Rodrigo Coutinho analyzed the four matchups, contextualizing data in order to foresee what can be the pivotal points of these games, also considering the performances during the Copa América group stage. Check it out:

 

Brazil v Paraguay – Porto Alegre – June 27, 9.30 PM (UTC -3)

The first match of the Copa América quarter-finals will be a showdown that could be trickier than it looks. It’s true that Brazil has won 60% of the games ever played against Paraguay, but its neighbour was responsible for its eliminations in two of the last three editions of the tournament. In fact, both in 2011 and 2015, the Seleção was defeated by the Albirroja in the penalty shootout. So, Tite’s team will be very motivated to avoid another elimination, while the Paraguayans will try to overturn the odds once again.

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Brazil’s main questioning should be about its offensive style. Since the last friendly matches before the Copa América, Tite has been asking their players to have a more positional attack, something that goes against Brazil’s historical football style. Brazilian attackers and midfielders usually have much more freedom on the pitch and most of them are struggling to understand how they should behave on the pitch. So, the team’s play is often static, and a lack of mobility can be fatal against a team like Paraguay. On the other hand, Brazil is doing very well defensively, and the transition is one of its strengths. They press with intensity as soon as they lose the ball and they have a very solid defensive line.

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Paraguay, on the other hand, had a more discontinuous path in the group stage. It managed to qualify to the quarter-finals as one of the best thirds with just 2 points, often playing discontinuously within the same game. In their debut against Qatar, they started very well, then loosen up too much and ended up with a draw. In the second match against Argentina, they played a great first half, then losing stamina in continuous counter-attacks in the second half. Finally, in the last game, they basically lost against Colombia’s reserves. For the game against Brazil, the strategy should be very similar than the one adopted against Argentina. Even if it may be countercultural for Eduardo Berizzo’s football style, it is not for the history of the Paraguayan national team. The Guaraní have always been renowned for their strong defensive system and counter-attack football style. The Argentinian coach represents an attempt made by the Paraguayan to play more offensive football but, as he was appointed only a few months ago, he hasn’t achieved the essential improvements just yet. So, the immediate solution would be strengthening the defensive line in order to be more competitive, like he did against Argentina.

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It this will be the preferred strategy, there are a few players that will be crucial: Matías Rojas is very good at closing defensively on the left side, then attacking the centre during the offensive transition. Derlis González takes care of defending the right side, then playing as a second striker when the team attacks. Miguel Almirón is crucial in leading the transitions, while the Rodrigo Rojas/Richard Sánchez duo is very intense in man marking. The team should be played with a 4-4-2 formation.

 

Argentina v Venezuela – Rio de Janeiro – June 28, 4.00 PM (UTC -3)

Yes, it may sound crazy to say that a match between Argentina and Venezuela is uncertain, but the more attentive of you will understand why it’s not. Not only for the last meeting these two teams had, with Venezuela winning twice and drawing once against the Albiceleste, but also for what they are showing on the pitch. This upcoming match should have very clear characteristics: the Argentinian will have more ball possession, while ‘La Vinotinto’ will seek goal occasions with quick counter-attacks.

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Argentina was too much discontinuous during the group stage. It played poorly and lost the debut match against Colombia, then showing many collective issues in the draw against Paraguay, only slightly improving in the last game against Qatar. The biggest problem of the team is the defensive phase. Not only the team is often late at reacting after losing the ball, then setting up disorganized defensive transitions, but it also lacks defensive and tackling intensity. This context overloads the defensive line, that already has important deficiencies. Saravia is not trustworthy – just like Foyth and Pezzella – while Otamendi isn’t living his best moment. On the offensive side, Argentina is slowly improving but, in the three group stage matches, it showed lack of movements and absence of collective cooperation. Even with a genius like Leo Messi, it’s still necessary to have a more defined style of football. The team performs better when playing with the Lautaro Martínez/Agüero duo. In the last game, Messi was the closest player to them in a 4-3-1-2 formation. Argentina also needs to play more on the wings, as the range of action is too much concentrated on the middle of the pitch right now.

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Venezuela is still growing strong in the South American football scene, with a well-defined style of play. They have a solid defensive system and a well-executed offensive phase, based on counter-attacks. They will probably try to follow this model in the matchup against Argentina. After all, the opponents will have the weight of the “must-win” on their shoulders. Even with a notable technical gap between the two teams, you can bet on the Vinotintos’ better organization.

The strength of the Venezuelan defensive phase is the compactness between the lines. The players have a great dedication at man-marking, performing their duties with determination and concentration. They use a zonal marking system, with each player defending his space. They usually position in order to wait for the opponent to start their attacking phase, then intensifying the pressing. They perfectly close the centre of the pitch, forcing opponents to play on the wings during attacks.

Rafael Dudamel team’s most dangerous play is counter-attacks. When they’re not able to speed up the attacks, Salomón Rondon is crucial for his ability to receive and control direct passes. Midfielder Tomás Rincon is very good at leading the team’s plays, always knowing the right time to do so. They don’t have a massive bag of tricks when the opponent team is well positioned, but this shouldn’t be a problem against Argentina.

 

Colombia v Chile – São Paulo – June 28, 8.00 PM (UTC -3)

This certainly is the most balanced matchup of the Copa América quarter-finals. Both Colombia and Chile had a good group stage, with the Colombians having the best performances in the tournament so far. They won all three games, even playing with the reserves in the game against Paraguay. They had a great debut game against Argentina, winning 2-0 and then beating Qatar with another impressive display from James Rodríguez. However, the Chileans, with their good performances, put themselves in the position to eliminate the “Cafeteros” and qualify for the semi-finals.

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Carlos Queiroz took over Colombia last February, with the goal to build a more balanced team. Previously, with José Pekerman, the Colombian side was a very “South-American” team. They were offensive, unpredictable, electrifying, but lacked solidity without the ball. In his short time with the team, the Portuguese coach has managed to give his character to the Colombian side. If on one hand, the team is somehow more predictable, on the other they started to control the matches more.

On the defensive phase, he changed the marking system. The team now defends with zonal marking, not pinning and following the opponent. It also attacks with fewer players, with more defensive wings in order to guarantee a more organized defensive transition. Offensively, Colombia continues to have James as a leading artist; all the games revolve around him. Starting from one side of the pitch, he follows the ball, counting on Uribe or Cuadrado’s cuts in order to compensate his movements and widen the team. The idea is to build plays through short passes. Duván Zapata is another important player in this system.

The Chilean team didn’t have a good defensive phase before the Copa América. Also because of the frustrating qualification missed for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, there is a lot of pressure on this group of players’ shoulders. “La Roja” is the reigning champion of the last two Copa América editions, was the runner-up in the 2017 Confederations Cup and had an excellent World Cup in 2014. The so-called golden generation continues – even with a huge renewal in the group – and falling in the quarter-finals could increase this pressure, regardless of the team playing beautiful football during the group stage.

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Reinaldo Rueda took charge of the team in early 2018, with the potential to maintain the offensive philosophy that has made the Chilean team one of the most exciting to follow in recent years. This hasn’t quite worked well until May when they were able to have more training with this group of players, and the team started to execute and perform with more efficiency. The Chilean loves to keep possession of the ball, widening the pitch with quick touches at the very beginning of the play’s build up, then approaching the opponent midfield working with short and quick passes.

If the opponents advance their man-marking lines, the idea is trying to take advantage of Alexis Sánchez and Eduardo Vargas’ speed in depth. Manchester United’s athlete had a poor season with the Red Devils, but he’s been playing well in the Copa América so far. Aránguiz, Vidal, Isla, and Pulgar are other important players in the team. The defensive phase has improved as well. In shorter tournaments, Chile can keep the intensity during the defensive phase, even with some important individual physical bloopers.

 

Uruguay v Perú – Salvador – June 29, 4.00 PM (UTC -3)

This is probably the most unbalanced quarter-final of the Copa América. On one side Uruguay, one of the best team in the tournament, with a solid football styles thanks to Óscar Tabárez’s 13-years-long run with the team. They have something that is critical in modern football: they are lethal in both boxes. Beyond that, there’s everything that comes with wearing the legendary Celeste shirt. On the other side the Peruvian team which, even with a good offensive style, is not able to have a balance on the pitch, often living bad moments defensively. Any other result than an Uruguayan success should be considered a surprise.

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Even with some physical problems during this Copa América – which involved players like Laxalt, Vecino, Torreira, and Nández – the Uruguayan team still have a good condition. Bentancur and Valverde played very well in the huge win over Chile in the last game of the group stage. Arrascaeta was played as a more technical option than Nandez or Lodeiro. The team then had more options and showed that they don’t have only long passes and counter-attacks to be competitive.

Something that is still impressing about the Celeste is the ability to make good decisions in both boxes. Godìn and Giménez make a great defensive duo, able to swap position and be effective in defending the area, not only counting on their dominance of the high balls. On the offensive side, Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani form one of the best attacking duos in the national teams’ universe. They fight with their opponents, they are technical, powerful and deadly finishers. They can change a game at any time.

The Peruvian team will probably try to control the pace of the game while maintaining the possession of the ball. There are players with very different characteristics than the Uruguayans. With a midfield good at treating the ball, Ricardo Gareca will ask his players to attack the centre of the pitch, in order to take advantage of this scenario. The game plan is to establish passing lines through the centre, trying to deceive the opponents then using the vertical pass to seek the cuts from the wingers, especially Advincula on the right side.

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The highlight of the Peruvian Copa América so far is Paolo Guerrero. After fighting an exhausting legal battle to play in the 2018 World Cup, today his free and light spirit allows him to play at his best level. The number 9 is living a great season at Internacional – his latest club in Brazil – and he’s very important in the Peruvian’s offensive game plan. When Los Incas are pressed, Guerrero is the main target for direct links. He embraces the challenge, knowing how to control the ball and wait for his teammates to arrive.

Perú main problem lies in the defensive line, with many players not in their prime. Alberto Rodriguez, a landmark in his position for decades, is no longer fit to play in the national team at the highest level. Christian Ramos performances have dropped, Zambrano has still to recover his best form and Miguel Araujo is not ready. Miguel Trauco is a weak spot of the defensive line and Advíncula is struggling in reading the plays. These many problems in the defensive line highlight the reasons why Brazil trashed the Peruvian side in the last game of the group stage. Despite not conceding so many goals in the first two games, the Peruvian defence presented important gaps in the matches against Bolivia and Venezuela as well.

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