BUENOS AIRES, July 5 (AFP): After Brazil and Argentina had served up dull fare in their opening matches, the Copa America finally caught fire as Chile came from behind to edge Mexico and take command of Group C, where fancied Uruguay were held by Peru.
Four draws in five matches, an average of barely a goal per game and sub-zero temperatures had left fans less than impressed and questioning if they would see anything approaching samba-style football from anybody over the coming month, Brazil included.
Chile answered the question emphatically enough - though Arturo Vidal’s winner against the Mexicans, a towering header from a corner, had a rather Anglo-Saxon, rather than latino, hallmark to it yesterday.
That did not worry the Roja, who had been staring an embarrassing defeat in the face at half-time after Nestor Araujo put a youthful Mexican side into a 40th-minute lead. The Mexicans elected to rest most of their senior squad having just lifted the CONCACAF Gold Cup to give their youngsters some tournament experience.
But “El Tri”, regular special guests at the South American event, eventually gave up the ghost after Esteban Paredes cancelled out Araujo’s effort at the Del Bicentenario stadium in San Juan before a 25,000 crowd.
Vidal then bulletted home a header from Matias Fernandez’s corner to cheer the large travelling Chilean contingent as they moved to within sight of a place in the quarter-finals.
“The opening match is always a real humdinger so it’s great to get off to a winning start,” said Vidal. Alexis Sanchez, who is expected to be one of the stars of the tournament, said Chile had not lost heart after going behind and were rewarded for their tenacity. “We kept calm and as a result the goals eventually came to enable us to turn things around,” he said.
Mexico assistant coach Luis Fernando Tena suggested the Chileans, who came here on the back of five unbeaten friendlies, could potentially go one better than four previous final defeats.
“They have great players, they are a solid and strong team. They know each other well and this team can go a long way at the Copa. I think this is the best team I have seen at the tournament,” he said.
World Cup semi-finalists Uruguay earlier found Peru a tough proposition and it was left to Liverpool’s Luis Suarez to rescue a 1-1 draw after Paolo Guerrero opened the scoring midway through the opening period.
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez, up against compatriot Sergio Markarian, had hoped for far more but conceded simply that “today we couldn’t achieve what we wanted.” Markarian, in his first tournament as Peru coach, was happy with the result and performance. “It’s a good result - it was important to get off the mark,” he told journalists.
While Chile celebrated their win, Argentina and Brazil were left to plot improvements after failing to see off Bolivia and Venezuela. But their coaches will not ring the changes just yet.
Argentina coach Sergio Batista said he would largely keep faith with the team held by the Bolivians, confirming just one change — with Manchester City’s Pablo Zabaleta to replace Marcos Rojo on the right side of defence while veteran Javier Zanetti switches to the left.