This past week, South American nations travelled all over the world to showcase new players or enhance their current squads. With the Copa America just eight months away, teams are using these friendlies to test out new players, formations, strategies, make up for early exits from the World Cup, or all of the above.
Brazil Vs. Ukraine (2-0) & Brazil Vs. Iran (3-0)
Since taking over Dunga’s role as manager, Mano Menezes has gone with an all youth movement and has, thus far, relied on veterans such as Robinho, Ramires and Dani Alves. Against Ukraine and Iran, Brazil did not look like a powerhouse, but they executed when they had to. The youngsters did play sloppy at times, but that should not be a surprise when you are essentially rebuilding a team from scratch.
Many of the players on the team will probably be on the Olympic Team in 2012 and not the Copa America squad in 2011, but getting that senior-level exposure will do more good than harm. With several other players available on the depth chart, there are still many players waiting for a call-up. Pato, perhaps more motivated by his exclusion from the 2010 team, has scored in all three matches under the new manager.
Next month, the Seleção faces Argentina in Qatar. This will be a great test for Mano, as he will probably mix in several of his new, younger players with veterans such as Lucio, Julio Cesar and Maicon. So far, it seems Brazil is only focusing on 2014 based on all the young players being capped. If that is the case, do not bet the house on Brazil to win the Copa America.
Argentina Vs. Japan (0-1)
On the other side of the spectrum, you have Sergio Batista’s Argentina. Hardly trying to rebuild, Batista is under a lot of pressure to make up for the mess that Maradona left behind after the World Cup. Considering that Argentina has not won a Copa America since 1993 and this upcoming Copa is in their backyard, the pressure to win is mounting—making it to the final for a third time in a row will not be enough.
Back on the team are Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso, and the only new player is Ever Banega. Another playmaker, Javier Pastore, is somewhat new as well, but he was used sparingly during the World Cup.
Japan just flat-out played better and deserved the win. Between brilliant goalkeeping and smart ball possession, it is a surprise Japan did not win 3-0. The most common word used at the pub to describe Sergio Romero's performance was "shocking."
Blame it on the long flight to Japan, or blame it on the rain like Milli Vanilli would say, it seems Batista was making the same mistakes that Maradona did during the World Cup by playing several players out of position. At one point in the game, there were three defenders, two midfielders and five forwards—really? Hopefully, Batista made that mistake on purpose to try out some new ideas, but Argentina’s problem has always been defense, coupled with the inability to find a replacement for Juan Roman Riquelme.
As great as Messi is with Barcelona, he needs a Xavi-like player behind him. Can Banega and/or Pastore fit into JRR’s shoes? Playmakers are not born overnight. Once Batista can figure out the right midfield combination (Mascherano, Banega and Pastore), the sky is the limit.
Uruguay Vs. Indonesia (7-1) & Uruguay Vs. China (4-0)
Sure, Uruguay did not face the toughest teams in the world, but they did meet expectations. Picking up where they left off from an impressive World Cup Campaign, Uruguay seeks to only get better and strengthen their current squad. Unlike many countries that changed coaches after the World Cup, Uruguay continues to stick with Óscar Tabárez. Expect this team to go into the Copa America with a very similar squad that supporters saw in the World Cup with a few minor tweaks. Between the pressure Argentina is under to win at home and Brazil's focus on youth over experience, I will not be surprised if Uruguay sneaks out of Argentina with the Copa America title. Continue to see Diego Forlan wreak havoc for opponents, as he approaches both records for most caps and most goals for Uruguay.
Chile Vs. UAE (2-0) & Chile Vs. Oman (1-0)
Playing at Abu Dhabi and Muscat, Chile was able to earn two solid victories on the road. With Marcelo Bielsa at the helm for another four years, Chile will look to build on their good performance in the World Cup. Playing their first few friendlies without 16 players from the World Cup Squad, Bielsa seeks to add more depth to his team by playing some new faces and giving more minutes to those who did not play as much in South Africa. Just like Uruguay and Paraguay, when stacked up against teams like Argentina and Brazil, Chile will need to play perfect football against the top-tier teams if Chile or any other mid-upper mid-tier team will want to become an international force to be reckoned with. Until that happens, Chile will always be good enough to show up to party of the top teams, but will usually leave first, unless the soccer gods decide to favor them one day.
Paraguay Vs. Australia (0-1) & Paraguay Vs. New Zealand (2-0)
Paraguay took their national team to the land down under and faced off against Australia and New Zealand. In a rematch against one of their group stage teams, Paraguay was able to defeat the only unbeaten team from the 2010 World Cup. Recently, top striker Roque Santa Cruz said the 2010 World Cup would be his last, and current head coach Gerardo Martino said he will stay until the Copa America. With several players over 30, do not be surprised to see Paraguay struggle over their next few friendlies and even more so during the Copa America.
Colombia Vs. Ecuador (1-0) & Colombia Vs. United States (0-0)
With both matches held in the United States, Colombia showed signs of improvement against Ecuador, but played a very boring match against the United States. Perhaps Hernan Dario Gomez was experimenting with players like Victor Ibarbo and Gio Moreno too much, but Colombia did not appear to threaten until players like Juan Cuadrado came on the pitch. Radamel Falcao, without the midfield support he has at FC Porto, looked lost at times on the pitch and was forced to drop back on many occasions. Perhaps if surrounded by players such as Hugo Rodallega, Cuadrado and Dayro Moreno on a more consistent basis, he could become more of a threat at the international level. Nevertheless, Colombia still has a way to go before they are of the same caliber as Uruguay and Chile.
Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela and Bolivia
Without Luis Valencia, Ecuador has not impressed in their friendly matchups. Recent games include a 1-0 defeat from Colombia and 2-2 draw to Poland. Striker Christian Benitez appears to be the main bright spot for the Ecuadorians, as he has been just about the only player putting up goals on the scoreboard.
Peru, who has only faced teams from North America since September, does not appear to be a team on the rise with a recent defeat by Panama, but looked sharp against Costa Rica, who was very close to qualifying for the 2010 World Cup.
At the bottom is Bolivia, who was defeated 3-1 by Venezuela on October 7. The fact they do not play in as many friendly matches with the frequency of most nations is alarming and should indicate that they will not be a team that will show much improvement over time.
Venezuela, on the other hand, has looked solid in recent friendly matches. In addition to beating Bolivia, they drew 2-2 against Mexico in Mexico on October 12. Even though the Venezuelans were down to 10 players for over 65 minutes, they were able to keep up despite scoring efforts from Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez and Giovanni Dos Santos. The main concern with Venezuela is the depth of the squad, as they typically field their best teams in friendlies while opposing teams have the flexibility to experiment with many new players.