THEY all have something to prove as things look likely to kick off in Chile, reckons Jonathan Wilson
LISTEN for any length of time to Diego Maradona describing his greatest achievements and he will speak of bronca. It’s not an easy term to translate but it’s derived from the practice in lunfardo – a criminal slang of Buenos Aires that has seeped into wider usage – of flipping the syllables in words: bronca comes from cabrón (bastard) and describes the spirit of anger of bitterness that drives somebody to greater heights to avenge or put right a (perceived) wrong. When Maradona was left out of the 1978 World Cup squad, he was fired by bronca to score two and set two up in his next league game. When he scored his two goals against England in 1986, he was acting out of bronca for the Falklands War.
When the Copa America begins in Santiago on Thursday as the hosts take on Ecuador, there will barely be a contender that isn’t acting out of its own sense of bronca. Most of all, perhaps, there is Brazil, whose last two competitive results were the 7-1 defeat by Germany in the World Cup semi-final in Belo Horizonte and a far-less consequential 3-0 defeat by the Netherlands in the third-place play-off.
The shame of the 7-1 will burn for generations and will not be erased even if Dunga does, for the second time, lead his nation to the Copa America, but success in Chile might at least restore some pride and suggest the collapse at the end of the World Cup was an aberration. Dunga was effectively hounded out of his first stint as national coach after the quarter-final defeat at the 2010 World Cup, derided for supposedly old-fashioned, negative football. What happened in Belo Horizonte means Brazil cannot be so choosy now: solidity is back in fashion – although slightly bizarrely, Dunga’s version of it will probably involve bringing in Miranda, not for David Luiz, whose positional sense was desperately exposed by Germany, but for Thiago Silva.
“Dunga arrived with his own way of working, with a very different approach to training,” Chelsea forward Willian told SportTV this week. “Today, the Selecao can play with the ball and without the ball, which is very important. The Selecao has to enter every competition thinking about nothing other than victory. That is our goal this month.”
Neymar, of course, has his own issues to settle from the World Cup, having suffered fractured vertebrae in his back in the 2-1 victory over Colombia in the quarter-final. Brazil meet Colombia in their second game (although Colombia themselves may feel they have a grievance to settle having been widely blamed for the attritional nature of that game, when the truth is that their aggression was a response to the cynical tactical fouling of Brazil – of 54 fouls in the game, 31 were committed by Brazil.)
Brazil’s preparations have been complicated by injured to Oscar and Luiz Gustavo and by the fact that Neymar will only join up with the squad this week after playing in the Champions League final (Dani Alves wasn’t named in Dunga’s 23). Argentina similarly are without two key players and one reserve in the build-up because of yesterday’s game: Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano are both certain starters for Gerardo Martino’s side, with Carlos Tevez likely to start on the bench.
Argentina’s bronca is much deeper-rooted than Brazil’s. It’s 22 years since they last won a trophy at senior level, despite winning five Under-20 World Cups and two Olympic golds in that time. Their World Cup ended not only in the sadness of defeat by Germany in the final, but also with a sense of wasted opportunity. Messi had always targeted the 2014 World Cup but having grudgingly won acceptance from Argentine fans, he ended up going into the tournament in his worst form of the past five years. Winning the Ballon d’Or was no consolation; if anything given the disparity between how Messi played and how he can play, it was almost a goad.
Now, back to his best, Messi could in part make up for that disappointment by ending the Argentine drought and making sure that the promise of those U-20 World Cups doesn’t go to waste. “The hurt of not winning the World Cup last year is still there,” said defender Ezequiel Garay, who played alongside Messi (and Lucas Biglia, Pablo Zabaleta, Fernando Gago and Sergio Aguero) when Argentina won the 2005 U-20 World Cup. “We were so close but we fell just short. It was very tough. Not just for us but for all of Argentina who were supporting us during the tournament.”
Uruguay, the defending champions, also believe that they were wronged when Luis Suarez, left, was banned for nine international games for biting Giorgio Chiellini during the World Cup. Without Suarez and, with Diego Forlan retired and the experienced Diego Lugano, Diego Perez and Walter Gargano all omitted, Oscar Tabarez has named what is, for him, an extremely young squad. Uruguay face Argentina in their second game, a meeting of the two most successful sides in Copa America history and a replay of the feisty quarter-final four years ago when Mascherano and Perez were sent off and Tabarez’s side won on penalties.
The hosts were in the first Copa America in 1916 but have never won it and have tended to be rather patronised in South America as a result. This is probably their best chance to put that right. Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal (another whose preparations have been spoiled by the Champions League final) are in fine form, while they have a settled, well-drilled squad under Jorge Sampaoli, who has maintained the hard-pressing approach established under Marcelo Bielsa.
Of the main challengers, only Colombia perhaps aren’t bristling with a sense of scores to settle, but even they have a captain in Falcao with some points to prove after the team did so well without him at the World Cup and following that with a disappointing domestic season.
This is a rare tournament in which everybody has something to prove.s