Lionel Messi and James Rodriguez are about to meet again. They’ve left their clubs behind – Barcelona and Real Madrid – and this time Messi is wearing Argentina’s blue and white and Rodriguez the red, blue and yellow of Colombia.
Of the four quarter-finals this week in the Copa America, Argentina’s showdown with Colombia on Saturday is the most compelling.
Argentina have won this title 14 times and, with Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero have the most talented attack in the tournament.
Colombia have won this title just once but are arguably South America’s rising power, have an Argentine coach in Jose Pekerman and their own talented attackers in Rodriguez, Radamel Falcao and Jackson Martinez.
In the other quarter-finals hosts Chile take on Uruguay, Bolivia meet Peru and Brazil face Paraguay. Five of the quarter-finalists reached the last 16 in last summer’s World Cup, three made it to the quarter-finals in Brazil before Argentina lost out in the final against Germany.
Here we take a look at the match-ups:
Argentina v Colombia
(Saturday, 12:30am BST)
Neither Argentina nor Colombia hit their peak in the group stage. Argentina blew a two-goal lead in a 2-2 draw with Paraguay and claimed narrow 1-0 victories against Jamaica and Uruguay, with Gerardo Martino’s side fortunate after Uruguay dominated the latter stages.
Martino knows many players are jaded after long European seasons. The Champions League final between Barcelona and Juventus – with Messi on one side and Tevez on the other – was played just five days before the Copa America began.
“The failure to score and secure the outcome, its obviously beginning to generate some uneasiness,” Martino said.
Colombia were also unconvincing as they advanced, although they did beat Brazil 1-0 for their only group victory. “When you play poorly, you pay” said Rodriguez.
Chile v Uruguay
(tomorrow, 12:30am BST)
Hosts Chile are the sentimental favourites, and have been the most entertaining side in the tournament so far as they seek a first Copa title. With ten goals, they have scored twice as many as any other team. The only blot on their copybook has been star midfielder Arturo Vidal, who wrecked his red Ferrari while drink-driving last week. He got a four-month driving ban, but coach Jorge Sampaoli – another Argentine – stood by him and kept him in the team.
Defending champions Uruguay have not been the same without Luis Suarez, who is banned from the tournament for biting Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup. Suarez’s absence has placed the goalscoring burden on Edinson Cavani, who has been largely ineffective.
Brazil v Paraguay
(Saturday, 10:30pm BST)
Brazil are also without their star man – Barcelona forward Neymar, who was banned for the rest of the tournament after seeing red following a 1-0 defeat by Colombia. He kicked the ball at a Colombian player, appeared to try head-butting another and then accosted the referee, grabbing his arms and swearing at him. Brazil decided not to appeal the four-match ban.
The Brazilians defeated Venezuela 2-1 on Sunday and played better than they had with Neymar, with Robinho and Philippe Coutinho deployed in attack.
Brazil coach Dunga is braced for a tough test against Paraguay. “It will be like a final,” he warned.
Paraguay were the losing finalists four years ago against Uruguay and have improved under Argentine coach Ramon Diaz. “We are stronger than ever,” said striker Lucas Barrios.
Bolivia v Peru
(Friday, 12:30am BST)
The two big outsiders. But the winner will make the semi-finals against Chile or Uruguay in the weaker half of the draw. This bodes well for Chile, who have already beaten Bolivia 5-0. Peru have fared better than expected, losing 2-1 to Brazil, drawing 0-0 with Colombia and beating Venezuela 1-0.