Chile vs. Ecuador
They may have struggled at times in their 2-0 opening win against Ecuador, but of all the pre-tournament favorites, it looks like Chile who are off to the best start. While it admittedly took a 67th minute penalty won and converted by Arturo Vidal to open the scoring, Chile were largely successful at containing a formidable Ecuador attack led by Enner Valencia. Ecuador however, came close on a number of occasions, particularly in the 82nd minute when Valencia rocketed a header off the crossbar that could have leveled the score and changed the game.
But two minutes later Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez played in Eduardo Vargas who slotted a shot past Ecuador keeper Alexander Dominguez from the center of the box to make it 2-0. It was by no means easy but Chile’s star men stepped up to the plate when it mattered and will look to continue their momentum against Mexico.
Argentina vs. Paraguay
At the end of the first half against Paraguay, it looked like smooth sailing for Argentina. Heavy favorites to win the tournament, Marcelo Bielsa’s men went into the break 2-nil up, courtesy of two mistakes from Club America winger Miguel Samudio: a bad backpass that Sergio Aguero latched onto and converted into a goal, and a trip on Angel Di Maria, which led to a penalty converted by Lionel Messi. Argentina were practically in cruise control.
But Paraguay had other ideas.
They struck back practically out of nowhere in the 60th minute through Nelson Valdez who made it 2-1 with 30 minutes to play. Then in the 90th minute, two substitutes combined for the equalizer when Lucas Barrios converted on a set piece delivery headed into his path by Paulo Da Silva.
Argentina remain firmly among the favorites. But reports of this Paraguay side’s demise appear to have been exaggerated. Against Argentina, they showed resilience, and the prevailing opinion of them as a spent force may need to be reevaluated. In truth, Paraguay could have won the match were it not for several near misses and Samudio forcing a couple of good saves from Argentina keeper Sergio Romero.
Colombia vs. Venezuela
But even more surprising than Argentina’s draw, was Colombia losing 1-0 to Venezuela the following day. James Rodriguez was notably quiet during 90 minutes, which saw the un-fancied Venezuelans taking it to the World Cup darlings. Radamel Falcao seems to have carried his poor form from Manchester United last season into the tournament and Juan Cuadrado failed to have an impact in his role of midfield creator. It was only after Salomon Rondon headed Venezuela into the lead on the hour mark that Jose Pekerman’s side even seemed to come into the game. But even then, the pre-tournament favorites struggled to create chances. With Brazil looming on the horizon, look for Pekerman to shuffle his lineup, starting by benching Falcao in favor of Jackson Martinez.
Brazil vs. Peru
But even mighty Brazil have come off the mark poorly in Chile this summer. Although the coach has been replaced and the squad refreshed, the Selecao look every bit the one-man show they were last summer at the World Cup. And while Neymar put in an impressive performance against Peru, his team still had to come from behind after a poor backpass from David Luiz and some woeful goalkeeping from Jefferson gifted Christian Cueva Peru’s opener just three minutes in.
But Peru’s lead didn’t last as Neymar converted a cross from his Barcelona teammate, Dani Alves for the equalizer just two minutes later. Neymar went on to set-up the eventual winner with a slide-rule pass to Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Douglas Costa, who after fluffing an earlier chance, made no mistake this time.
It’s one thing to rely on Neymar against a relatively low-watt team like Peru. But as we saw last summer, it can be a dangerous strategy. After only one match, the same questions we heard last summer regarding just how good this Brazil team really is are starting to reemerge.
(First Round Results: Chile 2-0 Ecuador, Mexico 0-0 Bolivia, Uruguay 1-0 Jamaica, Argentina 2-2 Paraguay, Colombia 0-a Venezuela, Brazil 2-1 Peru)