With just a few days to go until the 2015 Copa America kicks off in Chile, we will be looking at all three groups as 12 teams do battle on the west coast of South America to be crowned Champions of CONMEBOL.
Will defending champs Uruguay defend their trophy, or can Argentina, Brazil or Colombia wrestle the crown away from Luis Suarez and Co.?
Next up, here’s a look at Group C, where the nation of Brazil looks to put back together the pieces of a broken national team when they face off against Colombia, Peru and Venezuela.
Remember the last two times the entire world watched the Selecao walk off the field? They’d just been beaten 7-1 (7-1) and 3-0 by Germany and the Netherlands, respectively, in back to back games. Not only was the national team embarrassed, but so was the nation itself. Fast forward 11 months, and Luiz Felipe Scolari is no longer in charge, as Dunga is back for his second stint as national team boss. The manager is different this summer, just as the players are, for the most part. Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho is set to make his major tournament debut, while fellow youngsters Felipe Anderson (22, Lazio), Roberto Firmino (23, Hoffenheim), Fred (22, Shakhtar Donetsk), Casemiro (23, Porto) and Douglas Costa (24, Shakhtar Donetsk) have been brought in to replace the likes of Oscar, Ramires, Paulinho and Luiz Gustavo.
Best Copa America finish: Champions – 1919, 1922, 1949, 1989, 1997, 1999, 2004, 2007 Manager: Dunga Star man: Neymar — The 23-year-old has been named Brazil captain for the summer, and it’s in no way a surprise as he’s simultaneously the side’s most reliable player (43 goals in 62 caps at the age of 23) and ever-present mainstay (of Robinho’s 96 caps, 16 have been won since the 2010 World Cup). If you thought the pressure was on Neymar last summer, just wait until you see the team he’ll be expected to carry this time around.
No side won over more neutral fans during last summer’s World Cup than did Colombia. Was it the immediately recognizable yellow jerseys? The free-flowing, attacking soccer? The outrageous fan support? The wondergoals and breakout nature of James Rodriguez’s tournament? In truth, it was probably all of the above. This summer, Los Cafeteros head into major international competition not as a dark horse, but as something of a favorite to win Copa America. With much of the same squad as last year, Colombia should once again be one of the most entertaining teams to watch, with two notable additions up front: Radamel Falcao and Carlos Bacca. Falcao’s struggles while on loan at Manchester United were well-documented, but Bacca bagged 28 goals for Sevilla en route to a fifth-place finish and a second Europa League title in a row.
Best Copa America finish: Champions – 2001 Manager: Jose Pekerman Star man: James Rodriguez — Like Neymar, Rodriguez is still only 23. Only this time around, it won’t be his first crack at a major tournament. Throw in the last year spent competing for a place day in and day out at Real Madrid, and Rodriguez might yet top last summer’s stunning performances, if we’re all lucky. After finishing third in 2011, it’ll be tough for Peru to improve upon their most recent Copa America outing, and being drawn into a group with Colombia and Brazil never does anyone any favors, but it’d be a pretty big shock if La Blanquirroja didn’t qualify for the knockout stage.
One of the most veteran-laden sides of this year’s non-favorites, with Juan Manuel Vargas, Jefferson Farfan, Claudio Pizarro, Carlos Zambrano, Luis Advincula, Christian Ramos and Yoshimar Youtin all possessing either Copa America or World Cup qualifying experience. Being drawn into a group with Brazil and Colombia never does anyone any favors, but this is a Peru team with plenty of talent and know-how in major tournaments to get out of the group stage. Improving upon their third-place finish in 2011, though? That’ll be a tough ask.
Best Copa America finish: Champions – 1939, 1975 Manager: Ricardo Gareca Star man: Paolo Guerrero — If Peru are to upset the Group C apple cart, it’ll almost certainly be thanks to the goalscoring of Guerrero. The 31-year-old is enjoying the most fruitful patch of his club career these days, at Corinthians, and pushing the likes of Farfan and Pizarro out of the side.
The pace at which the Venezuelan national team has improved and closed the gap between themselves and the continent’s middling sides is pretty remarkable. 11 of the 23 players on Venezuela’s Copa America roster currently play their club soccer in Europe, which is two more than their competition for a third-place finish, Peru. The two sides faced one another in a friendly back in March, with La Vinotinto prevailing 1-0 victors. Home-and-away victories over Honduras in February (3-2 and 2-1) see Venezuela enter the 2015 Copa America with lots of confidence and good form with which to back it up.
Best Copa America finish: 4th place – 2011 Manager: Noel Sanvicente Star man: Salomon Rondon — The 25-year-old bagged 20 goals in his first full season at Zenit St. Petersburg, so he comes into this summer’s tournament full of confidence and the taste for goal fresh in his mind.
June 14: Colombia vs. Venezuela – Estadio El Teniente, Rancagua
June 14: Brazil vs. Peru – Estadio Municipal German Becker, Temuco
June 17: Brazil vs. Colombia – Estadio Monumental David Arellano, Santiago
June 18: Peru vs. Venezuela – Estadio Elias Figueroa, Valparaiso
June 21: Colombia vs. Peru – Estadio Municipal German Becker, Temuco
June 21: Brazil vs. Venezuela – Estadio Monumental David Arellano, Santiago
1st – Colombia
2nd – Brazil
3rd – Peru
4th – Venezuela
It took more than three years, but it’s finally happened: Bayern Munich have lost back-to-back Bundesliga games for the first time since March 2011. Of course, the German giants have already wrapped up the title and are focused on winning the Champions League once more, but the 3-0 victory was still quite a coop for Dortmund.
Little changed in the bottom half of the table, with Hamburg, Nurnberg and Braunschweig still occupying the last three slots, and Stuttgart sitting just above.
Schalke 2-0 Eintracht Frankfurt
Schalke are looking more and more certain of an automatic Champions League place next season, holding an eight point lead in third place with six games left to go. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar failed to score again, missing a penalty in the 66th minute, but both Max Meyer and Jefferson Farfán stepped up, the latter grabbing a late goal after coming on to replace Julian Draxler in the 86th minute.
Borussia Mönchengladbach 1-1 Stuttgart
Gladbach fought back to claim a draw, keeping the Foals within a point of fourth place and what’s certain to be a hard-earned Champions League spot. Daniel Didavi opened the scoring with a goal in the 12th minute, and it looked as though Stuttgart were set to hold on for a win. But Juan Arango got on the end of a cross from Max Kruse to equalize in the 89th minute. That leaves Stuttgart in the thick of the relegation battle, one point clear of the danger spots.
Freiburg 2-0 Braunschweig
Last week’s surprise 3-0 victory over rivals Hannover is now but a distant memory, with bottom-side Braunschweig losing once more and remaining three points clear of safety. The visitors even graciously gifted Freiburg the opener, with Damir Vrančić putting the ball into the back of his own net, and Julian Schuster added a second shortly after the restart. With just one loss in their last six, Freiburg are now looking like they just might stay up.
Hannover 2-1 Hamburg
After beating Leverkusen last weekend, Hamburg are once again back in the danger zone. Hannover’s Lars Stindl gave the hosts the lead before ten minutes were up, but Hakan Calhanoglu found an equalizer just after the second half began. It looked as though Hamburg might manage a point, but a tap-in from Didier Ya Konan secured the win for Hannover.
Mainz 3-0 Werder Bremen
It was all too easy for Mainz, who lost to Frankfurt last weekend, to overcome Werder this week. Another own goal, from Nils Petersen, opened the scoring, with Christoph Moritz and Yunus Malli adding two more before the clock had reached forty minutes. The result keeps Mainz, currently seventh, in the hunt for a Europa League spot, but they’ll be four points out if Leverkusen beat Hertha on Sunday.
Wolfsburg 4-1 Nurnberg
Their emphatic victory over Nurnberg lifted Wolfsburg into fourth, although they’ll remain wary of Gladbach and Leverkusen sneaking in – particularly with a potentially tiring Cup game against Dortmund midweek. Markus Feulner opened the scoring for the visitors, but goals from Ivica Olić and Ivan Perišić put Wolfsburg up 2-1 at the break. Junior Malanda put in the hosts’ third and Perišić grabbed a second to make it 4-1. Nurnberg remain second from bottom, having lost three in a row and with Leverkusen, then Mainz up next.
Bayern Munich 0-3 Borussia Dortmund
A surprise win at the Allianz Arena keeps Dortmund in second, three points above Schalke. Marco Reus proved instrumental in the victory, setting up Henrikh Mkhitaryan for the first goal and scoring the second himself. Jonas Hofmann got the third, before the hour mark. The match ended with Bayern’s Rafinha being shown a straight red for fighting. Oh, and if you’re worried about Manuel Neuer being subbed off at halftime, fret not – it was just a precautionary move to keep the goalkeeper healthy.
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Hertha Berlin
The hosts have a chance to get themselves back into the Champions League spots, but you have to wonder – do they really want to reach such dizzying heights? In the twelve games played since the winter break, Leverkusen – who were second in January – have won just three times. Hertha, too, have fallen in the second half. They’ve won just twice and slid into tenth, but their excellent start to the season means they’ll spend another year in the top division.
Hoffenheim vs. Augsburg
The week finishes with a mid-table clash, so you might be tempted to tune it out. But Hoffeheim absolutely love high-scoring thrillers, routinely either netting four or allowing four. They have 64 goals scored, as many as Dortmund, but 63 conceded, which is the most in the Bundesliga. How can you not want to watch?
Bundesliga roundup: Bayern Munich extend league lead with Bayer and Dortmund dropping points
Tough day in the Rhineland, as Borussia Dortmund had to battle back from two-down, and Borussia Monchengladbach could only muster a scoreless draw at ninth-placed Mainz 05.
In addition, second-place Bayer Leverkusen majorly disappointed at home against Eintracht Frankfurt, losing 1-0 and allowing Munich to extend their lead at the top of the Bundesliga table.
Everything else held true to league position, as Bayern Munich, Wolfsburg, and Schalke all won.
Bayern Munich 3-1 Hamburg
The league leaders increased their gap at the top to seven points, showing no ill effects from their 3-2 loss to Manchester City midweek.
It took most of the first half to get going, but after it was over Mario Mandzukic, Mario Gotze and Xherdan Shaqiri had all bagged goals. The Bavarians host Bayer Leverkusen next weekend with a chance to make the gap even larger.
Hoffenheim 2-2 Borussia Dortmund
Two goals from the hosts in the first half forced Dortmund to battle from behind, finally pegging back level via Lukasz Piszczek in the 67th minute.
It was all Dortmund could muster though, as Piszczek, Robert Lewandowski, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan all wasted chances to clinch the full bounty, and Dortmund fell 12 points off the leaders Bayern Munich.
Bayer Leverkusen 0-1 Eintracht Frankfurt
The first home Bundesliga defeat since March leaves Bayer unable to keep pace with Bayern Munich at the top, as a Marco Russ header downed the hosts.
It could have been more too, had Eintracht taken advantage of their dominant first half, but goalkeeper Kevin Trapp made some quality saves to doom Bayer.
Mainz 0-0 Borussia Monchengladbach
The visitors were clearly on top but couldn’t get the spoils despite moving their unbeaten run to seven matches.
Mainz’s Shinji Okazaki wasted a counter opportunity, as did Monchengladbach’s Max Kruse and the point moves the visitors level with Borussia Dortmund with 32 points.
Hannover 3-3 Nurnberg
Nurnberg blew a three-goal lead, but the comeback was marred by Hannover’s second, which came on a missed offsides on Mame Diouf who grabbed the last two scores in the 87th and 90th minutes.
The comeback is bitterly disappointing for the visitors, who are still searching for their first win of the season, and three points would have seen them out of the relegation zone.
Schalke 2-0 Freiburg
It took an own-goal just before the break to start the scorebooks, but Schalke built on that with a 67th minute penalty by Jefferson Farfan. American Jermaine Jones was bright along the right flank.
The victory also marked the substitute return by Kyriakos Papadopoulos, who made his first Bundesliga appearance in over a year on his way back from a torn ACL.
Augsburg 4-1 BTSV
Andre Hahn bagged a double within three minutes as Augsburg jumped Mainz in the table and moved to 8th place. BTSV remains in 20th with just eight points on the year.
Hertha BSC 3-2 Werder Bremen
On Friday Werder Bremen were looking to bounce back from a 7-0 shellacking at the hands of Bayern Munich, but couldn’t maintain an early lead.
Adrian Ramos led the comeback for Hertha with a first-half double and Ronny picked up the winner as they maintained their spot in seventh place.
Offshore Drilling, Champions League: at Schalke 2, Arsenal 2
Meeting for the second time in two weeks, Schalke again proved superior to Arsenal, even if Tuesday’s final score didn’t reflect their superiority. A first half error from midfielder Roman Neustädter (heading a long pass from Per Mertesacker back and beyond his defense) began a 10-minute dip that left Schalke down two after 26 minutes. The Germans eventually fought back through Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Jefferson Farfán, salvaging a draw that keeps them on top of UEFA Champions League’s Group B.
Man of the Match: Paired with Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta has had to rekindle his defensive midfielder past to provide some deterrent at the base of Arsenal’s midfield. Today, that deterrent was often pushed into the back, Arteta sliding into the left side of the Gunners’ defense to cover the space vacated by Thomas Vermaelen (as the Gunners’ makeshift left back went wide). The positioning paid off in the second half when Arteta was able to fall back and clear a ball off Arsenal’s line with his left shoulder.
In the other facet of his game, Arteta was his normal self, leading the team with 52 completed passes at an 82 percent rate. His best ball came in the build up to Arsenal’s second goal when he split Schalke’s defense with a 15-yard pass for Wilshere, who played the ball out before Lukas Podolski found Olivier Giroud to make it 2-0.
Threesome of knowledge: What we learned
Schalke’s midfield variety is enviable.
There are better midfields in the world, but few provide the variety – the balance – of Schalke’s. Jermaine Jones provides a ranging, physical presence. The acquisition Neustädter has added some needed savvy and nuance. Barcelona loanee Ibrahim Afellay provides a wide threat with the intricacy to contribute through the middle, while right win Jefferson Farfán is an imposing matchup for any opponent (as evidenced by Arsène Wenger’s decision to start Vermaelen ahead of Andre dos Santos at left back).
Lewis Holtby’s improvement has helped bring the group together. The 22-year-old occupies the playmaker’s role in Huub Stevens’ 4-2-3-1, leading the team to two goals per game in Germany. On Tuesday, his deft touch to knockout a ball for Klass-Jan Huntelaar allowed his striker to pull Schalke within one just before halftime.
Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud are finally starting to contribute.
Podolski may had have his best day as a Gunner, putting in a strong defensive effort and providing good service from the left. While the German international’s provided mixed results over his first few months in London, Tuesday gave of a glimpse of what Arsène Wenger hoped he was getting when he brought 27-year-old in from Kohn this summer.
Another of the Gunners’ big summer buys, Olivier Giroud, had a more mixed day, yet he still provided fans a reason for hope. His diving header in the 26th minute was as assertive a play as we’ve seen from the France international since he arrived from Montpellier.
Arsenal needs ball winners.
None of Wilshere, Arteta, or Santi Cazorla are ball-winners, yet that’s the midfield Arsenal’s relying on while Abou Diaby’s out. If you want to know why Schalke was able to hold the ball for 57 percent of the game, consider the inadequate ball-winning abilities of that trio.
Arsenal’s able to get by with that threesome against most of the Premier League or against Olympiakos and Montpellier, the other teams in their Champions League group. Against Schalke – a very good but far from elite European team – it won’t work.
Packaged for takeaway:
Schalke lost both of their right backs during Tuesday’s game. Starter Atsuto Uchida had to leave half-way through the first, with replacement Marco Hoger getting hurt in the second half. Höwedes finished the game at right back after Kyriakos Papadopoulos came on.
Theo Walcott completed 14 passes. Arsenal goalkeeper Vito Mannone completed 15.
Arsenal’s substitutes tell you what they think of their point in Germany: Francois Coquelin and Andres dos Santos came on for Santi Cazorla and Podolski. Given Schalke close their group stage with Olympiakos and Montpellier, Wenger was effectively conceding the group to his hosts. We’ll see if Schalke gives it back.