Ninth edition of the Women’s Copa America, currently ongoing and hosted by Colombia, is the biggest edition of the competition to date, its prestige marked by a visit last week from FIFA President Gianni Infantino. And with the competition now scheduled to be held every two years, instead of four, there is hope that the standards will continue to rise.
But one of the problems of the women’s game in South America was evident right from the group stage: Brazil still simply on a different level from the others. Brazil has won seven of the previous eight editions of Copa América Femenina. The only time it disappeared was in 2006, when Argentina won at home.
After the tight defensiveness that Argentina showed in the last World Cup, can they corner Brazil this time? They may meet again in the final, but they certainly cannot live with Brazil in the group stage. The teams met in the opening round, and Brazil barely broke a sweat to win 4-0.
Then it was the same for Brazil – three more convincing wins, conceding no goals and the opponent unable to get their hands on them. Brazil finished the group stage with 17 goals and none.
Of course, on the one hand, this is great news for Brazil as they prepare a team for World Cup 2023 in Australia and New Zealand next year, followed by the Paris Olympics in 2024. For the first time in years, they don’t have any of their famous trio – midfielder Formiga, who is retired; striker Cristaine, who has been left out of the squad; and legendary player Marta, who was injured.
With investments coming late in the domestic game, a new generation is getting a chance to make a name for itself, and this Copa is, at least for now, a great morale-booster. . But is it an appropriate test for serious stuff? It should be recalled that just before the tournament, Brazil lost in warm-up friendly matches against Denmark and Sweden. The Brazilian has not faced any similar kind of pressure in the Copa – and this is not likely to change in the semi-finals.
Before Tuesday’s semi-final, Brazil was rated as the strongest in the match against Paraguay, perhaps the biggest shock of this year’s tournament. Four South American teams have never participated in the World Cup or the Olympics, and Paraguay is one of them. That may now be changing. Paraguay surprisingly finished their group in second place, ahead of the more highly rated and experienced Chile – their match was a dramatic encounter which Paraguay won 3-2 after got two goals for most of the game.
Paraguay has now been guaranteed a place in the World Cup. The top three will automatically qualify, with the fourth and fifth teams advancing to the continental knockout round, and Paraguay likely to finish no lower than fourth. A victory over Brazil is very unlikely for Paraguay. Then there’s a good chance that Paraguay’s big game will be a third-place playoff on Friday. Rarely are many players in the playoffs for third place.
But the biggest, most competitive game to date – perhaps the biggest of the entire tournament – was Monday’s opening semi-final between Argentina and Colombia.
If Argentina ever used home advantage to win the championship, Colombia hopes the same can apply to them. Hosts Colombia have won all of their games in the group stage – if not as obvious as Brazil, there’s usually something to fall back on.
Women’s soccer has thrived in Colombia, where perhaps cultural proximity to the United States can be a positive factor. They even won the right to the World Cup stage next year, only to lose to a joint team from Australia and New Zealand. And Colombia must record one of the greatest moments in the history of South American women’s football, which was a 2-0 victory over France in the 2015 World Cup – one of only two victories by the continent’s teams. not Brazil.
Colombia failed to make it to the final World Cup and had two chances to progress without going through the playoffs, either reaching the semi-finals or finishing first in the third place match. But of course, what they want to do most is shine in this tournament in front of their own fans.
Better yet, their opponent is Argentina. The football rivalry between Argentina and Colombia is one of South America’s most exciting matches. When Colombia launched a professional league shortly after the Second World War, it was the Argentine players – like the great Alfredo Di Stefano – who did the most to get it up and running. So in 1993, Colombia inflicted its first home defeat to Argentina in a World Cup qualifier – with a bold 5-0 scoreline – which some considered a dangerous case.
The women’s match doesn’t share the same history but, even so, the Argentina team carries with it a distinct sense of pride. They defended resiliently in the last World Cup, being knocked out of the tournament for the first time, and in this tournament they have recovered well from a heavy, potentially demoralizing defeat to Brazil. Colombia against Argentina, then, has a lot of promise.
Also keeping the promise: Sunday’s decider for fifth place, where the winner will advance to the World Cup playoffs. This is between Chile and Venezuela, the two sides are third in their table. For Chile, it is something of a disappointment – some consider them the second-best team on the continent, a position they cannot justify. Venezuela also has reason to regret – yes, they are one of the teams that have never qualified, but they have progressed brilliantly and won their first two matches.
Then came the moment of truth for Venezuela, which included a crushing defeat to Brazil. It made them need to beat Argentina to get to the semi-finals. They tried very hard, but could not score in the second match and lost 1-0.
Venezuela surprised by beating Chile in a warm-up friendly. But can they do it now, when it really matters?