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Last Updated: Monday, 2 July 2007, 06:32 GMT 07:32 UK
Tim Vickery column
Tim Vickery
By Tim Vickery
South American football reporter

The issue of identity has hung over the first few days of the Copa America - preserving a footballing identity, trying to recapture it, or changing it altogether.

Pablo Aimar
Argentina's Pablo Aimar starred against Venezuela

As they start a new cycle with recently appointed coaches, some of the teams at the Copa can be categorised in one of these three stages - and it helps explain why the opening days of the competition have been so fascinating.

Take the Colombia v Paraguay game last Thursday. Both teams have new coaches who intend to change the way their national teams approach the game.

The aim of Colombia's Jorge Luis Pinto was explained by John Viafara of Southampton.

"We're trying to be more direct," he said.

"We're leaving behind the idea of passing the ball around in our own half and are searching for a more European style of football."

So out they went to impose their game on Paraguay. Colombia were certainly direct - they went directly to their doom, picked off on the break all the way to a 5-0 defeat.

Paraguay had the extra man in midfield, and Edgar Barreto, their best passer, was able to find space to slip the ball behind the Colombian defence for Roque Santa Cruz to do the rest.

It was an even game for 46 minutes, but after Paraguay went two goals up it became a rout.

Despite such a comprehensive win, Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino was not entirely happy.

The big project of the Argentine coach is to get Paraguay playing higher up the field, putting pressure on the opposition.

But the Paraguayans seem by nature to be happy to play deep, defending their penalty area in a manner which is both calm and desperate.

"If the players are not convinced, then it's hard to change the style," said Martino after the game.

"Against Colombia we didn't play very much in the zone of the pitch that I intended.

"We spent much more time close to our area than theirs. For this, the 5-0 scoreline is deceptive."

The test for Martino's plans will come against the USA on Monday. The Americans will not offer the same opportunities for the counter-attack.

They will sit back and try to spring Eddie Johnson. If Martino is successful in getting his ideas across then Paraguay will go out to take the initiative - if not, there is a good chance of a stalemate.

While Colombia and Paraguay have been searching for new identities, Uruguay are attempting to recapture theirs.

Veteran coach Oscar Washington Tabarez took over for his second spell last year and straight away insisted that all Uruguay's sides, from youth level up, would play 4-3-3.

"It's a system that has been historically important in Uruguayan football and we shouldn't lose our characteristics," he said.

For over a year his side have played friendlies using the system, and won away from home in difficult locations such as Egypt, South Korea and Australia.

I want to win playing well, and end up proud of the way we did it

Argentina coach Alfio Basile

But in its first competitive test, it was a flop.

In the opening match of the Copa Uruguay were beaten 3-0 by Peru, another side making changes.

Instead of the intricate midfield play of old, Peru have gone for pace and power, charging forward on the moments of transition, when possession changes hands.

They had no problems slicing through Uruguay, and, fearing that his team were not sufficiently compact, Tabarez made changes for the Bolivia game that made his formation look suspiciously like a 4-4-2.

It appears that one defeat has been sufficient to shake the faith in an entire project.

Uruguay's performance against Bolivia was distinctly uninspired.

But at least they picked up three points. It will be interesting to see whether this restores their confidence to revert to an orthodox 4-3-3 for Tuesday's crunch game with Venezuela.

Then, there is Argentina, whose coach Alfio Basile is a guardian of his country's tradition of attractive, passing football.

"I want to win, like everyone else, " he said on the eve of the tournament. "But to me it matters how we do it. I want to win playing well, and end up proud of the way we did it."

Anyone who saw his side's 4-1 win over the USA will know that these are not mere words.

Indeed, it is this respect for Argentina's footballing identity that has made Basile's team the number one attraction in the Copa America.


Got a question about South American football for Tim Vickery? Email him at

How many teams are in the South American zone, why are the USA and Mexico playing in the Copa America and does the Copa America have qualifiers?
Hassan Babutunde, Lagos, Nigeria

There are only 10 nations in the South American Federation. Since 1993 two teams from outside the continent have been invited to take part in the Copa - it's always been Mexico, and usually another team from the CONCACAF region, though in 1999 it was Japan.

Two reasons for the invitations; firstly 12 is a better number than 10 for a tournament - it gives you 3 groups of 4. And also there are financial benefits - including Mexico and the US helps the flow of dollars!

Obviously with only 10 home countries there are no qualifiers for the Copa America. For this reason South America is perfectly justified in using its marathon format of World Cup qualification, where everyone plays everyone else home and away. Without it there would be huge gaps in between fixtures for the South American teams.

Who are the players to look out for in the World Youth Cup?
Paul Chamberlain, Ottawa, Canada.

From South America (which has won 6 of the last 7 titles, so don't be dismayed by the slow start):

Ever Banega - midfielder with wonderful passing skills Damian Escudero - dynamic left sided midfielder Sergio Aguero - little striker with a touch of Romario about him. Mauro Zarate - highly talented striker who'll be even better when he learns to calm down.

Cassio - big keeper who was all but unbeatable in the qualifying competition Renato Augusto - attacking midfielder with a bit of a right footed Rivaldo in him. Alexandre Pato - 17 year old striker who is a potential genius.

Arturo Vidal - powerful utility man who says he'll be the world's best centre back in a few years Alexis Sanchez - slight little striker with fantastic dribbling skills Matias Vidangossy - skilful twinkle toed playmaker or support striker.

Martin Cacares - centre back in the great Uruguayan tradition, hard but classy. Martin Cardaccio - box to box midfielder with good passing skills Edinson Cavani - big, strong, hard working striker who offers a threat off both feet and in the air. Luis Suarez - strong striker who is already a success in the Dutch league.

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