Vinotinto look dangerous
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Every tournament needs a dark horse, and there’s every chance that well-worn baton could be passed on when Venezuela and Peru do battle at the Arena do Grêmio on Saturday.
Peru were neutrals’ favourites at Russia 2018, and not just because their presence at a World Cup was an enjoyable novelty after a 36-year absence. Cheered on by what felt like a small army of travelling fans, Ricardo Gareca’s side played daring, positive football, and were desperately unlucky to be eliminated after two games in Group C.
Gareca’s decision to stay on as manager was a major boost, and the return of Paolo Guerrero from a long-term ban gives them more thrust in attack: the striker has 11 Copa América goals to his name already. But results have not been overly impressive (three wins in 10) and it remains to be seen whether La Blanquirroja are ready to go to the next level.
Expectations are much lower for Venezuela, who have only ever made the semi-finals of this competition once. But there appears to be something stirring on Caribbean coast, with Rafael Dudamel overseeing some impressive results since taking charge in April 2016.
The former goalkeeper has credit in the bank after guiding Venezuela’s U20 side to a World Cup final, and favours a direct approach, with Salomón Rondón the perfect focal point in attack. That paid dividends in commanding wins over Argentina and the USA, and could cause problems for Peru, who are not the most physically imposing.
La Vinotinto are rated as [3.3] shots here, and we’re happy to take a chance on them starting with a bang.
Colombia can make life tough for Messi and co
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The good news for Argentina is that things couldn’t really get much worse after the ignominy of their 2018 World Cup campaign, and sure enough, there have been some signs of progress in the year since. Sweaty small-town DJ Jorge Sampaoli bit the bullet (obviously), and his replacement, former West Ham defender Lionel Scaloni, has been busy cleaning out more dead wood: Javier Mascherano, Lucas Biglia, Enzo Pérez and Gonzalo Higuaín have all left the scene.
Lionel Messi remains, and there are signs that a new generation is coming through, with Giovani Lo Celso, Juan Foyth and Lautaro Martínez all expected to play a big part this summer. Throw in Sergio Agüero and an in-form Ángel Di María, and on paper, the ingredients are there for a vastly improved showing.
But unfortunately for Argentina, football isn’t played on paper, and a few worries linger. They still have no obvious plan for servicing Messi, the defence looks short on quality, and there’s a general lack of depth best underlined by the presence of River Plate pair Matías Suárez and Milton Casco (62 years and five caps between them) in the squad. Then there is the uncertainty surrounding Scaloni, who is still only on an interim contract. Will his authority hold if things go awry?
Colombia will hope to be the ones posing that question in Salvador, but remain something of an unknown quantity themselves. That their squad is chock-full of quality is undeniable, but the departure of José Pekerman has left them scrabbling for stability; new manager Carlos Queiroz has plenty of international experience, but none of it in South America, so could take time to find his bearings.
There were positive signs in the warm-up win over Peru last week (3-0), and we like their chances of going toe-to-toe with an Argentina side that has impressed only in small doses, even in friendlies (the 5-1 win over Nicaragua was… well, against Nicaragua). Colombia have a solid defence, proven performers in attack, and look good value to avoid defeat.
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