Qatar no pushovers in Rio
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Sunday’s early game in the Copa América doesn’t exactly scream ‘classic for the ages’, but there will at least be a dose of novelty value to proceedings, with special guests Qatar making their tournament bow. And if your first thought there was, ‘Wait a moment; they’re not from South America,’ then… well, yes. Just don’t overthink it too much and you’ll be fine.
This is a chance for the Maroons to test themselves against top-rate opposition before hosting the World Cup in 2022. They proved their quality by winning the Asian Cup earlier in the year, and while they’re unlikely to go deep in this competition, they will fancy their chances of staging an upset if they can acclimatise to conditions. The question is whether they can hit the ground running in what should – in theory – be their easiest group game.
Like so many other teams in the Copa, Paraguay are getting to grips with a new manager. In fairness, the state of flux isn’t really their fault: they moved swiftly to appoint Juan Carlos Osorio after his impressive World Cup with Mexico, only to have him resign a few months later due to family issues.
The new man in charge, Eduardo Berizzo, has an exciting CV (he was Marcelo Bielsa’s assistant with Chile, and had some good moment in La Liga with Celta Vigo), but it’s not clear whether he’s had the time – or has the players – to implement his ideas. Osorio’s preference for training camps over friendlies means Paraguay have only played five times in the last 12 months, so fluency could be an issue, too.
We are tempted to back Qatar to spring an upset at [6.2], but prefer the safer option of backing both teams to score. Paraguay have some good defenders (watch out for the goal-happy Gustavo Gómez), but Qatar have scored 17 times in their last seven outings – 10 of them through the sparky Almoez Ali – and won’t be shy at the Maracanã.
Celeste should start with a win
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Uruguay will fully expect to win Group C and look well placed to get off to a winning start against Ecuador at the Mineirão.
La Celeste tick plenty of boxes as title candidates: their defence is rock-solid, they have a manager who knows his players inside out, and they have strikers who can settle a match in an instant. Luis Suárez seems to be approaching full fitness after a knee operation, and a group of promising young midfielders will expect to build on their World Cup showings with another year of experience under their belts.
It is a compelling formula, and not for nothing did we tip Uruguay outright in our tournament preview. It should also be far too much for Ecuador, who are treating the Copa América more as a training exercise than a shot at glory; coach Hernán Dario Gómez has admitted that the upcoming World Cup qualifiers are his priority, and experimentation has been the name of the game in recent months.
That doesn’t augur well, and once you throw in public annoyance at Gómez’s appointment, a mediocre squad and whispers of changing-room disharmony, the ingredients are there for a car crash summer. That is represented in the match odds for their opening game: Ecuador are [5.9] shots.
Uruguay have more quality, more drive and far more tournament acumen, and we’re more than happy to side with them at odds of [1.8].
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