Updates from the South American Youth Championship

Round 2 of the final group of the Neymar Tournament just finished.

Uruguay and Ecuador drew 1-1.  Argentina was down 1-0 against Chile, then was ahead 3-1, and then won 3-2.  Brazil beat Colombia 2-0, scoring one goal immediately and the other one just before the match ended.  Neymar scored neither goal.

After two rounds Brazil is the only team who has won both matches, and thus tops the standings.  Ecuador and Uruguay are joint second and Argentina is in fourth.  Chile and Colombia are tied on points (none), but Chile is way below on goal differential.

Right now it is looking more and more like Chile is going to be the goat of the group and miss both the Olympics and this year’s youth World Cup.  I could be mistaken, Chile’s first two matches were against Brazil and Argentina after all, but Chile underachievement would be part for the course.  Chile has a long history of underachieving.  No Chilean side has ever won the Copa America/South American Championship.  Chile made the semifinals of the World Cup once, back in 1962 when it was the host and it did so in very brutal style.  Around South America, Chile football has–at least had until Marcelo Bielsa took over–the reputation of having no real fixed identity.  It is one of the reasons that the Chilean people are so desperate to keep Bielsa around.  For the first time in memory, possibly ever, Chile are a joy to watch.  Hopefully it will last, but it probably won’t.

Brazil, on the other hand, seems almost assured of an Olympic berth and probably the title.  Brazil has dominated this competition, winning more titles than any other team.  And this year they have Neymar.  Next up is Argentina, for the most anticipated match of the tournament.  This match may well be the deciding match for both squads.  If Argentina wins, it’s game on for the remainder of the tournament.  If Brazil wins, then Argentina has a very long road ahead of it–at least in terms of an Olympic berth.

Brazil has a future star in Neymar, and Argentina has Juan Manuel Iturbe, who is already being burdened with the title of the new Messi (apparently the old Messi, at 24 is practically a senior citizen.)  Argentina tends to do that though–burden its starlets with expectations to which they cannot possibly measure.  Many a talented Argentinian could not shoulder the burden of being the next Maradona.  Messi was really the first person to do it.  In fact, because Messi is so great, there were rumors that Maradona deliberately sabotaged the Albiceleste at the World Cup so that Messi would not outshine him.

This is rubbish.  I am no fan of Maradona; he is many horrible things.  One thing he is not however, is Pele.  Maradona is far less concerned with his legacy than with Argentina’s continued success.*  He is first and foremost and Argentinian.  He loves the national team with all his heart, and it is this love (as well as his own ego and delusions) that prevented him from seeing what a horrible coach he was.  Even now he still wants the job back.  He’ll never get it (and we should be grateful), but the fact that he wants it stems in part from his deep love of nation and team.

Footnotes:

* If Messi were Brazilian, Pele were the coach, and their team was dumped out of the tournament in embarrassing fashion, then yes, we might suspect that there was some sabotage going on.  Fortunately Pele guards his legacy far too jealously to ever coach.

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