The Copa America looks set to light up the world of football as it heads into the knock-out phase. But the big guns of South American and world football have only just woken from an early tournament slumber. Argentina and Brazil were both looking rather disorientated early and were almost eliminated, but turned their fortunes around with impressive displays in their last group matches - 3 nil and 4-2 victories respectively. Chile are the dark horse so far after claiming two victories and a draw with Uruguay. Arguably the third favourite of the tournament, Uruguay has also struggled to find its feet. The trio of strikers Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani did not seem to work and once Cavani was relegated to the bench Uruguay got a victory against the fringe Mexican squad.
Probably the more fascinating story is that of Venezuela. No one would have guessed the lesser known footballing nation would go through to face Chile in the quarter finals. It is a great achievement for the country, but they will face an uphill battle when they take on Chile. Colombia have also shown their qualities, making it through their group undefeated. They have some excellent individuals in Porto duo Falcao and Freddy Guarin, who are a real handful for their opposition. Colombia will face Peru, whom are lucky to scrape through as the second best third place team in the competition (since there are only 12 teams that contest the Copa America, with two invitational spots, the 12 nations are divided into 3 pools with two advancing from each pool automatically and the two best third place teams, based on points, go through to make it into 8 teams that contest the knock-out stage). Paraguay are the other team to make up the final eight, after a stuttering performance in the group stage. They were however unlucky not to beat Brazil in the group stage, after a late equaliser from Fred. Brazil will meet Paraguay again on Sunday evening local time (Monday morning Australian time, but not on SBS because of the women's world cup final) in what should be a cracker of a match.
But the biggest match will no doubt be when neighbours Uruguay take on Argentina. The Argentines will have a slight advantage as they are the hosts, but it isn't too big a journey for Uruguayan fans to cross the border and take over Santa Fe. There are so many players and battles to run the rule over. It promises to be a highlight of the tournament no matter what happens. With a great atmosphere coming from the passionate fans as well, I can assure you there will be drama both on and off the pitch. The key men to this encounter? Lionel Messi for Argentina and Diego Forlan for Uruguay. These two have yet to score in the tournament so far, which is what they do for a living at club level. Both players have, however looked to come deeper into the centre of the park and pull the strings as the number 10's on their jersey's suggest. This will be the match I think where the saying, "cometh the man, cometh the hour" will apply. Whichever team can get their rhythm and passing game up and running the earliest will win. Argentina is my tip, they look like they are starting to gel and Messi seems to have found his home in behind a striker.
In the earlier match on Sunday, I think that Colombia will advance at the expense of Peru. The understrength Peruvians will no doubt take it to the Colombians, but with the excellence of Falcao on their side Colombia will have to much fire power for Peru.
Brazil and Paraguay will provide yet another heavy-weight battle in the quarters. Mano Menezes, Brazilian manager, has chopped and changed his squad every game seeking the right combinations. The Brazilians look most vulnerable at the back and this could promise to be another goal-fest. Paraguay are very good at absorbing pressure and playing on the counter, so this game could play right into their hands. But its hard to go past Brazil, in what should be an end-to-end contest.
Venezuela will have it tough against Chile and I don't see anything but a Chilean victory. Alexis Sanchez looks to be hitting his straps which should be a danger sign not only to Venezuela, but to the whole tournament. Chile has quality players all over the pitch and their class will shine through in this match.
There you have it folks a quick guide to the Copa America, a tournament that brings together some of the most talented, highly paid individual footballers in the world (individual being the key word). There are going to be some great games ahead, I'd advise watching the Argentina V Uruguay game as its going to be brilliant, check your local guides. Brazil V Paraguay should be another belter with plenty of action both on and off the pitch (just look at some of the pictures floating around on the internet of Paraguayan supporters!). Welcome to the longest running international tournament, the Copa America.