Copa America 2021 – The Quarter-finals: Uruguay’s Mike Dean
BBC commentator Adam Ellis had seen this movie before. A card-happy referee, the more controversially the better, so as to “make himself the centre of proceedings” on-field-and-screen. “He’s obviously been watching Mike Dean videos,” Ellis noted, drier than a decade of droughts, but possibly correctly.
Uruguayan Mike Dean, Esteban Ostojich, soiled himself and wiped his arse with Friday’s fantastic Copa quarter-final. But Peru’s shoot-out victory meant he didn’t spoil the result. And the game was good enough to cover the smell. It may have lacked some of the pure technical quality of the Italy/Belguim Euros quarter which finished literally seconds earlier. But it lacked little else.
Paraguay took an 11th-minute lead when Gustavo Gomez bundled home the rebound after Peru keeper Pedro Gallese’s great save from Hector Martinez’s header. Gomez netted again ten minutes later. Other end, though, beating Italo-Peruvian striker Gianluca Lapadula to Andre Carrillo’s low cross. And Lapadula made it 2-1 on 39 minutes when he fired Yoshimar Yotun’s pass beyond yards-out-of-position Paraguay keeper Antony Silva. Then the fun began.
Paraguay were rightly convinced that Carrillo started the move with a basketball mini-dribble. Captain Gomez was booked for leading the furious protests. And 23 seconds before half-time, Gomez shook off Lapadula with a slap on the Italo-Peruvian’s right nipple. Lapadula went to grab his face before deciding that his chest was the better feigned-injury option, given where he’d really been hit.
Ellis had seen this movie before too. “Seems to be the classic ‘both looking as injured as possible to get the other one in trouble, with neither actually being injured’,” he noted, as Lapadula looked ready to cough up blood. The also-felled Gomez knew what was coming, and ignored denial to move straight to anger in his five stages of grief, as Ostojich brandished yellow and red cards.
Paraguay boss Eduardo Berizzo started the Copa as a visual prediction of Andy Burnham after another year as Mayor of Manchester. At half-time, he looked like Burnham after his second four-year term as Mancunian Mayor…only much angrier. And it wasn’t clear whether his equally angry team would re-appear for the second half.
Berizzo pointedly waited for Ostojich in front of the players tunnel, as the ref moved towards it. A stand-off ensued as Ostojich stopped abruptly by the edge of the pitch, hands on hips, while the top half of Berizzo’s masked face said “WTF?” Eventually, Berizzo headed for the tunnel to calm a still remonstrating, gesticulating Gomez, who wasn’t about to bargain or accept. However, when Ostojich moved again, the cameras cut away, as they do when someone decides that “we don’t want to see that sort of thing.” Which “we” ALWAYS do.
Wisely, Paraguay channeled their anger into their football and capped a whirlwind second-half start on 54 minutes when Junior Alonso netted a loose ball from a corner, played onside by the defender you should “always have on the post” in such situations. Peru eventually, deservedly, made it 3-2 on 80 minutes when Yotun’s 25-yarder was deflected past a wrong-footed Silva by sub Robert Rojas. But Ostojich wasn’t the edge of attention for long.
Five minutes later, he penalised Carrillo after Carrillo nicked the ball past Alberto Espinoza and accidentally stood on Espinoza’s foot. “To be fair, (the ref’s) got that one right,” Ellis said, incorrectly, unaware that Carrillo “rolling around, taking the sting out of the game” was actually distress at his impending second yellow card and suspension for the semi-final. Carrillo was led from the pitch, disorientated and tearful. And, five more minutes later, just-introduced Paraguay sub Gabriel Avalos side-footed home after some six-yard box pinball to take matters to penalties.
The only thing worse than Ostojich was the penalty shoot-out. Silva nearly put his back out leaping over Lapadula’s trundling spot-kick. And I felt duty-bound to tweet a warning to people to be careful if they were “out in the next few hours” as “there’s a couple of Paraguay penalties still in orbit.” Silva then brilliantly saved Christian Cuevo’s potentially winning penalty. But Gallese expertly stopped Espinoza’s kick, NOT taken with the foot Carrillo stood on (which would have been justice of sorts). And Miguel Trauco netted the seventh successful penalty of the shoot-out’s dozen.
On kit alone, I’m delighted Peru won. However, it will take more bonkers refereeing to give them a chance against Brazil in the semi-final. And “against Brazil” is not how bonkers refereeing works at this Copa. The Selecao were a man down against Chile after Gabriel Jesus’ 49th-minute dismissal. But had he not seen a card the colour of the mist which descended upon him as he volleyed Eugenio Mena’s chest into next Wednesday, the Chileans still able to walk might have walked off.
Brazil had huffed-and-puffed for 45 minutes and half-time sub Lucas Paqueta had netted a minute before Jesus’s assault, having shoved two Chileans out of the way, without obvious fear of sanction. Then, Neymar played the lone striker role with all his considerable know-how and talent as the ten men kept a too-passive Chile at bay. Indeed, I’ve never seen the role played better, as he held the ball, occupied defenders and got his shirt dirty (literally and metaphorically), while Richarlison…fell over. A lot. Even more than usual. No, really.
Chile had given Alexis Sanchez his 2021 Copa debut, relegating Stoke-born, former Nottingham Forest and current Blackburn Rovers’ Ben Brereton-Diaz (to give him his full name) to the bench. The Englishman was a half-time sub for the understandably match-unfit Sanchez. And he came closest to equalising when his fine header from a mercifully still intact Mena’s cross hit the bar, though had it been sneaking in, Brazilian keeper Ederson would probably have tipped it onto the bar.
Chile huffed-and-puffed to even lesser effect than Brazil had. And increasingly brow-furrowed coach Martin Lasarte had the gait of predecessor Marcelo Bielsa, to add to the Leeds United manager’s touchline dress sense he already possessed. Pity he didn’t have Bielsa’s tactical nous or ability to inspire Leeds’ pacy work rate, which Chile needed to, ahem, blow Brazil’s house down (sorry).
There’s been poor games at this Copa. But Colombia/Uruguay’s 0-0 was the first unremitting stinker. The first-half highlights reel was padded out by narrow offsides, defensive clearances and in-vain penalty appeals. And though the second half began with bursts of energy from both teams, that soon evaporated again. And the prospect of Colombia reaching the semi-finals with three goals in five games loomed large, long before the end.
Rangers fans must wonder why Alfredo Morelos has played only ten service-less minutes. And, rest assured, there’s at least one Celtic fan, watching Miguel Borja’s striking struggles, wondering the same thing. Inevitably, Borja struck the shoot-out’s decider, after Edison Cavani and Luis Suarez were the only two of Uruguay’s spot-kicking quartet to score. And…er…that was it.
Argentina are toasting nicely as the Copa’s business end approaches. Two late goals may have added a tin of gloss paint to the result. But 1-0 would have slightly flattered an occasionally genuinely threatening Ecuador.
Lionel Messi again starred, with two assists, and a fab free-kick to give things a starry denouement. But again he didn’t star quite as brightly as the media coverage implied. Case in point was on 23 minutes, when Ecuador’s Carlos Gruezo decided to lob the ball back to keeper Hernan Galindez from 50 yards, which was hazardous enough without Messi trademark-ambling back from an offside position. Messi, who “doesn’t miss from there,” hit the inside of the post. But he made rare, required amends to serve Rodrigo de Paul Argentina’s 40th-minute opener on the proverbial plate. And Galindez’s stellar double-save denied Nicolas Hernandez just before half-time.
Emer Valencia should have given Ecuador a 38th-minute lead, though, glancing a Diego Palacios left-wing cross across goal and inches beyond Angel Mena at the far post, with keeper Emiliano Martinez flapping at fresh air as the ball flew past him. And Valencia should have levelled matters in first-half stoppage-time, instead glance-heading the frustrated Mena’s right-wing cross wide from six yards, with Martinez this time a stood-still spectator.
Argentina very eventually sealed victory, thanks as much to a nightmare few minutes for Ecuador’s teen centre-back Piero Hincapie as any Messi magic. Seven minutes remained when Ecuador introduced Leonardo Campana from the bench, But despite this, they hadn’t completely given up hope…until Hincapie lost his composure, footing AND possession to Messi. And Messi wasted no time in squaring the suddenly loose ball to Lautaro Martinez, who found the roof of the net with it.
It could perhaps, maybe, possibly be argued that Argentine subs Angel de Maria and Sergio Aguero would likely be more impactful than Campana. And with two minutes left, and Aguero waiting on the touchline for his now all-too-regular brief cameo, de Maria proved his part of that theory, breaking clear before being tapped on the shoulder right on the edge of the box by Hincapie and miraculously losing all the balance and poise which got him there.
Video assistance was required, as Hincapie would see red if his foul was outside the box and deemed a denial of a clear goalscoring opportunity but would see yellow if it was a penalty, which is deemed a clear goalscoring opportunity. It took the guts of six minutes to determine that the foul was just outside the box, as Hincapie surely intended. And this was enough time for everyone to wonder how a free-kick there WASN’T a clear goalscoring opportunity for Messi. Hincapie saw red. Messi thumped home the free-kick. Aguero came on…and the final whistle blew. Well done VAR. Well done everyone.