The Copa América 2015 has become the tournament of the underdogs. During the first games of the group stage we’ve had surprises from Bolivia, Venezuela, and Mexico’s B team – none of whom were favored to win.
Last Sunday, Venezuela opened the tournament with a win for the first time in history, by defeating heavy favorites and World Cup 2014 sensation Colombia. Bolivia defeated Ecuador in an exciting and dynamic game that ended in a 3-2 victory for El Verde; their first since 1997. Mexico’s B team on the other hand, who lost all of their matches at the last Copa América, began their 2nd tournament game by stunning the host and getting ahead on two occasions, eventually tying 3-3 in what was probably the best game of the Copa so far.
Why are these supposedly inferior teams playing so well?
It might be because none of these so-called underdogs have great “European” figures on their teams; the Latin American-style of improvisation and dribbling has made them flexible on the pitch, in contrast to the tactical and orderly game many players on the favored teams have gotten accustomed to in Europe, where the LatAm style is limited in training.
Colombia for example, played their game against Venezuela without the strong offense it displayed in the last World Cup, where it became a fan favorite. Most of its players did not play in Europe back then, and those that did were far from being stars, like James Rodriguez and Guillermo Cuadrado. In the game against Venezuela, only one Colombian player – Edwin Valencia, who plays in Brazil – does not play in Europe, and Colombia seemed unable to go off-script and abandon European tactics.
Venezuela, on the other hand, whose team is mainly composed of local league players, was fearless in their attack and were able to find the goal through striker Salomon Rondon. Underdog Bolivia, who had not scored in their last 3 Copa America games, is composed almost completely of local players, with the exception of Bolivian-Swede Martin Smedberg (Sweden) and striker Marcelo Martins (China).
Ecuador starting line-up was almost half Europe-based, and it look disastrous trying to maintain the ordered play that characterizes European style.
Mexico’s B team is composed of local players with the addition of Raul Jimenez, who played very little in his first season with Atletico Madrid, and Jesus Tecatito Corona, who is always fearless in his attack, even when playing with Dutch team Twente. Chile’s starting line-up on the other hand, was composed of 9 Europe-based players, with the exception of Valdivia and Aranguiz who play in Brazil.
Unfortunately, Latin American players that make the move to Europe often lose their spark. The underdog revelations of the tournament seem to confirm that not being so conscious of tactical discipline can sometimes be more than favorable.