Villar success highlights wider malaise
If, or when, this happens, regardless of their merits as players, the vote could highlight a deficiency in the football played at the tournament.
Villar captains a team who reached Sunday’s final against Uruguay without winning any of their five matches, even if they scored five goals in three group games.
Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino said in an interview with Reuters in Asuncion in April he felt his team were shaking off the shackles of a tradition of defensive football with strength in the air to achieve a new balance.
Martino hoped to see Paraguay take another step forward from their good World Cup last year and they were 3-1 up against Venezuela going into the 90th minute in their final group match only to end up drawing 3-3 and scraping through as the second of two best third-placed teams.
Having won penalty shootouts against Brazil and Venezuela to reach the final, they could lift the trophy by the same means if Villar and his defence continue with their heroics during 120 minutes and the players follow up with more perfect kicking from the spot.
Not because of this directly, the South American Football Confederation is considering an expansion of the tournament to include six guest teams instead of just two from the Concacaf region of North and Central America and the Caribbean.
This would make for a 16-team tournament with four groups from which the top two would qualify for the quarter-finals.
The tournament was there for the taking by a good attacking side, hosts Argentina, holders Brazil, Chile or Colombia, but all four went out in the quarter-finals.
Such a levelling out of the game in South America might point to a dip in form overall and this might be true of Argentina and Brazil at a stage in which they are building for the 2014 World Cup.
But all the teams have their sights on the World Cup in Brazil with four places up for grabs among nine teams – Brazil qualify automatically as hosts — and also a playoff berth for a fifth country against a side from Concacaf and are determined to make the most of the opportunity.
This serves as a warning to the traditional big teams of South America, in particular Argentina, that the two-year, 16-match qualifying series will be very tough and they cannot take it for granted they will slip seamlessly into a berth at the finals.
Argentina’s poor tournament despite having the world’s top player, Lionel Messi, has sparked a raging debate in the media since their elimination on penalties by Uruguay on Saturday over how the country lost their way.
Certainly, Argentina lost the last two finals against Brazil when they were widely regarded as the best team in the tournaments in Peru in 2004 and Venezuela in 2007, but their last major title goes back to the 1993 Copa America in Ecuador.
The debate has been given extra spice by the shock relegation last month of one of the country’s two biggest clubs, River Plate.
Blame has been put squarely on a loss of momentum in club and national youth schemes that delivered five Under-20 World Championship titles between 1995 and 2007.
PHOTO: Paraguay’s goalkeeper Justo Villar blocks the penalty by Venezuela’s Franklin Lucena during a shootout in the semi-final at the Copa America in Mendoza July 20, 2011. REUTERS/Jorge Adorno.