Diego Forlan: Time for Leo Messi’s Argentina in Copa America, but don’t rule out my Uruguay

In his weekly column, Diego Forlan gives his thoughts Lionel Messi's Argentina, his native Uruguay and everything else Copa America, 'one of the best competitions in football'.
Argentina's Lionel Messi shown at a team training session on Tuesday ahead of Thursday's start to the 2015 Copa America. Marcos Brindicci / Reuters / June 9, 2015
Argentina's Lionel Messi shown at a team training session on Tuesday ahead of Thursday's start to the 2015 Copa America. Marcos Brindicci / Reuters / June 9, 2015

The 2015 Copa America starts Thursday night in Chile with the hosts kicking off against Ecuador.

It is the first time I have not played in the competition since 2001 and I am happy to watch it, as a fan, after retiring from international football in March.

The tournament is a huge deal in South America, especially in Uruguay. Not only because we are the holders after winning in 2011, but because we have won the tournament a record 15 times.

I won it, my father won it, my grandfather won it – not a bad record for a country of three million people when we are up against the best teams in the world including Brazil and Argentina.

Those two are favourites this time, but when a friend texted me the other day asking for a prediction, I replied: “Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia and Chile.”

“You can’t just say all the best teams,” he replied. But I honestly believe that any one of those teams can win it.

I love the Copa America. It showcases all the classic rivalries of South America, all those neighbours, up against each other.

In the World Cup finals, you’re unlikely to meet a continental rival. In Copa America, you know they are just around the corner and that you will have to beat them to win the competition.

Beating Argentina on penalties in the 2011 competition was one of the greatest moments of my career. We were coming off reaching the World Cup semi-finals the previous year and, personally, I felt on top of my game.

Everyone had expected Argentina to win that quarter-final. I respect Argentina, and I played there, but just imagine what it is like beating the favourites in their home.

I scored the first penalty in the shootout in Santa Fe, Luis Suarez the second, Andres Scotti the third, Walter Gargano the fourth and Martin Caceres the fifth. For various reasons, none of us will be in Chile.

Suarez is one of the best players in the world so he will obviously be missed, but a much-changed Uruguay will have a lot of young players such as Diego Rolan, Carlos Sanchez and Jonathan Rodriguez flying the flag.

They are still very strong and are eighth in the Fifa rankings. And, despite the changes, the base of the team has been together a long time. I am confident that my friends can do well.

Nine players have received debuts since the World Cup finals in Brazil last year, including some who were runners-up in the 2013 Under 20 World Cup. We thrive on the challenge of people expecting us to fail, of knowing that nobody wants to play us.

We are proud of our record in the competition. Chile, the hosts, have not won Copa America in its 99-year history. This time they have Arturo Vidal, Claudio Bravo, Alexis Sanchez and Charles Aranguiz.

They press high, play fast and intensive, good attacking football. They have the home crowd behind them in the cold conditions they are used to, but that can bring pressure.

Argentina are the big favourites, but they have not won the competition since 1993. Look at their forwards: Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain and Carlos Tevez, who missed a penalty against us in 2011.

Gerardo Martino, their coach who was at Barcelona last season, is experienced too. That group of players have not won any titles with Argentina. It is about time they did.

I like Colombia, especially winger Juan Cuadrado. I know Chelsea have not used him much, which may have knocked his confidence, but he is a great player who loves going one on one with an opponent.

The tournament could be good for him and his fellow forward Radamel Falcao, who has had a disappointing season at Manchester United.

He did not play in the World Cup last year because of injury but he will be a threat for Colombia, who also have James Rodriguez and Carlos Bacca in superb form.

Their coach, Jose Pekerman, knows how to get the best from his team. They are in excellent shape after the World Cup finals last year.

I do not expect Brazil to be like the Brazil we know. They will be more defensive under Dunga, my old coach at Internacional in Brazil. He communicates well, he has played and managed at a very high level.

The other teams are also very strong; Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Paraguay – the standards are really high. Mexico are also in the competition as guests as are Jamaica, who will find it tough, just as every other team will in one of the best competitions in football.

sports@thenational.ae

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Published: June 11, 2015 04:00 AM

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