And we thought the U.S. women choked in penalties.
Entering this summer’s Copa America, Argentina and Brazil, the continent’s powerhouses. were the heavy, favorites. After all, between the two they have seven World Cup titles and there had only been four Copa America finals in the modern era (circa 1975) with neither of the two countries.
Even after mediocre group stage performances, where both Argentina and Brazil managed only a solitary win and neither won their group, both teams bowed out in the quarterfinal stage by losing in penalty kicks.
Not only that, but Brazil, moments after the U.S. women missed their first three penalties against Japan on Sunday, missed all four of their kicks en route to a catastrophic loss to Paraguay.
Now, with Peru, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Venezuela the only sides left, it marks the first time in memory where all four favorites lost their quarterfinal matchups. Though Peru, behind the talismanic Juan Vargas (Fioretina), have played above their pay grade all tournament long, nobody expected them to beat in-form Colombia. Uruguay, who play a distant third in most prestigious South American soccer countries, and are the only other country from the continent to win a World Cup, were still considered underdogs against a side boasting the considerable talents of Leo Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, Angel Di Maria, Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero, and the list goes on and on.
But the biggest surprise of all was the inability of Brazil to break down the Paraguay defense. Not only couldn’t they muster a single goal during the run of play, they all seemed content to blame the pitch for their atrocious penalties. Funny how whenever someone chokes, the first thing they do is blame anything and anyone but themselves.
So what can we take from this year’s turbulent and utterly unpredictable Copa America? At the very least, it is inspiring for the rest of the continent to see Brazil and Argentina go down so early. Perhaps the gap between the world’s elite nations and those chasing them is getting smaller. Perhaps this is the beginning of a new trend in South American soccer away from the traditional powers and towards the likes of Paraguay, Uruguay, and the ousted Chile (lost to Venezuela after throwing away a second half lead).
Either way, let’s enjoy this moment of equality while we can. After all, you can bet the rest of the continent is already celebrating.