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Brazil streets ahead but rest of South America far behind Europe

Brazil streets ahead but rest of South America far behind Europe

By Andrew Downie

SAO PAULO, Brazil (Reuters) — Argentina’s long trophy drought, combined with sub-par organisation, is further evidence that Brazil’s dominance apart, the gulf between South American and European football is growing.

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Hosts Brazil wrapped up their ninth Copa America last Sunday with a solid 3-1 win over Peru at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro. On their way to the title they scored 13 goals — five of them against Peru in the group stages — and conceded just one

Brazil’s superiority and depth of talent was evident throughout with the main surprises being Uruguay’s early exit, Venezuela confirming they are no longer the region’s whipping boys and Peru’s advance to their first final since 1975

Argentina’s semi-final elimination by Brazil was less surprising given the off-the-pitch shenanigans that have plagued the side for years

The Argentines are on their fourth coach in five years with Lionel Scaloni, in his first senior coaching role, still deemed to be a temporary appointment almost a year after taking the post

Argentina have not won the Copa America since 1993 and they rarely looked like ending that poor run, with Scaloni chopping and changing lineups and their top players, notably Lionel Messi, seemingly incapable of reproducing their club form at international level. More broadly, the low attendances, controversies over refereeing and general lack of buzz about a tournament that coincided with both the Women’s World Cup and the Gold Cup in North America should be of concern

Remarkably, more people attended Mexico’s Gold Cup encounter with Haiti in Phoenix than were at Brazil’s home semi-final against old rivals Argentina

That match was a classic example of the state of South American football. Moments of individual brilliance by players were quickly forgotten amid bad-tempered clashes and avoidable refereeing controversies

FALLOUT FROM MESSI’S RED CARD Argentina were denied two penalty claims and were furious at officials for not even consulting the Video Assistant Referee (VAR), something they had been keen to take time over during other games

A highly dubious red card shown to Messi in the third-place playoff against Chile only deepened their sense of indignation

The fallout, with Messi accusing Conmebol of fixing the tournament for the hosts, Brazil coach Tite telling him to show more respect and Conmebol defending itself against Messi’s declaration that Argentina should boycott future competitions organised by what he called a “corrupt” body, again showed that no matter how many gifted players Latin America produces they are all too often overshadowed by the off-the-field circus

Conmebol’s decision to allow Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro to present the trophy to the winners added to the sense of misjudgement

All this less than a year after Conmebol, cowed by fan violence in Buenos Aires, transferred to Madrid the final of their blue riband event, the final of the Copa Libertadores. The poor crowds and general lack of excitement can be partially explained by exorbitant ticket prices

The falling standard of football is harder to explain but every bit as obvious. A South American team have not won the World Cup since 2002 — a record drought — and only one of the last eight finalists have come from the region that — until the new century — had won half of all World Cups

At club level, the demise is equally stark. Only one South American side have won the Club World Cup since 2007 and in two of the last three tournaments no South American side have even reached the final

The departure of young talents to Europe at an ever younger age is one reason and the questionable administration at Conmebol and national federations is another

Globalisation — Europe’s open economies welcome migrants from across the globe while South America is relatively closed — combined with a media spotlight based in the Old World, gives the Europeans an added advantage

There is more and more information about Europe,” said Peru coach Ricardo Gareca. “Our children and grandchildren, the kids, they know more about the European players than those in South America.”

UEFA’s new Nations League has only made it harder for the increasingly isolated South American sides to test themselves against the best Europe has to offer

In 2019, the 10 South American nations played 38 friendlies but only two were against European sides, according to a study in O Globo last month

“We always try to look for these match-ups,” Brazil coach Tite said. “The schedule sometimes makes it difficult.”