Uruguay crashed out of the Copa America after seeing three goals disallowed for offside before being beaten on penalties, with Luis Suarez’s spot-kick saved, as Peru booked a place in the semi-finals.
Having topped Group C ahead of holders Chile, Oscar Tabarez’s men had been expected to offer too much attacking quality for Los Incas, who progressed as one of the third-placed sides despite a 5-0 thrashing by hosts Brazil in their last match.
Uruguay, though, were left frustrated by marginal offside decisions in Salvador which saw goals from Giorgian De Arrascaeta, Edinson Cavani and Suarez all ruled out.
Paris Saint-Germain striker Cavani also blazed over from close range during the first half, which would prove a costly miss.
While Peru offered little during the 90 minutes, and some seven of stoppage time, goalkeeper Pedro Gallese stopped the opening spot-kick from Suarez before his team-mates all confidently dispatched theirs to secure a 5-4 victory in the shoot-out.
Peru will go on to face Chile, who edged out Colombia on spot-kicks, for a place in the final when they meet in Porto Alegre on July 3.
Uruguay should have been ahead in the 25th minute.
Suarez weaved his way into the Peru penalty area but Gallese produced a reaction save and Cavani could only blaze the rebound over on the volley.
When Uruguay did have the ball in the net in the 29th minute from De Arrascaeta’s 12-yard drive, the offside flag was up.
Cavani then thought he had broken the deadlock on the hour after a curling finish from Suarez’s pass, only for celebrations to again be cut short by an offside flag. Despite a lengthy review by the Video Assistant Referee, the decision stood.
There was more frustration for Uruguay in the 72nd minute when Suarez turned in a cross from Martin Caceres only to see that goal also ruled out.
During stoppage time, Suarez just could not connect with De Arrascaeta’s lofted pass, leaving the outcome to be settled by the lottery of a penalty shoot-out.
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There were plenty of positives for Argentina to take from Friday night’s 2-0 victory over Venezuela, setting up Tuesday’s highly enticing semi-final against Brazil.
In attack, Sergio Aguero and Lautaro Martinez both delivered strong individual performances while showing more signs of a burgeoning partnership, with the former playing a role in both goals while the latter converted the opener with aplomb.
They were backed up by a solid and hard-working midfield trio of Rodrigo De Paul, Leandro Paredes and Marcos Acuna, who worked well as a unit to control the centre of the field, provide attacking width and ensure the back four was never left without protection.
That defensive line was equally solid, with centre-backs Nicolas Otamendi and German Pezzella keeping things simple, clearing their lines decisively and ensuring that goalkeeper Franco Armani had very little to do.
There was also a sense of cohesion all over the pitch, with those separate units of defence, midfield and attack showing a mutual understanding which has only been conspicuous by its absence over the last few years.
But hang on…we are now into the sixth paragraph of an article about Argentina’s football team and two words have not even been mentioned yet…so what about Lionel Messi?
Well, the skipper deserves to be omitted from the list of major contributions to the victory because, to be blunt, he barely contributed at all. Other than an outswinging corner which led to the opening goal, Messi had little direct influence over his team’s success and it could even be argued that, with his frustrating habit of conceding possession cheaply, he was Argentina’s worst player.
And, stranger still, that could well be the biggest plus of them all to emerge from the game for coach Lionel Scaloni and his players: at long last, they played well and won not only without a major input from Messi, but when he was actually playing badly.
This is quite a change of direction for an Argentina team who have been embarrassingly over-reliant on their captain over the last few years, and it is also an extremely welcome development.
Pinning all their hopes on Messi was a self-defeating strategy for Argentina, benefitting nobody but the opposition: the infatuation with the captain’s ability to perform solo rescue missions ended up inhibiting his teammates, who had no room for personal expression or collective combination because they were compelled to think that everything had to go through Messi. And it was no good for the number ten himself, because he found himself burdened by an intolerable level of pressure without being given the necessary support structure to succeed in a team sport. It was a lose-lose situation.
At the start of this Copa America, it looked as though that same hopeless path was still being trodden, with Argentina apparently unable to extricate themselves from the mental rut of not knowing how to do anything unless Messi was doing it for them.
Gradually, though, progress is being made. How and why is a mystery, but from the rubble of the horrible opening game loss to Colombia and the barely-better draw with Paraguay, a team is somehow emerging.
A team, remember, is a group of people who work together for a common cause. Against Venezuela, that’s exactly what Argentina were. As described in the opening paragraphs, the disparate individuals fitted together to form a pretty well organised whole. It was disciplined. It gave everyone a role. It made sense, and just looked right.
Argentina are starting to click as a collective, and the best possible evidence – and confidence-booster – was provided with Friday’s victory over Venezuela, which can allow the rest of the squad to truly believe they do not need to rely exclusively on their captain.
That is not to say, of course, that Argentina do not need Messi at all. To overcome Brazil, they will have to play much better than they did against Venezuela, and Messi regaining his usual standards would be the best possible way of adding even greater cohesion and attacking threat.
The good news, though, is that Messi is now being asked to form part of a team, rather than being the whole team. He is one of eleven, and it looks like an eleven that can function pretty well without him. Like everyone else, he has a role to play, and of course he is good enough for that role to be decisive. But, at last, Argentina are not only all about Lionel Messi, and both he and they will be much better off for it.
United States match-winner Megan Rapinoe expects to come up against an England side full of confidence when the two teams clash in the Women’s World Cup semi-finals.
Rapinoe scored twice as the US held on for a 2-1 win over hosts France, 24 hours after England had powered to a 3-0 victory over Norway.
The defending champions have won both of their knockout games by a single goal, while the Lionesses have recorded back-to-back 3-0 wins, and Rapinoe expects Phil Neville’s team to fancy their chances in Lyon on Tuesday.
“They’re in great form right now,” Rapinoe, who labelled England “one of the biggest teams in the game”, told a press conference.
“They had a totally dominating performance, they should absolutely feel confident.”
US coach Jill Ellis is also braced for another closely-fought contest against a side they drew 2-2 with in the SheBelieves Cup in March.
“I respect Phil and I know he’ll have his players ready, as will we, so we’ll see how it plays out,” she said.
“They’ve got a lot of talented players, their front line and obviously the striker (Ellen White) is hot right now.
“They’re a good team front to back, a lot of experience, a lot of really good players, so it’s going to be a good match-up.”
The England-born Ellis was unconcerned about the US having one day fewer to prepare for the match.
“That’s the rhythm for us at this World Cup, so be it,” she said.
The spotlight was on Rapinoe ahead of the France match after she inspired outrage in the Oval Office with her “I’m not going to the f***ing White House” comment when asked ahead of the tournament if she would visit were her team to win the World Cup. President Donald Trump responded by accusing her of disrespect.
“Megan should WIN first before she TALKS! Finish the job!” Trump tweeted. Rapinoe’s response was to open the scoring with a fifth-minute free-kick and add the decisive second in the 65th.
The brace took her tally for the tournament to five and she is now the joint-leading scorer alongside team-mate Alex Morgan and White.
Ellis never had any doubts about her temperament.
“She’s a big personality both on and off the pitch and she honestly thrives in these moments,” she said.
“There’s a never-say-die attitude, she’s a big-time player and I think the bigger the stage the more she’s going to respond.”
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