Tonight’s semi-final match between World No. 1 Argentina and 31st ranked USA (tucked neatly between the Czech Republic and Algeria) will be the biggest sporting event in Houston since the World Series in 2005. Sure there have been a couple of NFL Wildcard Playoff games and the occasional playoff appearance by the Rockets. But this is the world’s most popular sport in a match featuring the highest ranked team in the world in a tournament that is clearly vying for the second most important soccer event behind only the World Cup Finals. The 16 team Copa America Centenario features 3 of the top 5 teams in the world (Argentina, Columbia and Chile) and 5 of the top 10 (add in Brazil and Uruguay). The 24 team UEFA European Championship also features 5 of the top 10 and more teams in the top 50, but it’s contests have not been particularly compelling match-ups so far. And it will be hard to top the semi-final group of the CAC with Argentina, Columbia and Chile making up a world-class field. Only the US seemingly doesn’t belong and was helped along by the poor showings of Brazil and Uruguay in not making the knock-out rounds. We will see how it shakes out in Europe and if those final rounds will feature the same quality of competition.
Red Calls the Semi-Finals:
Argentina 4, USA 1 Red has been a big Argentina fan ever since Mexico 86 when Diego Maradona led El Albiceleste to its second World Cup title. But he is also loyal to his national squad – so this one will be interesting as Red really can’t lose no matter who wins. If Argentina moves on they have a chance at their first major trophy in an incredible 23 years – an eon for Argentinian fans. It the USA wins, it is a huge boost for soccer in this country and a chance for the USA to claim its biggest tournament win ever. All that said, it seems unlikely that the USA can keep up with the dynamic and versatile attack of El Albiceleste. Even without DiMaria, the Argentines have world best player Leo Messi and Italy Serie A superstar Higuain along with an entire team of players that can put the ball in the net (Otamendi even!). And while the Argentine center defense is somewhat suspect, the US is missing its best pure striker in Bobby Wood and will be somewhat hobbled in midfield with the absence of Bedoya. Look for the USA to make a game of it until about 70 minutes in and then the superiority of the Argentinian squad will put the game out of reach.
Chile 3, Columbia 1 The only possible problem for Chile is an emotional let down after their complete annihilation of Mexico in the quarter-final. Columbia did not play like the No. 3 team in the world in having to go to penalties to defeat a game Peruvian team. And Costa Rica beat them rather convincingly in group play. Meanwhile, Chile has rounded to form after an opening loss to the powerful Argentines. Look for the top scoring duo of Vargas (6 goals) and Sanchez (3 goals) to handle a Columbian squad that has had trouble getting balls on target all tournament. Vidal sitting out is a problem, but look for Chile to press, press, press and control the action throughout the match.