Maybe the story of this wonderful summer of soccer can be how even though teams can defend marvelously for nearly an entire game, fate isn’t often as kind to them. Though teams like Northern Ireland and Italy have proven you can win on the strength of solid shape and heroic defending, sometimes fate doesn’t smile on everyone equally. Albania met this fate against France, and Friday night at MetLife Stadium, Peru met that fate against Colombia.
Ricardo Gareca set out from the start to have his team frustrate and constrict Colombia, and they did so marvelously. James Rodriguez, Juan Cuadrado, Edwin Cardona et al found themselves closed down the instant they found space, and Rodriguez couldn’t take the one great chance he did have in the first half. Then again, neither could Peru on a header in stoppage time that David Ospina magnificently parried to safety. The lottery of penalties is a test of nerve, and though Peru showed they had strong nerve during the 90 minutes, they couldn’t hold it during the shootout.
“I leave satisfied for what not only the team accomplished but for what individuals accomplished,” said Peru coach Ricardo Gareca. “We had high expectations. It was a positive balance, but we have more to deliver.”
After reaching the quarterfinals and winning Group B controversially, many would not have begrudged Gareca and his men for being happy to be at MetLife Stadium at all. But after only giving up two goals in the entire tournament, and not losing once, Peru and their defensive style might well be one that is growing for upcoming World Cup qualifiers. Gareca knows his team pushed the envelope when it came to frustrating their opposition.
“Defense is all about the team as a whole. The defensive line starts with the top attacker, and I think we did well in that sense.”
And Colombia certainly felt the frustration, especially in the second half. They struggled to keep their nerve when it came to fouls and patience with chances. Jose Pekerman saw that but could do little about it.
“We need the patience to impose the qualities we have. We had the obligation to score, which I perceived was more on Colombia,” he said. “But we kept wanting to do the many good things we had too quickly, not with simplicity on the ball.” The credit for that has to go to Peru’s defensive line, which outside of James Rodriguez’s first half chance where he hit the inside of the right post, gave up very little.
SEE MORE: Schedule of Copa America games on US TV and streaming
Can this sort of defense at all costs with an incredible structure and focus propel smaller and weaker teams beyond their expected means in major tournaments? In Euro 2016 and Copa America, it has provided some moments of brilliance for supposed minnows such as Peru, but in the end those teams, despite their defensive stoutness, don’t often end on the right side of the result. Greece at Euro 2004 showed what could be done, but ever since, and especially after the wide open World Cup of two years ago, defensive soccer like the world has seen this summer had fallen by the wayside.
But if it is seeing a resurgence in popularity, teams such as Peru have done it great justice, especially when frustrating a team with as much talent as Colombia. When James Rodriguez raves about his keeper as much as he did, it’s not just about what David Ospina did to keep Colombia in the tournament. It’s a testament to the few chances they did have going forward, including on his own boots.
While it is almost certain that both the Euros and Copa America will each open up as time goes on, their early stages have been a testament that defending and organization will never go out of style, and for the little guys it can be a ticket to greater success. Peru unfortunately didn’t see further reward for putting Colombia’s attack on lockdown, but they should receive plenty of plaudits.
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