While all eyes were Friday on Argentina’s tournament curtain-raiser against Bolivia, Colombia and Costa Rica are gearing up for their Copa America opener on Saturday at Jujuy.
Although the Argentinians are hot favorites to win Group A, second spot looks up for grabs and Costa Rica will be doubly keen to make the most of their last-minute invite following the withdrawal of Japan. The Japanese pulled out owing to the fallout from the deadly tsunami three months ago.
Coach Ricardo La Volpe will in particular hope for a strong showing as he wants to show what his Central Americans are made of, particularly as his side will later go up against his Argentinian compatriots.
La Volpe is Buenos-Aires born and was the reserve goalkeeper in the 1978 Argentine World Cup side but this month his loyalties are firmly with the Ticos as they look to make the most of their invitation to the party for the fourth time after 1997, 2001 and 2004.
Colombian counterpart Hernan Darío ‘Bolillo’ Gomez will likewise be expecting his side to get off to a flier as they target a second win after 2001, when they lifted the crown on home soil.
Whereas Costa Rica have a largely inexperienced side the Colombians will be expecting their strikeforce of Porto star Radamel Falcao Garcia and Teofilo Gutierrez, who plys his league trade in Argentina with Racing Club, to put three early points on the scoreboard.
Even if the likes of former greats Faustino Asprilla and Carlos Valderrama are no longer around to call upon, Gomez certainly expects the cafeteros to get through the pool.
“If we don’t get through the first round of the Copa America then I’m off – that much is clear. That is, I won’t just go; they’ll fire me,” said Gomez as he looked forward to the opening encounter.
Like many of the teams here – though Argentina wants to break an 18-year trophy drought and also prevent a Brazilian hattrick of wins – Colombia are primarily preparing for the 2014 World Cup.
Gomez notes that while he believes he has a good team in the making he must look to 2014 as the goal as “Colombia haven’t been to the last three World Cups so that’s 13 years we have not been doing well and we are starting from zero.”
He added that he was wary of Costa Rica as he much respected La Volpe as a coach.
Even so, Costa Rica will be underdogs in that their main squad was just recently in action at the Gold Cup, hence they will be missing some of their more experienced names such as Bryan Ruiz, Marcos Urena and keeper Keylor Navas. In addition, the squad is coping with the death of teammate Dennis Marshall, who died in a car accident last week.
Despite that, they do have up-and-coming talent as witnesseed by a fourth-place finish at the under-20 world championships two seasons ago in Egypt.