Friday, July 06, 2007

Not Their Cup of Tea

The Copa America - or the South American Championships - is a competition that is largely overlooked in Europe, because of the remoteness of South America and also because of the large time difference. This is a shame as the standard of football is always excellent and there are often spectacular upsets such as a few years back when Honduras beat Brazil 2-0 on their way to the semi-finals.

This year's edition is taking place in Venezuela, the only country on the continent that has never reached a World Cup finals - the Venezuelans are more given to baseball. As has been the case for the past ten years, there are two guest teams, and this year those are Mexico and the US, who recently fought out the CONCACAF Gold Cup in Chicago (the corresponding tournament for the North and Central American and Caribbean confederation), which was won for the second time running by the US. Interestingly the Americans decided to leave their best players at home for what is, unarguably the more prestigious tournament, the Copa America. They were duly dumped out of the tournament after defeats by Argentina, Paraguay and Colombia. Mexico have treated the tournament with a lot more respect, defeating Brazil and Ecuador to reach the quarter-finals.

I can't help suspecting that the US decision to leave its best players at home was a politically-motivated one, to act as a snub against Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. If this was the case, it was also a graceless piece of isolationism that managed to disrespect the whole of South American football too. And of course it plays into Chávez's hands too, who has been revelling in the failure of el imperio while seeing the Venezuelan minnows advance to the quarter-finals for the first time, winning their first game in the tournament in forty years. I don't have much time for Chávez, who is much too given to populist show-boating that is completely unnecessary given his level of popularity, and which most often fails to benefit Venezuela, but he is no more a dictator than George W. Bush is, having secured democratic mandates far more convincingly than Dubya. As for his recent refusal to renew a license to an opposition television station, I would think that many of his critics in North America and Europe would have acted in a similar fashion and much more swiftly to deal with a media source that openly fomented a military coup.