Suarez, Uruguay can only look at themselves after Copa loss to Peru
A week ago Peru had just been mauled 5-0 by Brazil -- and they faced an anxious wait, depending on results in other groups to find out whether or not they had made it through to the last eight of the Copa America.
Seven days later, extraordinarily, they are in the last four.
Last Saturday their keeper Pedro Gallese was the villain, after a dismal display against Brazil. He is now the hero. His save from Luis Suarez was the decisive moment in the penalty shootout, eliminating Uruguay and sending Peru into the semifinals.
Peru's progress is proof that the Copa America can be a forgiving competition. They have played four times, and only scored against Bolivia. In their last two games they did not even vaguely threaten a goal. But they can now prepare for Wednesday's semifinal against Pacific rivals Chile. How, then, have they gone so far with so little?
The injury to Jefferson Farfan probably ended up working in Peru's favour. It meant that they lost any chance of getting numbers in support of centre forward Paolo Guerrero. His ability to screen the ball with his back to goal was never employed. There were half hearted attempts to test out Giovanni Gonzalez, Uruguay's inexperienced right back. Guerrero moved out to the left, playmaker Cristian Cueva moved out to the left, even right winger Andre Carrillo had a quick dart down the left.
But there was little conviction and less attacking ambition. Peru were happy as long as the game was goalless. The onus was on Uruguay to open the game up. They can point to three goals ruled out for narrow offsides. They can point to the poor pitch in Salvador, a cause for complain by all the teams who have played there. But they also need to look at themselves. The clear evidence of the recent club season was that Suarez has lost half a yard of pace -- and that appeared to be confirmed by this game, when he seldom got the better of the rival centre backs. This time he could not conjure up a goal from nothing.
And Uruguay are continuing to wrestle with a problem that has given headaches for a while to coach Oscar Washington Tabarez, which is how to line up his midfield quartet. He must clearly play his two strikers, Suarez and Edinson Cavani. If he plays with a back four -- and it is six years since he last used a line of three -- then he is left with four across the midfield. If he has width on both flanks, then the two in the centre frequently find themselves playing against three, making it difficult for them to find the fluidity necessary to get the attacking moves rolling.
The solution used in last year's World Cup was provided by Diego Laxalt. Originally a left sided midfielder, he can also play at left back. He, then, was given licence to cover the entire flank, allowing Uruguay to play three in the centre. A key blow to Uruguay's hopes in this tournament was the loss of Laxalt to injury, when he pulled up with a muscular problem early in the second game against Japan.
For this match Tabarez tried to square the circle by using playmaker Giorgian De Arrascaeta on the left of the quartet, with licence to cut in, with Martin Caceres playing the Laxalt role. Caceres, though, is right footed. There was a glaring lack of an attacking left foot to open out the field against opponents primarily interested in defending.
The mystery is that Tabarez did not introduce the lanky Gaston Pereiro, whose left foot would have been useful. Instead, early in the second half he brought on Lucas Torreira and let De Arrascaeta sit in behind the two strikers in a 4-3-1-2. Uruguay piled on the pressure. But, disallowed goals aside, Peru were able to hold out without too many alarms. Gallese pulled off some smart saves.
But none were nearly as decisive as the block from Suarez in the first kick of the shoot out. Just like the Chileans the previous night, the Peruvians kept their heads splendidly in their sequence of penalties. And so the second semifinal of the 2019 Copa America will be between two teams who have both failed to score in each of their last two matches.