The opener of the centenary celebration Copa America was hard for everyone. Hard for the USA, who lost 2-0. Hard for Colombia, who had to substitute James Rodriguez with a shoulder injury and will be waiting on further news about how much he will be able to feature in the tournament. But most of all, hard for those good-hearted folk who rightly wanted to see the USA lose. Lose they did, but they were not soundly beaten.
Wanting the USA to lose is the only natural course that a non-American can take, and particularly against Colombia. Colombia, those dark horses of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil who were only eliminated because the hosts spent the match enacting a hit on James (although the Colombians took down Neymar with them).
This Colombia didn’t look like the memory of that Colombia. The match was even, swinging between the two teams’ favour like a clichéd pendulum or the less clichéd analogy of that girl off Twilight who couldn’t decide between the wolf and the vampire. Back-and-forth, undecided. A bit boring. Not particularly inspiring in any way.
Colombia scored in the 8th minute, Zapata peeling off Geoff Cameron at the back post to meet a corner with his right-foot. In a sub-plot that wasn’t intriguing enough to properly become a redemption story, Cameron spent the rest of the game being actually quite good. Haunted, that he was, though by the ghost of a former accountant rather than a close friend whose soul he should have saved during a misspent youth.
There were flashes, brief flings of hope, of Colombian skill and magic. After a fairly mediocre overhead kick by Dempsey, the clearing header by the Colombian defence was controlled on the run by James with a shoulder flick, the ball bouncing off his shoulder blade directly into his path. Joyous.
Colombia’s second, scored by the team’s shoulder-flicking captain, was far more business-like. A cross by left-back Diaz struck Yedlin on the hand and a penalty was given. It was the sort of half-sheltering, half-intentionally leaving an arm out to block the ball if possible move that defenders often try and get away with. There was no injustice here. James stepped up and converted. Business completed.
And that was the problem with the match. It was less of a fight and more of a management meeting. There was no spark, no adventure. Apart from James’ shoulder control, there was nothing that would make you fall in love or gasp in enjoyment, that would make this match worthy of poetry or vibrant, lyrical prose that transcends sport and life itself. The Colombian fans Olé’d at one point, as their team strung some large number of passes together, but these were all passes amongst their own defensive players. It was celebrating winning £10 on a scratchcard like you’d won the five grand that was on offer.
It was the height of excitement in the match.
It was a fairly dull sequence of play.
It was that kind of game.
The second half continued the pendulum swing between the sides. For a while, Colombia were on top, and then for a while the US was. Generally, the United States struggled a lot more than Colombia to create meaningful chances or even to threaten to. Colombia’s back-line was good all match, always tight to the opposition strikers and ready to step up to tackle or intercept. Their midfield was less defensively sound, and if they’d been more so then the USA would have found it far more difficult to get into the game.
Cuadrado was disappointing, making good runs now and then but at times his control of the ball was less ‘control’ and more suggestion at where he wanted the ball to be. Bacca tried an overhead kick in a similar position to where Dempsey had attempted his in the first half, but Bacca’s was even more disappointing, barely making a connecton with the ball.
When James went off-field to try and get his shoulder sorted out (possibly popped back in to the socket) in the 69th minute, and subbed off for good a few minutes later, it confirmed the tone of the game. Bacca hit the bar after runing onto a long ball behind the US defence into the left half-space, but overall this was not the match anyone had wanted it to be.
There are numerous good reasons to want the USA to be convincingly beaten. Their political power, American brashness, their political power combined with American brashness, the fact that Clint Dempsey is their star player, personal amusement at what the state of Twitter will be like, the fact that Donald Trump has an actual real chance of being their next President, the fact that because they’re not romantic underdogs the only interesting narrative that can surround their team is a major tyre fire of a collapse.
And that’s why it was disappointing that they weren’t.