Brazil winning the Copa America Femenina might be seen as so common that it hardly counts as news. Nine versions of the tournament have been played, and Brazil have won eight of them — the latest after a 1-0 win on Saturday against hosts Colombia, at the end of a competition where they won all of their matches and did not concede a single goal.
But this time it was not so easy. Standards are rising as the sport is developing. Colombia, of course, had home advantage, and a capacity crowd in Bucaramanga to cheer them on and, with more shots, and more shots on target, they pushed Brazil hard — so much that the Brazil team is receiving some criticism from its own press along with the praise for winning the title.
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That is because the titles that really count in the women’s game are the World Cup and the Olympic gold medal. And doubts remain about the capacity of this side, rebuilt by Swedish coach Pia Sondhage, to compete for the serious silverware. Probably the best team in the world around 15 years ago, Brazil paid the penalty for not investing in the sport. They were overtaken and now they are striving to catch up. Warm up defeats to Denmark and Sweden left doubts hanging over the team — which have not been entirely expunged by this latest Copa conquest.
Also going into the final on the back of a 100% record, Colombia certainly had the best of their opening half hour. Their 4-2-3-1 was up against Brazil’s 4-4-2, giving them the extra player in midfield. They stopped Brazil from playing out of defence and got into the space behind the Brazil full-backs, without managing to offer much of a threat to Lorena in the Brazil goal.
But Brazil can count on extra individual ability. As space started to open up, they began to find it easier to find some flow and link the lines of their team — and some inspiration from striker Debinha won the day. She produced a quick backheel on the edge of the area, raced forward to receive the return ball, cut across to the right of the Colombia defence and was clumsily brought down by Manuela Vanegas. She picked herself up to sweep confidently home from the penalty spot and, with a few minutes until half-time, Brazil were ahead.
After the break they looked most likely to score the next goal, looking especially dangerous from second balls at set pieces. But Colombia coach Nelson Abadia made a change that seemed counter intuitive, but which functioned well. He took off big centre-forward Mayra Ramirez and switched to three at the back. It had the effect of freeing 17-year-old sensation Linda Caicedo, who was chosen as the player of the tournament. She came into the game, and Colombia started to fizz. She shot just over the bar, and was then denied by a saving tackle from right-back Antonia. The left foot of Catalina Usme began to trouble Lorena, but Brazil captain and centre-back Rafaelle kept making vital clearances, Colombia did not have quite enough to force an equaliser and Brazil held on to start the victory celebrations.
Both sides will be in Paris for the 2024 Olympics — and a year before that, both will be in Australia and New Zealand for the next iteration of the Women’s World Cup. They will be joined by Argentina, who came good at the end to beat Paraguay and win the third place playoff. This game was by no means the usual glorified friendly. The winner would make it through automatically to the World Cup, the loser would have to make do with a continental playoff. And, for a long time it seemed that Paraguay, the surprise side of this year’s competition, would come out on top. But the current Argentina side have plenty of fighting spirit. They equalised late on, and added two more in stoppage time, with Yamila Rodriguez finishing as tournament top scorer, to book their place.
And there was plenty of late drama in the match to determine fifth place, where the winner has a shot at the World Cup through a playoff, and the loser ends up with nothing. Right at the end of the game, star player Deyna Castellanos equalised for Venezuela against Chile. But the Chileans came through the penalty shootout. Venezuela had beaten them in warm up, but when it mattered it was Chile who took the prize.