El Centenario

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caThe year 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the Copa America. A soccer tournament embedded with years upon years of history and cultures from across the Americas. Pelé, Maradonna, Roberto Carlos, the list of elite players that have entered this tournament goes on and on. Originally the South America Championship, the tournament extended upwards through Central and North America in 1975. For the first time in the history of the competition, the United States is hosting the Copa.

This past weekend, I was lucky enough to attend the quarterfinal match-up between perennial juggernaut Argentina and up-and-coming Venezuela at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. After spending the day in Boston, myself and my girlfriend traveled down to the stadium via an Uber cab. This evening was a great experience, but there were a few parts of the day that were less than stellar. Mainly, getting to the stadium.

Now, this isn’t me being a grumpy Bills fan trying to nit-pick everything and anything Patriot related just so I can jab at the organization. This is simply me using my observations and being as objective as possible. After getting re-directed twice by local law enforcement, the two of us decided to go on foot for what we thought would have only been less than a mile. That is, until we learned that some entrances were VIP only and wouldn’t even allow foot traffic towards the stadium. So, what originally appeared to be less than a mile, we ended up running over 2 and possibly closer to 3 miles. At this point, we were clearly going to be late for the game and were just hoping no goals were scored beforehand.

After finally reaching the parking lot, there were thousands of fans still walking towards Gillette. While I’m sure some may have been late for losing track of time, the 2 roads leading in and out of Foxborough are most likely not fit to transport tens of thousands of people efficiently. My reasoning: The thousands of fans (myself included) still outside the gate at the 20 minute mark.

But once we got to our seats, boy was it beautiful.

The inside of Gillette is VERY nice and quite easy to navigate.Tons of walking space in higher sections made getting around to concessions and bathrooms much less of a chore than they usually can be. From what I was able to see, there doesn’t appear to be a bad seat in the house. Gillette gives a good view from every angle I had a chance to see.

And the fans… Best. Fans. Ever.

Our seats were located in a mass of at least 20 rowdy Argentinians who were wearing flags, wigs, facepaint, and had more chants than a Catholic Hymn book. It was great seeing all the smiles and the dancing from these fans. Most of whom appeared to have traveled quite a ways for this match. The energy these people brought the entire match was unforgettable. Especially the gentleman with the totally awesome blue and white wig in front of me. He was my favorite by far.

I had been looking forward to this match for quite some time. Argentina is ranked #1 in the FIFA standings and it’s not even close with Belgium at #2. Watching the one-touch passing flow from one end of the pitch to the other was hypnotizing. The ease at which Gonzalo Higuain, Angel Di Maria, and of course Lionel Messi were able to control the tempo of the match was incredible. Their confidence with the ball was unmatched. Defensively, Argentina wasn’t as strong as I had expected them to be. Venezuela could have easily gone up on the world’s best at one point, but could not take advantage of their opportunities. After 2 shots hitting the frame, and an absolutely atrocious Panenka that was chipped straight into the arms of Sergio Romero, the momentum of the match was all in Argentina’s corner.

Getting to watch the the best player in the world (Sorry, Ronaldo fans.) was awesome. Messi put away Argentina’s third goal with ease by calmly slipping the ball between the legs of the Venezuelan goalkeeper. Venezuela did manage to score, making it a 3-1 game. In spite of the deficit, the Venezuelan fans shot out of their seats and chanted with the best of them. That is, until Argentina scored about 45 seconds later…

At the final whistle, Argentina stamped their ticket to the semi-finals for a date with the United States with a 4-1 win.

After the match finished, we decided to head over to CBS Scene next to Gillette Stadium to have a drink and avoid traffic (Mostly to avoid traffic). For every television, there had to have been at least 5 pairs of eyes glued to it for the Mexico-Chile match. Chants for both sides flooded and echoed through the 3 story bar/restaurant for the time that we were there. Not only were these people watching the game inside, dozens of fans were sitting outside on 5 flights of stairs watching it on a large screen pointed across the courtyard outside the stadium. The passion for the game lives vicariously through these people, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Now for the rest of the tournament:

Argentina should handily take care of the US, who will be missing Jermaine Jones, Alejandro Bedoya and Bobby Wood. I’ll say 3-1 Arg.

As for Chile and Colombia, that one is a much tougher call. Colombia is ranked #3 worldwide, but Chile looks unstoppable offensively. Eleven goals in their last 2 matches and 9 between Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas (6), Colombia will have to be extremely tidy in the defensive third. My final: Colombia wins 3-2.

As for the final, the world’s best will remain the world’s best. Argentina will win this tournament but they will have to work for it. 2-0 Argentina in the final.

Now the goal is to eventually go see a world cup match. Russia 2018 here I come!

Written by Sam Rodriguez

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