CONCACAF presenting challenge to CONMEBOL on eve of Copa
Before Brazil's warm up friendly against Panama, Brazilian TVs pundits, former stars Junior and Casagrande, agreed that Dunga's team took the field with the obligation of winning by a big margin. A second minute goal hinted that this might be the case. But Brazil had to be satisfied with a 2-0 goal victory in a pleasing match which whetted the appetite for the Copa America Centenario.
The match in Denver ended up being of interest for two reasons:
One is the way in which Brazil approached the game. In danger of losing his job, coach Dunga has been having something of a rethink. Once the snarling high priest of the counterattack, his team are now putting more emphasis on controlled possession -- a switch which began to take shape during World Cup qualification with the introduction of midfielder Renato Augusto. Incidentally, at half-time Luiz Gustavo was substituted and Renato Augusto was the deepest man in midfield. By the standards of Brazil sides over the past few decades this is truly revolutionary; no holding midfielder and instead a passing specialist to anchor the team. This alone made the match worthy of comment.
But the game was also striking for the way that Panama passed the ball. True, they offered little threat to Brazil -- goalkeeper Alisson was only called into serious action right at the end. But Hernan Dario Gomez's side moved the ball proficiently and were not overawed by going behind so early. Their performance continues a trend of the Copa warm up matches: sound displays from the CONCACAF sides.
Only a fool places importance on warm up friendlies. As the name suggests, they are mere preparation run-outs, which usually degenerate into a second half parade of substitutions. In the case of this tournament they are even less reliable than usual; teams have little time to prepare -- even now some have not been able to gather all of their players. And therefore some of the line-ups have been unorthodox or experimental.
But bearing these limitations in mind, it has been a good few days for the CONCACAF region. A couple of friendlies still remain, but most have now been played. The South American nations have been involved in 12 matches, all of them against CONCACAF nations. After Sunday's action, with a win for Colombia as well as Brazil, the South Americans are ahead, but only by six victories to five, with one game drawn.
Furthermore, there has only been one heavy CONCACAF defeat; Trinidad and Tobago, who are not even participating in the Copa, went down 4-0 away to Peru. They then had the temerity to take the lead away to Uruguay before losing 3-1. El Salvador, who are also not in the competition, lost 3-1 to Peru. And Haiti, who are, went down to Colombia by the same scoreline, but were level at 1-1 until they had a man sent off.
The CONCACAF wins have come from the United States (last gasp against Ecuador and a 4-0 thrashing of Bolivia), from Mexico (1-0 over Paraguay), Costa Rica (2-1 at home to Venezuela) and -- most impressively of all, from Jamaica, who won 2-1 away to reigning South American champions Chile.
All of this will be a mere detail of no significance unless CONCACAF can produce when the competitive action begins. But as we move towards the tournament that celebrates 100 years of top quality South American football, the CONCACAF six have the right to dream of causing a surprise or two over the next few weeks.
Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.