Brazil triumphs again, but Copa America Femenina is getting stronger

Brazil’s Copa America Femenina win might be considered so commonplace that it hardly counts as news. Nine versions of the tournament have been played and Brazil have won eight of them – most recently after beating hosts Colombia 1-0 on Saturday, at the end of a competition in which they won all their games and conceded not a single goal.

But this time it wasn’t so easy. Standards rise as the sport develops. Colombia, of course, had home field advantage and a sell-out crowd in Bucaramanga to cheer them on, and with more shots and even more shots on goal, they pushed Brazil hard – so much so that the Brazilian team drew some criticism from their own press along with praise for winning the title .

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Because the titles that really count in women’s football are the World Cup and the Olympic gold medal. And doubts remain about the ability of this side, rebuilt by Swedish coach Pia Sondhage, to challenge for the title. Brazil were probably the best team in the world around 15 years ago and paid the penalty for not investing in the sport. They have been overtaken and are now trying to catch up. Warm-up losses to Denmark and Sweden raised doubts about the team – which this recent Copa win hasn’t entirely dispelled.

Colombia also went into the final with a 100 percent record and certainly had the best first half hour. Their 4-2-3-1 faced Brazil’s 4-4-2 and gave them the extra player in midfield. They stopped Brazil from playing from the back and got in behind the Brazilian full-backs without threatening Lorena in the Brazilian goal.

But Brazil can count on additional individual skills. As space started to open up, they found it easier to find some flow and connect their team’s lines – and some inspiration from striker Debinha won the day. She displayed a quick heel off the edge of the box, ran forward to receive the return ball, traversed to the right of the Colombian defense and was awkwardly brought down by Manuela Vanegas. She scrambled to sweep home from the penalty spot and Brazil were ahead just minutes from half-time.

After the break, they looked most likely to score the next goal, looking particularly dangerous on second balls from set pieces. But Colombia coach Nelson Abadia made a change that seemed counterintuitive but worked well. He took down tall center forward Mayra Ramirez and switched to three at the back. It had the effect of freeing 17-year-old sensation Linda Caicedo, who was voted Player of the Tournament. She came into play and Colombia started to bubble. She shot just over the bar and was then denied by a save from right-back Antonia. Catalina Usme’s left foot began to cause problems for Lorena, but Brazil captain and centre-back Rafaelle kept making crucial clearances, Colombia didn’t have enough to force an equalizer and Brazil stopped to celebrate victory.

Both teams 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’ll be joined by Argentina, who ended up doing well to beat Paraguay and win the third-place playoff. This game was by no means the usual glorified friendly. The winner would automatically advance to the World Cup, the loser would have to settle for a continental playoff. And for a long time it looked like Paraguay, this year’s surprise team, would come out on top. But the current Argentina team has a lot of fighting spirit. They equalized late and added two more in stoppage time, with Yamila Rodriguez becoming the tournament’s top scorer to secure her place.

And there was a lot of late drama in the match to determine fifth place, where the winner has a playoff shot at the world championship and the loser ends up with nothing. At the end of the game, star player Deyna Castellanos equalized for Venezuela against Chile. But the Chileans came through the penalty shootout. Venezuela had beaten them in the warm-up, but when it mattered it was Chile who took the prize. Brazil triumphs again, but Copa America Femenina is getting stronger

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