The second set of match days of the controversial Copa America in Brazil have concluded. And despite five of the 10 squads confirming at least one positive coronavirus test, the on-field action is full-steam ahead at empty stadiums across the country.
Hosts Brazil continued their fine form with a dominant 4-0 win over Peru on Thursday, while Venezuela held on for a 0-0 draw with Colombia. Friday saw Chile beat Bolivia 1-0, while Argentina fended off Uruguay in a 1-0 victory. Ecuador and Paraguay took their turn to sit out this round of fixtures.
ESPN looks back at the action from the oldest international tournament in the world.
Argentina the winners on football's day of historical derbies
As England and Scotland drew a collective blank at Wembley so too did Uruguay, who were beaten 1-0 by Argentina in Brasilia as international football's two oldest fixtures were played on the same day for the first time ever.
It was not a night which will live long in the memory. Even so, this is an important result for Argentina, precisely because it was not achieved in an eye-catching manner. In three previous matches this month coach Lionel Scaloni had seen his side take the lead, play some pretty football but run out of steam and concede a draw. This time, despite the presence of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, the script was different, increasing the evidence for the view that Argentina are moving in a good direction.
Since Scaloni took over after the shambles of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Leandro Paredes has been the key man in central midfield. He is much more of a passer than a defender and, when he was ruled out for this match, Scaloni had a rethink. In came Guido Rodriguez, who headed home the only goal of the game after meeting a Lionel Messi cross with a header at the far post in the 13th minute.
The contribution of Rodriguez was significant, both with and without the ball. When the side was in possession he often dropped deep, allowing the two centre-backs to fan out and the full-backs to push up higher. With this in mind, Scaloni changed both full-backs, bringing in the attacking pair of Nahuel Molina on the right and Miguel Acuna on the left. Their presence increased the numbers involved in Argentina's circuit of passing high up the field, allowing Messi to find space to drift into the line as he pleased. All of this was crucial to Argentina's fast start.
Having taken the lead, the priority was to defend it. Argentina dropped deep very early and contented themselves with counter-attacks. Here the work of Rodriguez was in protecting the central defenders. Uruguay shuffled their pack. Nahitan Nandez came on at half-time to supply dynamism down the right, freeing Federico Valverde to dictate play from the centre. The debutant Brian Ocampos came on to run the left wing, while playmaker Facundo Torres was also introduced. But this time Argentina held firm, with nothing more than a couple of half-alarms. For Uruguay this was their fourth game without a goal. For Argentina, it was a result that fills them with confidence for the rest of the tournament.
The long shadow of Europe
It is hard, of course, for the Copa America to compete with the Euros. The fans in the stadiums, the long summer evenings, the superior pitches of Europe make things tough for this improvised edition of the Copa.
But there is another competition going on. At the moment Brazil are up against the likes of Venezuela and Peru. But they are well aware of the real test. Since they last won the World Cup in 2002, Brazil have always exited that competition as soon as they have come up against Western European opposition in the knockout phase. That is where the bar is set. That is the challenge for which coach Tite is trying to prepare his team. Even more than the prospect of taking on Argentina or Uruguay over the next few weeks, Brazil are trying to build towards a clash with the Europeans in Qatar at the end of next year.
Before Brazil beat Peru 4-0 on Thursday, there were plenty of eyes on Belgium's match with Denmark. For the first few minutes, Brazilians were wondering how on earth their team lost to Belgium in the 2018 quarter-finals. By the end they were wishing that Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku were Brazilian -- both would walk into Tite's team.
In the meantime, all Brazil can do is keep beating the opposition that is placed in front of them, and they are doing this at least as well as could be expected. For a while -- including the win at home in the 2019 Copa -- Tite seemed haunted by the defeat to Belgium, and appeared to be replaying that game in his head with his team selections. He has since moved on, and is putting together some pleasing variations.
On Thursday he came off his usual 4-1-4-1 formation (some see it as a 4-3-3) and went with the system he used in the recent World Cup qualifier away to Paraguay; playing two strikers wide in a 4-4-2 that turns into a 4-2-4 when the team are attacking. It may be better suited to away matches where Brazil are looking to counter-attack. There was a lack of midfield elaboration, especially in the first half, when the team were not impressive. But the system had a hand in the opening two goals, those which won the game.
Left-back Alex Sandro scored the first. His attacking role was neither to construct from deep nor to keep the pitch open. With a winger in front of him -- Everton Soares in the first half -- it was up to Alex Sandro to burst diagonally into the penalty area, and he got himself into the centre-forward position to meet a cross from Gabriel Jesus.
The second goal was all about Neymar, who received a neat pass from Fred and scored with a gloriously placed shot from just outside the area. For Tite, one of the benefits of 4-4-2 is that it frees Neymar. He is not tied to the left wing and features centrally, often dropping between the opposing defence and midfield to shoot or set up the play. This is working well against the weaker South Americans. On the road to Qatar, Tite is betting many of his chips on Neymar. Brazil's No. 10 shone brightly in this 4-4-2 both away to Paraguay and now against Peru. The big question is coming: can he do it next year against the Europeans?
Ironically the improvised nature of this Copa has probably meant that teams are playing with stronger squads than would have been the case if everything had gone according to plan. The original idea was that the start of June would have featured warm-up friendlies before the start of the tournament. Some coaches were planning to use the Copa to experiment. But to catch up with the backlog, World Cup qualifiers were scheduled for the start of the month and, with all the uncertainty about whether or not the Copa would go ahead, the teams ended up bringing their first-choice squads to Brazil.
But there are absences. In some cases this means opportunity. The injury to Alexis Sanchez has allowed Chile to have a look at Blackburn Rovers striker Ben Brereton, who marked his first start with the only goal of Friday's game against Bolivia. In other cases, it means disappointment -- and Thursday's goalless draw between Colombia and Venezuela was a clear example.
Venezuela have been hit by a COVID-19 outbreak, and it has rendered their team unrecognisable. The attacking potency in the last few years has been based on combative centre-forward Salomon Rondon being flanked by quick, skilful wingers. But COVID-19 restrictions have kept Rondon in China, and all the wingers have tested positive for the virus. The team is left without attacking options, and can do little more than defend with dignity.
Restrictions have also deprived Colombia of their China-based playmaker Juan Fernando Quintero and, even more importantly, there is bad blood in the camp involving James Rodriguez, who was controversially left out of the squad and has been kicking up a fuss.
Rodriguez was at the heart of Colombia's mauling of Poland in the last World Cup -- one of the most impressive displays of Russia. In the rest of the competition, when he was injured, Colombia were not the same side, and they are not the same side now. Edwin Cardona comes up with moments but does not dominate matches. New coach Reinaldo Rueda will have to try to mend the fences with Rodriguez. The evidence points to a conclusion that, whatever happens in the rest of this tournament, Colombia need him badly in the build-up to Qatar.