Posts Tagged ‘Copa America Alternativa’

A report from the first ever Copa America Alternativa, in Jesús María, near Córdoba, Argentina.  January 28th-29th 2012.

Our squad with the lads from Dos de Mayo

This is my kind of football tournament. Before kick off, we present the opposition with our regalia: an Easton Cowboys/Girls FC tour shirt and a Republica Internationale FC scarf. In return they give us a copy of their Revolutionary Party newspaper, calling for strikes and marches against the cuts and tax policies of Argentina’s Kirchner government.   At the tournament’s opening ceremony we’ve been welcomed in the name of Che Guevara to the town of Jesús María, in this corner of Córdoba  province where the great freedom fighter  grew up. Or more accurately we’ve been welcomed in the name of the local football club, Che Guevara FC, a club founded by local hero Monica Nielsen and friends, who are fighting to give an opportunity to the sizeable proportion of local youngsters who can’t even afford the subscriptions to any other conventional local football team. We’re here to help them in their struggle to get a permanent home, their own pitches and clubhouse. For this event, they’ve borrowed the grounds of another local amateur club. It’s the height of a 35-degree summer, and the pitches hold onto some thin, dusty grass, but effectively we’re playing on hard dirt again.

I’ve sometimes been criticised for using too much hyperbole when I write about our footballing adventures. Everything is ‘brilliant’, ‘wonderful’, ‘great’, ‘amazing’, ‘incredible’, ‘fantastic’, etc., and I know that sort of gushing enthusiasm can get a bit boring.  But I’m sorry – this event was, truly, all of the above, especially when you consider that this was the first tournament that Monica and her comrades have ever organised. Their hospitality was just … all of the above again. First the most important things: the food they laid on, especially from the grill, was excellent and the beer, £1.50 per litre bottle, included the unexpected bonus of bottled Argentinian stout!

And of course the quality of football itself, played by the five Argentinian,  three Brazilian, one Chilean and one Bolivian teams, was all of the above too – just outstanding. But they perhaps expected more from us Gringos, in our English ‘Cowpublica’ team and one International All-Star Mixed XI.  A look at World Cup history tells you that Latin American teams always win tournaments in Latin America, and the only Europeans to perform to their full potential in the main tournament here were in fact our Lithuanian friends from FC Vova. Their strategy was to arrive with just a handful of their own players and immediately recruit all the home team’s best reserve players to represent them – an effective ploy, which almost got them to the semi-finals.

For the women’s event, it was a different story. 3 victories out of 3 matches for the Easton Cowgirls/Republica (AKA Cowpublica) Women’s XI saw them covered in glory. And covered in beer as well at one point.

'Cowpublica' met the hosts, FC Che Guevara, in the women's tournament final

But next time, we’ll have to bring some younger male players as well as young women, because in the main tournament we basically got hammered by fitter, younger, infinitely more skilful teams who of course were used to playing together and of course had no problems with the 35-degree-plus heat or the bumpy dirt pitches.

In the group games, the ‘Cowpublica’ XI  lost by  something like 1-4 and 0-4 to the two Sao Paulo sides (Autonomos FC and Lado B), and by 0-9 to the brilliant FC Dos de Mayo from Mar del Plata. The latter club, based in the home port of the Belgrano,  is named after the date of the sinking of that ill-fated vessel thirty years ago. They presented us with a pennant bearing their club badge,  showing the Belgrano sailing into the sunset above a map of the Malvinas.

Meanwhile, the International XI (also mainly ‘Cowpublica’ players, but also including our German, Belgian and French friends) lost  by (approximately)  1-6  and  1-7 in its group games  to teams from Cordoba and from Rosario.

In the knock-out matches on Sunday, our ‘Cowpublica’ XI, now adjusting  better to the conditions, came from two goals behind to take the Rio de Janeiro Lefties XI (“Pelada da Esquerda“) to penalties. Some observers alleged that it was in fact our three local ringers , coming off the bench when we were all getting exhausted and scoring our two late goals, who made the  difference, but this would be unfair on the fourteen heroes, men and women,  who battled back to achieve that glorious draw.

In the final that evening, the Dos de Mayo team from Mar del Plata, clearly the best footballing side at the tournament, were held to a dour nil-nil stalemate and then beaten on penalties by the team who had played throughout the weekend with the most heart and the most desire to win – our Sao Paulo friends Autonomos FC, whose player-manager Danilo had been such a catalyst for the whole event in the first place. Most importantly, though, this tournament confirmed the birth of a network of radical grass-roots football clubs in South America. We shared each other’s  stories of the struggle to establish grass-roots  football clubs with a social and political consciousness, and hopefully inspired each other to keep on believing that, as one of my favourite slogans puts it,  “Another Kind of Football is Possible.”

The event  finished with  a free concert in the town square, where flags, banners and speeches called for the town authorities to grant our hosts, CSAD Ernesto Che Guevara, a real permanent home. The next morning we just wanted a chance to thank Monica Nielsen for all her hard work in organising this – but she was already out and about, organising support for a council workers’ strike. The spirit of Che certainly lives on in this corner of Cordoba province!

Paulius (FC Vova, Lithuania ) and Rafa (Autonomos FC, Brazil) join Claire & Nigel at the bar

We’ve heard that the favourite to host next year’s version of this tournament is a club based in Montevideo, capital city of Uruguay. But those wonderful Rio rebels, Pelada da Esquerda  also fancy hosting an event of their own – so watch this space folks.

More photos of the event will be added over the next few days.

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