Copa America bosses count the cash and spin the criticisms

By Samindra Kunti in Rio de Janeiro

June 26 – Copa America organisers have said they are satisfied with the tournament so far despite of criticism over empty seats and lengthy VAR delays.

With the group phase over and the knockout stages around the corner, local organisers held a debrief on Tuesday to assess the 18 matches that had been played to eliminate just four teams from a 12-team tournament, including invitees Japan and Qatar.

Top of their list of credits was emphasis on the average attendance of 29,379 per match during the first round. The curtain raiser between Brazil failed to sell out, but generated a gate receipt of around $5.7 million, a record in Brazil.

On Monday, 49,000 fans paid their way to watch Uruguay and a glancing header from Edinson Cavani topple Chile at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium. In Belo Horizonte just 2,100 fans had bought a ticket for Ecuador and Japan, teams that bowed out of the tournament in a 1-1 draw.

Tickets at the tournament have been expensive, starting at 120 Brazilian reals, and that has kept many fans away. “We are taking care of the whole, and on the whole we are on the positive side,” said director of operations for Copa America Agberto Guimaraes.

On the eve of the finals Conmebol president Alejandro Dominguez had ruled out that prices would be lowered as organisers faced slow ticket sales and general manager of the organising committee Thiago Jannuzzi maintained that the price setting for the tournament is correct.

“There is a balance between what one can charge and the costs of the event,” said Jannuzzi. “It was all successful. We are seeing important revenues to deal with our costs. Getting that right is important.”

That has not been the view of fans and not even of Brazil and Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson, who weighed in on the subject. On Friday the goalkeeper is playing close to home in Porte Alegre in the quarter-finals and plenty of family members have asked for tickets. “We buy tickets for the family and you can feel it in your wallet,” said Alisson. The goalkeeper indicated that fans were “right” to protest over ticket prices.

Tournament organisers also shrugged off complaints about the bumpy pitches with Lionel Messi among the players expressing criticism.  They have also been pleased with the implantation of VAR, a first at the Copa America. On average, the VAR has stopped matches for two minutes and 26 seconds.

Conmebol’s head of refereeing Wilson Seneme pointed out that there have been  “no scandals” in the 17 VAR interventions made in the group stages. “We are very pleased with the result,” said Seneme.

“In Brazil we have been working on it since 2017, which gave us many positive and negative experiences so we could arrive this well in 2019.  But the referee is the one who decides. VAR only helps in the decisions.”

In a bizarre move but a repeat of the 2015 and 2016 tournaments organisers announced that the quarter-finals of the Copa America will go straight to penalties in case of a draw, but that approach will not apply in the semi-finals where extra time will be played before going to a shoot-out from the spot kick.

On Thursday hosts Brazil take on Venezuela in the first of four quarter-finals. In a potential banana-skin game Argentina play Venezuela, who defeated the Albiceleste in a friendly earlier this year, and later on Friday Colombia encounter Chile in the standout tie of the round. Uruguay and Peru will decide who gets the final ticket for the last four.

Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1569070542labto1569070542ofdlr1569070542owedi1569070542sni@o1569070542fni1569070542