Liverpool are playing football again, the Copa America's moving on to the knock-out rounds, and Stewart Downing's at Melwood undergoing his medical as we speak. After six weeks of rumours and wasting time, everything's starting to pick up again, so we'd best get on with it, too...
* On Liverpool's arrival in Kuala Lumpur in advance of Saturday's match against a Malaysian all-star XI, Kenny Dalglish sat down to talk to the press about life, the Universe, and Stewart Downing. In the end, he didn't do much more than repeat the official website's brief "We have agreed a fee" press release, but that didn't stop LFCtv from advertising it as though he'd passed along new and meaningful information. More interesting for most, then, will be what came after his Stewart Downing acknowledgment, when he reflected on the just passed friendly against Guandong Sunray Cave:
It was a good training exercise for us. Everyone who came with us got a game. That's important as this is just a continuation of pre-season training. It's very important players get time on the pitch.
In pre-season players will make mistakes and we did make a few but we will accept that and move on. The lads all worked very hard.
And as always, that's the key thing for everybody to remember in preseason: it's all about the fitness. Maybe if Joe Cole sweats it out in the heat of the Southeast Asian summer he could even return with the squad to Liverpool able to make it ten minutes before looking exhausted. Dalglish also talks of the hope that being out of Europe will provide a silver lining by way of more rest and a resultingly stronger league campaign. Whether reality ends up matching the hopes remains to be seen, but given the talk from fans since Europa League qualification slipped out of reach on the final days of the season, it seems that Dalglish is on the same page as everybody else at least when it comes to hoping something good can come from missing out on continental play.
* The Copa America—your source for boredom in July. Or at least until the last few matches, when a combination of teams stumbling comically into some form of competence or comically stumbling into entertaining incompetence has lead to something at least vaguely enjoyable to watch. And so despite looking mostly awful, the tournament's three supposed favourites—Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay—all move on to the quarter finals this weekend. Are you ready for something that might turn out to be enjoyable football if we're lucky?
Colombia v. Peru 4PM ART/3PM EST/8PM GMT
Argentina v. Uruguay 7:15PM ART/6:15PM EST/11:15PM GMT
If there was one consolation for Uruguay coming out of the first two group stage matches, it was that at least they hadn't looked as lifeless in attack as hosts Argentina. That went out the window with the third game of group play when Argentina coach Sergio Batista finally gave up on forcing Carlos Tevez and Enrique Lavezzi into the starting eleven. Neither had shown an ability to work with Lionel Messi, insisting on dribbling into dead ends and giving up possession, separating early from midfield and damaging Argentina's attempts at a possession game, and generally looking as though they didn't have an ounce of footballing sense between them. That stood in stark contrast to Gonzalo Higauin and Sergio Aguero, who had looked fantastic in cameos and who many had expected to start with Messi from day one.
Along with replacing ineffective midfielders Cambiasso and Banega, Batista finally switching to the forward lineup he should have been using all along paid instant dividends, waking Argentina from its slumber.
The same couldn't be said for Uruguay, though, and they continue to look a shadow of their World Cup selves. While Luis Suarez has had some wonderful individual moments, the team as a whole simply hasn't found top gear. It's especially worrisome in the case of Diego Forlan, who looks as though at some point in the last twelve months he was abducted by aliens and replaced by Bob from your Sunday rec league. In short, if Uruguay doesn't somehow get it together right quick, and if Batista resists the urge to stick Tevez and Lavezzi back in the starting lineup, the solid money is on this being the end of the line for Uruguay and Luis Suarez.
Brazil v. Paraguay 4PM ART/3PM EST/8PM GMT
Chile v. Venezuela 7:15PM ART/6:15PM EST/11:15PM GMT
Paraguay gave Brazil a tough group stage match that seemed likely to end in a loss until an unlikely late goal from Fred, the most drably unimonikered Brazilian in history, drew them level. Lucas has done his usual good work breaking up play and looking to keep possession ticking over in midfield, but until a sudden shower of goals last night against Ecuador, Brazil's attack had been failing miserably. And it would be easy to see that explosion as being largely down to an out-manned and disorganised Ecuador side chasing a game they needed to win in order to advance to the knock-out rounds. For the most part Neymar has looked soft and selfish, swelling the ranks of those who doubt he has what it takes to make it at the highest levels of European football, and the likes of Ganso and Robinho haven't fared much better, engaging in endless selfish play, flopping around at the slightest touch, and through all the histrionics barely supplying the slightest goal threat.
Throw in a suddenly shaky Julio Caesar and a side that took them to the limit once before, and it's far from assured that Brazil will make it through to the semis. Though on the other hand, until they went top of their group on goal differential at the very end, they were penciled in to face Chile—perhaps the best looking side coming out of the group stages. So there's that.
In other bits and bobs, the Paul Konchesky to Leicester City transfer has been officially completed, and while the £1.5M the club got in return is nothing on the £4M & youngsters given up for him last summer, it's not literally nothing. Which is something. And which also just about does it for the Thursday news and notes. To round things out, enjoy Conor Coady's cracker of a first goal with the senior side from yesterday's match in Guangzhou...