(Reuters) – The head of Uruguay’s soccer association, Wilmar Valdez, says it was a mistake to play the Centenary Copa America in the United States and that the tournament had been arranged to favor Mexico, who beat Uruguay 3-1 in their opening game.
In a bad-tempered encounter in Phoenix on Sunday, Uruguay had a man sent off in the first half and conceded two goals in the last nine minutes. That came after organizers had played the wrong national anthem for Uruguay before the match.
Valdez told Uruguayan radio station Sport 890 that the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) should not have chosen the United States to host the 100th anniversary of the world’s oldest continental competition first played in Buenos Aires in 1916.
The tournament has been boosted to a 16-team format for the first time with the inclusion of six teams from CONCACAF, which governs soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean.
“CONMEBOL got it wrong,” Valdez said. “It erred in celebrating a tournament like this, the oldest in the world, South American football, here in the United States where yesterday it became very clear that it is arranged for Mexico.”
As one of the CONMEBOL officials behind the hosting decision, Valdez admitted he shared responsibility for “the mistake”. He offered no evidence to back his claim that the tournament had been set up to favor Mexico.
“South American football is passion,” Valdez said, adding that the United States did not share it. “It’s a different culture, with lots of positive things. But it’s a country where they don’t feel football.
“They are not like South Americans and that causes problems.”
Mexico beat Uruguay in front of 60,000 fans in Phoenix on Sunday.
Uruguay were a goal down after just three minutes and had a man sent off just before half time but fought back to level the score, only to see Mexico grab two late goals.
The Uruguayans surrounded the referee after the match and Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio later complained he was threatened by Uruguay defender Jose Gimenez.
Uruguay’s next game is against Venezuela on Thursday, while Mexico play Jamaica.
(Writing by Andrew Downie in Sao Paulo; Editing by Peter Rutherford)