Uruguay's Oscar Wáshington Tabárez will take on Peru's Sergio Markarián, the man who was once his footballing master
The pupil versus master paradigm is well-established: Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Larry Holmes and Muhammad Ali. Paul Keating and Bob Hawke. Phil Taylor and Eric Bristow. Perhaps in time André Villas-Boas and José Mourinho. In Harold Bloom's theory of the Anxiety of Influence, great writers must first (metaphorically) kill off the writer who most influenced them – Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe for instance – before establishing their own style. In most cases, the divide is generational, a young upstart rising to challenge the established figurehead.
On Tuesday night in La Plata, as Uruguay meet Peru in the first semi-final of the Copa América, a younger man will be taking on the man who was once his master. This, though, is a peculiarly superannuated version of the paradigm. The younger man, Oscar Wáshington Tabárez, is 64; Sergio Markarián, who coached him briefly at Bella Vista in the 1970s, is only two years older. Both have similar core principles. Both have a similar belief in the importance of preventing the other side playing before playing themselves.
This year, Markarián said he was aiming at an "attractive style" to which Peruvians would warm. But he admitted that he thought it was "more important" to create "a team efficient both home and away that thinks it can win wherever the game is played. We have to increase the level of aggression in our marking, and not let the opponent play so much." It says much for Markarián's success that in his 14 games in charge, Peru have conceded only five goals.
His achievement has been remarkable. This is Peru's first semi-final at the Copa América since 1997 yet as they lost that 7-0 to Brazil having beaten Daniel Passarella's much-weakened Argentina in the quarter-final, there is a sense that this is their first proper semi since 1983. But Markarián's transformation goes far deeper than that. Peru finished bottom of South American World Cup qualifying. Getting out of their Copa América group would have been an achievement, particularly after injuries to Claudio Pizarro and Jefferson Farfán. To make it through having lost only the dead-rubber against Chile, to a stoppage-time own-goal, and to beat Colombia 2-0 in the quarter-final represents an astonishing success.
Yes, Peru were fortunate, with Radamel Falcao missing a penalty and Dayro Moreno thumping a shot against a post during a 15-minute spell of intense Colombian pressure, but Peru had the wherewithal to stand firm and when chances came their way in extra-time, they took them. They set out to frustrate opponents, but that is their right; one of the beauties of football is that poorer sides can defeat better ones by stopping them playing. "There's nothing beautiful about allowing the opponent to enjoy himself," Markarián said when pressed on his side's supposed negativity on Saturday, a more considered approach than his explosion after the defeat to Chile when his usual wonky smile slipped under questioning from reporters and he dismissed them as "mean-spirited mice".
In a sense, the injuries to Farfán and Pizzarro have worked in Markarián's favour. There is now no pressure to pack the team with forwards, and he has devised a plan in which Paolo Guerrero, who has had a superb tournament as an Asamoah Gyan-style lone forward, drifts left to allow Juan Vargas to cut in from the left wing and become an auxiliary second striker. On the right William Chiroque has been excellent in a shuttling role, but he is a major doubt with a hamstring injury.
Markarián belongs to the left-leaning intellectual tradition of South American football. He never made it as a player but after completing his university studies he became manager of a fuel distribution company. When he was 30, though, he saw Uruguay humiliated by Holland at the 1974 World Cup and decided it was his duty to become a coach and modernise Uruguayan football. After learning his trade at Bella Vista, though, he left for Paraguay in 1983 and has never returned professionally.
His influence in Paraguay was profound. He won two league titles with Olimpia and another two with Libertad. He groomed the national squad for the 1992 Olympics, and many of those players went on to play at the 2002 World Cup, for which he was shamefully replaced as coach by Cesare Maldini.
Markarián had success in Greece, won a Chilean league title with Universidad and took Sporting Cristal to two Peruvian titles and the final of the Copa Libertadores, an astonishing achievement no Peruvian club have come close to repeating in the 14 years since.
Tabárez is perhaps more of an idealist. Like Markarián, his press conferences tend to be long, thoughtful affairs, high on theory and low on soundbites. At the World Cup he spoke of his aim of rehabilitating the notion of garra, supposedly the defining feature of Uruguayan football, the spirit that has enabled a nation of three million people to win two World Cups and 14 Copa Américas.
The term literally means "claw", but comprises toughness, determination, mental strength and streetwiseness; at the 1986 World Cup it largely meant kicking anything that moved, but under Tabárez in 1990 Uruguay tempered their hardness with a warmer spirit. They remain tough, and they are not averse to gamesmanship, but Uruguay are a world away from the cynicism of 25 years ago. The Tabárez interpretation works, but his problem, as he tries to lead Uruguay to a record 15th Copa title, is that he must face a man of similar heritage and similar ideas, the man Bloom would see as his Oedipal father.
Peru's passage to the semi-finals is remarkable, but Venezuela's is unprecedented. They have won only four Copa América matches in their history and after a maiden quarter-final on home soil last time, they have ridden their luck and shown great resilience to reach the last four for the first time. Reaching the last 16 of the World Under-20s in Egypt two years ago, with a side that included José Rondón and Yohandry Orozco – both members of the present squad, although used largely from the bench– suggests the future as well as the present may be encouraging. The Vinotintos face Paraguay, with whom they drew 3-3 in the group stage thanks to two goals in the final two minutes. After playing more expansively in the group, Gerardo Martino returned to Paraguay's defensive traditions in the quarter-final against Brazil, leaving out Néstor Ortigoza for Victor Cáceres. The San Lorenzo midfielder is likely to return, though, especially in the absence of the Venezuela anchor Tomás Rincón, arguably their best player in the tournament but suspended for his red card against Chile.
Follow both semi-finals live on guardian.co.uk/football with Jacob Steinberg's minute-by-minute reports
Peru v Uruguay, La Plata – 1.45am on Wednesday GMT
Paraguay v Venezuela, Mendoz – 1.45am on Thursday GMT