The world’s oldest international football competition – Copa América has its measure of global appeal with South America players who ply their trade across the globe battling it out for continental glory. As well as the usual heavyweights, and hot favorites, Argentina (14-time winners), Brazil (8-time winners) and Uruguay (15-time winners); Chile are back-to-back defending champions but there is a real chance of surprises and well worth watching are Ecuador, surprise winners of the recent South American Under 20 Championship.
There are 10 CONMEBOL representatives plus two invited countries to complete 12 nations competing in quadrennial international competition. 2019 Asian Cup Final, winners Qatar and runners-up Japan are the invited countries. For Qatar it is a debut Copa América as the hosts of the 2022 World Cup become the first Arab nation to play in the tournament. For Japan it is a second appearance since their debut in 1999.
This will be the last Copa América to be held in an odd-number year as CONMEBOL has determined that from 2020 the competition will follow the same calendar as UEFA`s European Championship.
Here is a preview of all three groups:
One of the favorites and the host has the burden and weight of expectation from the home crowd as Brazil host the continent for the first time since 1989. The last time Brazil hosted a major footballing competition – the FIFA World Cup in 2014, it ended in a fiasco for Seleção. Brazil have not won a major title since they lifted this trophy back in Venzuela in 2007 and the failure of not progressing beyond the quarter final at the last World Cup means the pressure on Tite’s team will be intense. With the loss of golden boy – Neymar to injury, Philippe Coutinho has the unenviable task of leading his team. 1963 winners – Bolivia head to Brazil with minimal expectation; La Verde are without a victory in international football since beating Myanmar last October – a run of seven games without a win. Experience striker, Marcelo Martins will be saddled with the responsibility of leading his country attack in the tournament. Venezuela haven’t tasted Copa glory but were semi-finalist in 2011, Rafael Dudamel has a very experience squad led by Tomas Rincon. The Torino midfielder is the most capped player in the team but the weight of expectation will rest on Salomon Rondon is the arguably the team’s best player. La Vinotinto will hope to provide their country with some joy from Brazil to douse the political situation back home. Peru can build on the experience of the last World Cup appearance though they failed to beyond the group stage. The squad is very inexperienced with only five players in double figures as far as caps are concerned. Peru`s main man is 35 year old striker Paulo Guerrero who has a tally of 35 goals in his squad best total of 89 international appearances.
Who will progress from Group A? Brazil are favorites to win the group with Venezuela likely to progress as runners up.
After losing out in the last two Copa América finals to same opponent – Chile on penalties, Lionel Messi and co will hope to get over the line in Brazil. A victory at Estádio do Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro on the 7th of July could help ease the pains of La Albiceleste fans whose last success in this competition was 26 years ago in Ecuador. This competition might be the last opportunity for the talented generation of Messi, Aguero and Di Maria to win a major competition for their country. The introduction of Real Betis Lo Celso to the midfield could be the equilibro Lionel Scaloni’s team requires to succeed. Carlos Queiroz will get his competition bow as Colombia’s coach in Salvador against Argentina. The former Iran coach is likely to rely on the old warhorses in Captain Radamel Falcao, James Rodriguez and David Ospina while Yerry Mina and Davinson Sanchez should continue their fledging partnership in central defense. Los Cafeteros were Copa champions in 2001, winning the competition without conceding. Can Queiroz team be the team to beat in Brazil? Juan Carlos Osorio’s surprise resignation in February prompted APF to appoint Eduardo Berizzo as the new man to charge of La Albirroja. Paraguay had their best ever performance in this competition when they finished runners-up in 2011 but it is unlikely Paraguay will progress beyond the group stage with the average squad going to Brazil. Qatar football has been on the rise; their Asian Cup success is epitome of footballing progress made by the Gulf nation. They are the next host of the FIFA World Cup so their invitation to the Copa América is expected to bring extra excitement to Asia and perhaps some upset during this tournament.
Who will progress from Group B? Argentina are favorites to win the group while Colombia would be expected to progress as runners up.
Back-to-back champions, Chile open their campaign in São Paulo against Japan. Reinaldo Rueda is aware of the expectation for the defending champions as they prepare for their title defense. With Manchester City goalkeeper Claudio Bravo not involved with La Roja, the extra burden rest on struggling Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal. The core of the victorious 2015 and 2016 are getting older with many not in their prime anymore – Mauricio Isla, Jean Beausejour, Gonzalo Jara and Gary Medel have over 100 caps each and are aged 30 and above. Chile have it all to do to complete a hat-trick of Copa América. Japan will be looking to make amends for their shock defeat to Qatar in the Asian Cup final in this competition. The Samurai Blue participated in the 1999 edition of Copa America held in Paraguay but didn’t progress beyond the group phase. Ecuador have reached the semi-finals of this competition twice (1959, 1993) but have been drawn in a tricky group. La Tricolor should have not worry about testing themselves against some of the best teams on the continent with a bright future in sight in the Ecuador u20. Hernán Darío Gómez is unlikely to blood some of these youngsters with the junior La Tricolor in the last four in Poland at the FIFA u20 World Cup. Uruguay have enjoyed stability under El Maestro – Óscar Tabárez. La Celeste is a team blessed with a mixture of world class stars and upcoming talents to succeed the aging stars. Led by Skipper Diego Godin from the back, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani have a combined 101 international goals between these two strikers. These three players were integral members of the 2011 victorious team that conquered the continent. In the twilight of their international careers, they would hope to lead the team deeper in the competition but there are quality players – José Giménez, Rodrigo Bentancur, Federico Valverde, Lucas Torreira and Maxi Gómez waiting in the wings to take over from the experienced campaigners. Uruguay would be expected to win the group as well as go all the way to the final.
Who will progress from Group C? Uruguay are favorites to win the group while Chile should finish in second place as runners up.
Third place qualification
The best two third place teams from the three Copa América groups will qualify for the knockout stages of the tournament. This will cause a number of permutations both for qualification and potential quarter-final matchups; especially since the final group stage matches will not all be played concurrently. Incentives for teams may be altered by the group standings and state of the competition. Ecuador and Qatar are teams that might join the last eight as based third-place teams for the quarter finals.
For many of the teams at this tournament this is a chance to form a cohesive team ahead of the grueling South American 2022 World Cup qualifiers. This is probably the final Copa América for Chile’s aging squad. They reigning back-to-back champions can attribute their success to a consistent core of players but failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup perhaps demonstrated the decline of their stars. Peru are another side that face similar issues. Their reliance on the old guards – Jefferson Farfan and Paolo Guerreiro whose combined age of 69 means the two-time Copa América need to look to the future.
Brazil boast a strong advantage with a settled side filled with a mix of established superstars in their prime and up and coming talents such as Richarlison and David Neres. Argentina are expected to be Brazil’s closest challengers. As usual much will depend upon Lionel Messi. The likes of Lo Celso, Dybala, Lautaro Martinez and Rodrigo De Paul will be responsible for finally making the most of their star man at a tournament. If they can do so Argentina are certainly capable of going all the way. Colombia enter a new era under Carlos Queiroz. With only two games under their new manager so far it will be intriguing to see how the team lines up. They are one of the more talented outsiders if Queiroz find a winning formula from the start. A relatively kind group could help them to find their feet before the knockout stages.
Who will win the tournament?
Brazil have the favorites tag and look worthy of it. They possess arguably the strongest squad and home advantage should make them formidable opponents. If Argentina can make the most of Lionel Messi they are the closest side to Brazil in terms of talent. However, they have consistently lacked cohesion. Lo Celso should provide the balance but it would not be too surprising to see them face Brazil as early as the quarter-finals should Colombia best them in the group stages.
Uruguay and Colombia are the pick of the outside contenders, but this Copa America is perhaps a tournament too far for even a team with the pedigree of Chile.
Of the longshot, one team to watch is Venezuela. Salomon Rondon and Josef Martinez are two quality attackers with contrasting styles. Both were on the score sheet in their March win over a full-strength Argentina and could prove difficult to defend when Venezuela launch counterattacks. That win was all the more impressive considering it came on neutral ground in Madrid. They have also incorporated their 2017 Under-20 World Cup finalists alongside their experienced players with Ronald Hernandez, Yangel Herrera and goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez all starting in the victory over Argentina.
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