As another great season of club football comes to an end, the duty of international football awaits. After last year’s Copa América – hosted and won by Chile – a new edition of South America’s most anticipated tournament will take place. Hundred years of Copa América football will be celebrated with a special edition, hosted by the USA and contested by countries varying from the CONMEBOL (10 teams) and the CONCACAF (6 teams). Let’s take a look at the contestants and what to expect from them.
Two finals in one year time, but no trophy. Argentina may be among world’s finest, but have nothing to show for it. The last major trophy won by the Albiceleste dates back to 1993 when they won their 14th Copa América.
This Copa América – like any other – should be the summer where Lionel Messi and co capture the long-awaited 15th Copa América title. A title that would put them on level terms – Copa América wise – with eternal rivals Uruguay. Any other outcome and manager Gerardo Martino could see himself go under a lot of pressure.
Talking about pressure, Brazil boss Dunga knows all about it. Ever since his appointment in July 2014, he has divided opinions. The exclusion of former Brazil captain Thiago Silva has played a big part in that. The Copa América of last summer also didn’t give much joy to the Brazilian nation as they were knocked out in the quarter-finals by Paraguay.
It seems that the Seleção are still suffering from the effects of the cruel semi-final loss vs. Germany in their own backyard. Nonetheless, Brazil still possesses enough quality and have what it takes to capture their 9th Copa América. If Brazil does fall to another early knockout Dunga will be fearing for his position.
After a quarter-final knockout vs. Chile last summer, the Copa América record holders Uruguay will feel this year may be theirs. After the return of Luis Suárez – who made his comeback from suspension last March vs. Brazil – La Celeste is at full strength. Although the Barcelona number 9 is still working on his recovery, he is expected to return for the last group game vs. Jamaica.
Next to the firepower of Luis Suárez, Uruguay also possess a centre back pairing – Godín and Giménez (both Atlético Madrid) – considered as one of the best in the world. Add to that the strong mentality Oscar Tabárez’s men always bring and Uruguay are serious contenders for the Copa América Centenario title.
As reigning champions, Chile are for sure an opponent to be reckoned with. La Roja had to cope with the loss of their successful manager Jorge Sampaoli though as he resigned in January of 2016.
The man to follow in his footsteps was Juan Antonio Pizzi. The ex-Spain international has high standards to retain as his predecessor done a brilliant job. To live up to these standards, Pizzi will be hoping for Alexis Sánchez to be on top of his game after an inconsistent season for Arsenal.
Teams to watch
As hosts, the United States of America have big expectations to live up to. Lately, football in America is developing well but a good Copa América campaign could really fast-forward that process.
USA manager Jürgen Klinsmann has put together a talented squad including the emerging Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund). The 17-year old is believed to be one of the biggest talents in the European game. Under the guidance of USA’s more experienced Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders) and Michael Bradley (Toronto), Pulisic could become a revelation this summer.
‘When you got James Rodríguez you are always with a chance’, that is what the whole of Colombia will be thinking. Rodríguez (Real Madrid) sure has the capability to guide his country through a big tournament – that he showed in the World Cup of 2014, wherein he scored six goals in a campaign which ended in the quarter-finals.
The great heights reached in the World Cup, could not be succeeded with a successful Copa América though as Colombia stranded in the last eight. A poor start in the World Cup qualifiers also didn’t help. However, José Pékerman’ men seemed to have turned it around lately with some encouraging performances vs. Bolivia and Ecuador. With the recent change of form, Colombia might just become a tricky contender for the upcoming Copa América.
Paraguay has proved to be a tough opponent in the last two Copa América’s. in 2011 La Albirroja reached the final, but were beaten by Uruguay. Last year, Paraguay’s campaign was ended in the semi-finals by Argentina.
To better those results will be a hard ask for Paraguay manager Ramón Díaz as his squad simply haven’t got the talent countries like Argentina and Brazil have. However, Paraguay is surely capable of knocking out any opponent on their day. Especially players like Juan Iturbe (Bournemouth) and Derlis González (Dynamo Kyiv), can be of real danger this summer for the two-time Copa América champions.
Mexico is the dominant side when it comes to the Gold Cup – the North American championship – but are yet to win a single Copa América. El Tri did come close, though, by reaching the final twice and claiming three bronze medals.
To come in contention of winning their first Copa América, Mexico will direct their hopes at Javier Hernández. Chicharito had an outstanding season for Bayer Leverkusen scoring 26 goals in 40 outings. He and Andrés Guardado (PSV Eindhoven) can become pivotal to Mexico’s title hopes.
After the World Cup of 2014 – wherein Costa Rica reached the quarter-finals after beating the likes of Italy and Uruguay – La Sele introduced themselves to the footballing world. With fearless players like Joel Campbell (Arsenal) and Bryan Ruiz (Sporting Lisbon), Costa Rica turned out to be the surprise of the World Cup.
Now – two years later – more or less the same squad will travel to the USA. So most of the players know what it takes to be a surprise team. The question is; can they do it again?
Ecuador may not have a great history when it comes to the Copa América, their form of late doesn’t suggest that. In the World Cup 2018 qualifiers, Los Amarillos have started like a house on fire. Thirteen points out of a possible eighteen have put them in second place, in front of Argentina and Brazil.
With this form, they are a team to watch this summer. Unfortunately for Ecuador, their top goal scorer Felipe Caicedo won’t play in the Copa América Centenario due to injury.
Making up the numbers or unlikely heroes?
In every tournament, there are teams who have a low probability of getting any glory. In this edition of the Copa América, that role seems the destined for the following countries: Jamaica, Peru, Haiti, Venezuela, Bolivia and Panama. Getting knocked out in the group stage seems a logical result for these nations. However, if they beat the odds and do make it out of the group stages they may become the unlikely protagonists.
Written by David Kraakman