On Thursday the 44th edition of the Copa America kicks off in Chile. The competition brings together some of world football’s biggest stars for South America’s biggest football tournament.
Eight cities across the country will go football crazy over the next few weeks as current holders Uruguay attempt to defend the trophy they won in 2011. Alongside 10 countries from the South American football federation (CONMEBOL) will be two guest nations invited from the North and Central America and Caribbean football federation (CONCACAF),Mexico and tournament debutants, Jamaica.
The competition is split into three groups of four teams with the top two from each progressing to the knock-out stage alongside the best two third placed teams. Chile as hosts head Group A and they kick-off the tournament on Thursday in Santiago against Ecuador. Mexico and Bolivia are the other two nations in the group and they will lock horns the following day in Viña del Mar.
The host nation will be red hot favourites to top the group and with brilliant Arsenal playmaker Alexis Sánchezpulling the strings they may even come close to lifting the trophy on home soil. Mexico, twice finalists but still looking for their first ever championship will look to veteran central defender RafaMárquezto lead from the front and will also be heavily fancied to progress to the knock-out phase.
Group B sees pre-tournament favourites Argentina go head to head with reigning champions Uruguay, Paraguay and rank outsiders Jamaica. La Albiceleste with Lionel Messi, SergioAgüero Gonzalo Higuaín and Carlos Tévez have a devastating array of attacking talent and with Barcelona’s Javier Mascherano and PSG’s Javier Pastore playing a supporting role in midfield few would back against Gerardo Martino’s side lifting the crown on July the 4th.
The key game in this group looks set to be match day two when Argentina play Uruguay in La Serena. Veteran coach Oscar Tabárez has been involved with the national team since 2006 and a huge emphasis will fall on EdinsonCavani to get the goals in the absence of Luis Suárez who is still serving his international football suspension after biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup in 2014.
In group C it’s a new look Brazil that coach Dunga, a World Cup winner in 1994 brings to the tournament. The golden boy of Brazilian football Neymar, fresh from an incredible debut season in Spain with Barcelona will feel the weight of the country on his shoulders once again as the 51-year-old tactician returns for a second spell in charge to try to erase the nightmare of their World Cup semi-final humiliation at the hands of Germany last summer.
In midfield Felipe Anderson has a chance to announce himself on the international stage after a wonderful season in Italy with Lazio and Willian,having finally adjusted to life at Premier League champions Chelsea, is also a likely starter for their opening match against Peru on Sunday. It seems that just like in Group B the winners of this section will be decided in match day two when Dunga and Co take on Columbia in Santiago.
Los Cafeteros are a dangerous proposition as they showed last summer in Brazil and they also have one of the world’s best young talents in 23-year-old Real Madrid midfielder James Rodríguez. Pair him with a forward line that could include Manchester United’s Radamel Falcao, Sevilla’s highly prized Carlos Bacca and Porto’s Jackson Martinez and you can see why Dunga has much to concern himself about ahead of next Wednesday’s showdown. Venezuela, who managed to progress from the group stages alongside Brazil in 2011 make up the Group C quartet.
By Steve Mitchell