By Scott McGlynn
This week the 44th Copa América kicks off in Chile with the ten South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) member teams, and invitee’s Mexico and Jamaica, taking part in the month-long tournament. With footballing stars such as Lionel Messi, Neymar and James Rodriguez featuring, the tournament is one not to be missed.
First played in 1916, the Copa América is the oldest continental competition in world football and is seen by many as a key factor in the development of the FIFA World Cup. With a varying format through the years, the current format consists of three groups of four teams, with each team playing the others in their group once. The top two teams in each group, plus the two best third placed teams qualify for the quarter-finals where each game is a straight elimination set-up. An added interest in this year’s competition is that extra-time will not be played in the quarter-finals or the semi-finals – games ending in a draw will go straight to a penalty shoot-out.
Uruguay and Argentina are the most successful teams in the tournament with 15 and 14 victories respectively, Uruguay are the current defending champions. Brazil have surprisingly only won the tournament on 8 occasions, their last title coming in 2007. Of the remaining CONMEBOL teams, Paraguay and Peru have two titles apiece, while Colombia and Bolivia both have single tournament victories. Chile, Ecuador and Venezuela are yet to win the tournament, although Chile has been runner-up on four occasions.
Historically the Copa América is a high scoring tournament, with an average of over three goals per game. This year’s tournament has the potential to be just as exciting, with the attacking talents of Lionel Messi, Neymar, Edinson Cavani, James Rodriguez and Sergio Aguero all set to play an important part in the coming weeks. One player who will be missing though is Luis Suarez, the Uruguayan misses the tournament due to his 9 match international ban for biting at last year’s World Cup. The individual top goalscorers in the Copa América are Norberto Mendez of Argentina and Zizinho of Brazil with 17 goals each. This record is unlikely to be beaten however, as it was set when the tournament was played every 1-2 years rather than the 4 year rotation of the current format.
The tournament kicks off on Thursday with host nation Chile taking on Ecuador, a game that neither team will want to lose. The pick of the group games sees Argentina taking on Uruguay on June 16th and Brazil against Colombia on June 17th – both games are sure to compelling viewing.
Argentina are the current 3 (2/1) favourites for Copa América glory with defending champions Uruguay 17 (16/1). Brazil are available at 5 (4/1) with hosts Chile also 5 (4/1) to lift their first ever title.