The Copa America has traditionally been seen as a clash between Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, but this year’s edition sees increased competition for South America’s traditional heavyweights. The emergence of host nation Chile as an international power, the resurgence of Colombia’s national team, and a promising Ecuador side that’s on the rise means there are nearly half a dozen teams in the tournament with a reasonable shot at lifting the trophy when the Copa concludes next month.
With a squad of mostly domestic players, expectations are low for Bolivia, especially after they lost 5-0 to Argentina in their final warm-up before the tournament. Manager Mauricio Soria says his team will come out attacking. But with forwards who ply their trade at clubs like Changchun Yatai and Oriente Petrolero that may not be the most prudent strategy. Look for a first round exit from the Bolivians.
Host country Chile has gradually been building its profile on the world stage. With world-class talent like Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez and Juventus’ Arturo Vidal, not to mention Barcelona keeper Claudio Bravo, plus the advantage of playing at home with their fans behind them, the Chileans have a legitimate shot at going all the way.
Although they lack the star power of big name European-based players, Ecuador showed they’re not to be taken lightly by putting four unanswered goals past Panama in their final warm-up match. Pumas midfielder Fidel Martinez scored a brace in that match and will provide goal threat from midfield to help out strikers like West Ham’s Enner Valencia up top. A quarterfinal appearance is within their grasp and if the cards fall in their favor, this team might just be capable of reaching the final.
Back in 2012, this Mexico side looked to be on the verge of something. Turns out they were, although what it turned out to be was barely qualifying for the World Cup. But once they made it to Brazil, Miguel Herrera’s team turned in a string of strong performances, giving the host country a hard time before being knocked out by the Dutch. Having been invited to take part in this tournament in the same summer as the Gold Cup, Herrera has hedged his bets somewhat, selecting something of a B team for the Copa. But even with a second-string squad, Mexico find themselves in a group with no clear favorite beyond host country Chile and thus could foreseeably make it through to the second round.
Lionel Messi and Argentina just missed getting their hands on the World Cup last summer as they fell in the face of a superior German team. But the Messi of today is quite different from the Messi of one year ago. Having shed nearly 10 pounds and gotten his mojo working again, Messi has arguably been in the best form of his career of late as he led Barcelona to its second historic treble. With Carlos Tevez restored to the lineup along with Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero and Napoli’s Gonzalo Higuain, the Argentines have the most formidable attack in the tournament and are favorites to lift the trophy.
Jamaica, like Mexico, were invited to this tournament. While it’s nice to compete in a major international tournament, having been drawn into the same group as perennial favorites Uruguay and Argentina might have dampened that enthusiasm somewhat. With a squad consisting mostly of MLS and second division English players, Jamaica have experience. But it’s difficult to see a team with a forward line led by the likes of Houston Dynamo’s Giles Barnes or Vancouver’s Darren Mattocks having enough to get past the likes of Messi’s Argentina or Cavani’s Uruguay. While they may add a bit of Caribbean flavor, it will take a minor miracle to see the Reggae Boys past the first round.
Last time out under manager Gerardo Martino, Paraguay made it all the way to the final, ultimately losing to Uruguay. Their most recognizable players then as now are former Man City striker Roque Santa Cruz (currently at Cruz Azul) and former Borussia Dortmund striker Lucas Barrios (now at Montpellier). Most of the rest of the squad ply their trade in South America and in the Mexican Liga MX. While there is experience and quality in this side, it’s difficult to see them getting out of the group, especially when their first match will be against an Argentina side coached by none other than Gerardo Martino.
With Luis Suarez still in the midst of a nine-match ban for biting Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup, defending champions Uruguay will have to make due without their most talented player. But while the Barça striker will be missed, it is comforting to have understudies like Edinson Cavani and Bordeaux’s Diego Rolan. Even without Suarez, Uruguay had no problem trouncing Guatemala 5-1 in their final warm-up before the tournament. Having lifted the Copa more than any other country, Uruguay are always among the favorites, Suarez or not.
Even after last summer’s debacle at the World Cup, Brazil remains a favorite in every competition it enters. With attacking talisman Neymar long since recovered from the injury that ruled him out of the disastrous loss to Germany and fresh from winning a treble with Barcelona, Brazil are expected to hit the ground running in Chile. In his second stint as coach, Dunga has restored the team’s self-esteem. He’s also cut a few players from last summer’s team and made a few intriguing additions like Liverpool playmaker Philippe Coutinho.
With the breakout player of the tournament in James Rodriguez, Colombia were among the surprise packages of last summer’s World Cup. Despite being eliminated by Brazil in the quarterfinals, there’s a sense that there’s more to come from this team. Striker Radamel Falcao has been restored to the lineup and after a forgettable season with Manchester United he scored the only goal in Colombia’s 1-0 win over Costa Rica. Falcao will be eager to put this season behind him and remind the world why he was regarded as one of the top strikers in the world not too long ago. Capable of at least making the semis, this Colombia team are dark horse favorites to go all the way.
Peru’s new coach Ricardo Gareco is the most recently appointed of all managers in this summer’s Copa. Although there is quality in this team in Bayern Munich striker Claudio Pizarro and Schalke forward Jefferson Farfan, the Peruvians have had little time to prepare. With an opening match against perennial favorites Brazil awaiting, it’s perhaps prudent that Peru are already on record as saying this summer’s tournament is little more than a training ground for the next round of World Cup qualifiers.
Four years ago, Venezuela finished fourth and were unlucky not to reach the final, but the team’s development has been arrested since then. Having been unable to arrange any warm-up matches in advance of their opener against Colombia, Venezuela could be in for a rough time of things. By the time the Group Stage concludes, 2011’s fourth place finish could seem like a long time ago.
Every match of Copa America will be broadcast live on beIN Sports!