Soccer players do not get much time to rest between all the competitions they compete in throughout the year. There are league games, cup games, champions league, and in some leagues they may have a special extra cup or tournament, such as the North American SuperLiga or the F.A. Cup in England. Soccer’s governing body FIFA, and the player’s themselves also place the same amount of importance on playing for their country. Each region of the world has their own competition that is just as important as the two-year world cup qualification process. The United States and Mexico finished their regional Gold Cup a week ago and now it is South America’s turn with the Copa America.
South America’s regional Copa America is held every four years and pits the confederation’s ten teams along with two invited teams against each other for a birth in the 2013 Confederation’s Cup. The Copa America is the oldest international squad competition in the world beginning as the “Campeonato Sudamericano de Selecciones” in 1916. The tournament gained its rotational host and elimination play format in 1987 and began inviting two teams for each edition in 1993. The tournament has seen it’s share of changes, controversy, and disappearance in it’s 95 year history, but it still remains as the continents shining soccer moment.
- The 2011 edition begins the hosting rotation over again with Argentina as host for the first time since 1987.
- The teams will compete in a group stage with four teams in three groups. Eight teams advance to the elimination round with the first and second in each group advancing along with two of the best third place teams.
- Mexico and Costa Rica are the invited teams and they chose to bring their U-23 squads to the tournament. CONEMBOL originally invited Japan instead of Costa Rica but because of the tsunami Japan decided to withdraw.
- Mexico has been an invitee in every tournament since 1993; Costa Rica also received invites in 1997 and 2004
- If Brazil, Costa Rica, or Mexico were to win Copa America, the best placing South American team would be South America’s representative in the 2013 Confederations Cup.
Argentina (Championships: 14)
Bolivia (Championships: 1)
Colombia (Championships: 1)
Costa Rica (Invitee From CONCACAF)
Argentina has won six of their 14 championships as hosts, and they are poised to make it seven as they come in as heavy favorites. Unlike our region in the United States where the US and Mexico loom large over all the other teams, South America has three major powers but there are other squads that are very close as showcased in last year’s world cup when all five South American teams qualified for the elimination round and four of them progressed to the quarterfinals. As has happened in the past, the draw was favorable to the hosts. Argentina should have no problem disposing of any of the three teams in their group based on talent alone. Manager Sergio Batista knows how to use Lionel Messi and is even thinking of adapting his Barcelona playing style to Argentina. They could have problems in defense but they probably won’t show up until the knockout round.
Colombia has enough talent with Falcao up front and a good defense to grab a second place spot. This is where they will miss the creative mind of FC Dallas’s David Ferrera. Bolivia knows all these teams well, but when they aren’t playing at home in the altitude they usually get blown out. Costa Rica’s U-23 squad has some talented players in it so don’t be too surprised if they grab a best third spot. However, the fact that they are a young core could see them falter out like the United States did four years ago.
Brazil (Defending Champions, Won championship 8 times, 2014 World Cup hosts)
Ecuador (Closest Finish: Fourth Place in 1959 and 1993 as hosts)
Paraguay (Championships: 2)
Venezuela (Closest Finish: Quarterfinals in 2007 as hosts)
Brazil are in renovation mode after long-time manager Dunga finally left the squad after the 2010 World Cup. New manager Mano Menezes may be using some of Dunga’s tactics with the young squad but throwing in a few of his own in the process. The stable back line and goalkeeper make Brazil formidable regardless of what happens in the front part of the field. Paraguay performed very well in the last world cup and convinced their manager to stay on for this tournament. Virtually that same team looks to make a huge impact on Copa America as well. Most of their games were won with defense last summer but they also showed they can score when they have to and that is something needed in a short tournament like this one. Brazil should still come out on top of this group because even when everything breaks down they always seem to be able to find a way to win. Paraguay has too much talent not to at least make it out of this group as well.
Ecuador has Jose Antonio Valencia and not much else going for it now, but against teams such as these that they play all the time there could be a surprise. Venezuela is bringing back most of the squad that made it to the quarterfinals in the last tournament and they have enough firepower to possibly make it in as a best third place team if they can nick a point against the top two teams and beat Ecuador.
Chile (Closest Finish: Second Place in 1955, 1956, 1979, 1987)
Mexico (Closest Finish: Second Place in 1993 & 2001)
Peru (Championships: 2)
Uruguay (Championships: 14)
Uruguay and Chile surprised many with how well they played in last year’s world cup. Uruguay advanced controversially to the semi-finals, but it doesn’t take away that the team, specifically Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez had a great tournament. Forlan didn’t have the best of season’s at his club but when it comes to his national team he is always ready to perform with 29 goals for his country to date. Forlan however is more of a facilitator more than he is a scorer and with two terrific forwards like Luis Suarez who has 17 goals for Uruguay and Edinson Cavani who had 25 goals for Napoli this season in Italy’s Serie A, he will have plenty to aim at. Uruguay’s terrific defense is back and so are those key midfield players. The team seems ready to go far in this tournament too. The only team that could stand in their way is Chile. Chile lost out to Brazil in the quarterfinals but they did show their mettle against Spain based off their two strikers up front, Matias Fernandez in the middle, and some goals out of nowhere.
Peru are good at dead balls but they just recently went through a stint where the team was suspended from playing by FIFA and seemingly have not recovered. Jefferson Farfan is not here but at least Paolo Guerrero is still around to lead the line. They have an experienced goalkeeper in Leao Butron that can make some big saves too. Mexico’s U-23 team includes Giovanni Dos Santos and Rafael Marquez Lugo to go forward and Hector Reynoso and Paul Aguilar to lead the back line too. Mexico’s young team has not looked good in warm-ups but they could come good when the games start. They very well could at least make one of the best third place spots.
Usually the expected teams do well in these tournaments but there is always room for some surprises along the way. Dallas will be watching the Mexican squad, but the tournament as a whole should be one exciting affair.