After a 4 year absence the 43rd edition of the Copa América kicks off in Argentina tomorrow in what must be one of the most open versions of the tournament in recent years. Hosts Argentina will be under massive pressure from the home support to succeed, as will holders Brazil, who have yet to fully find their rhythm under Mano Menezes. Uruguay, after such an impressive performance at the World Cup in South Africa, will be looking to have their names carved into this year’s trophy, whilst one shouldn’t underestimate nations such as Paraguay, Chile, Ecuador and Colombia to mount an upset in the latter stages of the competition.
Group A looks relatively straightforward for the Copa América hosts and they should top it without much trouble. Colombia would also be expected to go through comfortably, leaving Costa Rica and Bolivia to fight it out for third place. I don’t see Costa Rica troubling many, especially as they’ve brought a squad featuring mostly home-based players, so I’d go for Bolivia to go through to the next stage alongside Argentina and Colombia.
Players to Watch:
Lionel Messi: The world’s best player has the ability to change any game and, if he performs to his best, can beat many opponents on his own. His only criticism to date has been that he hasn’t shone for Argentina as often as he does for Barcelona, although it can be argued that Messi on a bad day is still better than the majority of footballers on the planet.
Sergio Agüero: El Kun can be devastating on his day, and is a personal favourite of mine. With Argentina’s embarrassment of riches upfront though (Tevez, Higuaín, Milito and Lavezzi are all vying for a starting place as well), it remains to be seen how much playing time he’ll get, and in which position.
Radamel Falcao: The Porto striker has been in blistering form this season, with his goals leading his team to the Europa League title. Will be Colombia’s main threat both in the air and on the ground.
Fredy Guarín: Another Colombian who plies his trade at Porto, Guarín has a vicious and accurate long range shot and often gets his name on the scoresheet.
Brazil will be favourites to top the group but in truth it might be harder than many believe. Firstly, Brazil are going through a transitional phase at the moment. While they are still very capable of producing beautiful football, the team no longer has that aura that they had in the days of Ronaldo, Romario, Ronaldinho and co. They have plenty of gifted players though, Neymar being the most exciting teenager playing the beautiful game at the moment and Ganso back from injury, but to me the side looks like it’s lacking something. If Pato isn’t on form they could struggle for goals, with Fred being the only other striker in the squad. Ecuador and Paraguay look likely to tussle for second place. I see Ecuador just edging it, with Venezuela propping up the bottom of the group.
Players to Watch:
Neymar: Brazil’s wonderkid seems to earn a new superlative as each week goes by. Recently scored in the Final to help his side win the Copa Libertadores, and is constantly linked with a move to a big team, whether it be Chelsea or Real Madrid. So far, he’s shown that he can walk the walk. This Copa América is his first test against the best the continent has to offer and it’ll be intriguing to watch.
Paulo Henrique Ganso: Neymar’s team-mate at Santos looks set to move to AC Milan in the near future, but if he is fully fit and on-form he can make Brazil tick.
Thiago Silva: Milan defender who will be in charge of defending Brazil’s goal alongside veteran Lúcio. Very strong and steady, giving the more attacking players confidence to get forward.
Lucas Moura: A bit of a wild-card, the 18 year old certainly has talent, it’s just a question of whether he’ll get on the field. Maybe too early for him to make a huge impact, but he could be a useful weapon for Brazil against tiring defences as his dribbling can be superb.
Antonio Valencia: Manchester United’s winger will be a key player for his country and is one of their more experienced internationals. He will be Ecuador’s main creative outlet.
Felipe Caicedo: The striker that Man City no longer wanted, Caicedo had a fantastic season in Spain with Levante. His goals helped the team avoid certain relegation. Strong and quick, Ecuador will look to him for goals along with Christian Benítez.
A tough group which could be won by any of the 3 South American teams. Mexico, after their recent Gold Cup win, are only sending a young squad and so would do well to qualify, but first spot is definitely up for grabs. My money’s on Uruguay to continue their World Cup high and for Chile to secure second place above Peru.
Players to Watch:
Edinson Cavani: The Napoli striker was in red-hot form last season, scoring 26 times. His confidence is sky-high and this could be his tournament.
Diego Forlán: After such an impressive World Cup, this year hasn’t been the best for Forlán. He fell out of favour at his club, had disagreements with both the manager and other players, and looks set to depart Madrid this summer. However, it would be silly to doubt his commitment to La Celeste.
Luís Suárez: Suárez makes up the third member of Uruguay’s dangerous attacking three. The Liverpool forward is a handful for defenders and has adapted very well to the Premier League since moving from Ajax.
Diego Lugano: Uruguay’s skipper is never one to shy away from a challenge and it’ll be his job to marshall the back-line. He has plenty of experience but can lose his head at times with his rash tackling. Expect him to be in the book in the first group match.
Giovani Dos Santos: The most established member of Mexico’s squad, even though he’s only 22 years of age. Scored a beauty in the recent Gold Cup final.
Juan Manuel Vargas: Peruvian midfielder who plays his club football for Fiorentina, Vargas will be Peru’s link between defence and attack. Has a ferocious long range shot.
Matías Fernández: One of Chile’s many creative midfield players, Fernández will look to dribble past opponents and fashion out chances for strikers Suazo and Sánchez.
Alexis Sánchez: Set to move to Barcelona this summer for approximately 40 million euros, Sánchez is lightning quick and had his best season to date at Udinese last season.
Personally, I’m going to stick my neck out and say that I can see Uruguay upsetting the odds and beating Argentina in the Final. They’re currently still basking in the glory of reaching the World Cup Semi-Final, both Cavani and Suárez ended the season in great form, and their talisman Forlán should recapture the brilliance that saw him delight so many in South Africa. Argentina have a superb attack but to me their defence looks weak, and too much pressure could be put on Messi by the ever-demanding home fans. However, if Messi brings his Barcelona form to the tournament it’ll be hard for anyone to stop Argentina. Brazil will get to the latter stages but, even with Neymar’s brilliance, I just don’t see this being their year.
Whatever happens, the Copa América is sure to be full of excitement and drama.
*Note: Credit for the player images goes to Sortitoutsi.net and their brilliant Megapack for Football Manager.