It`s a measure of the global appeal of football that many of the players who will be at the 46th Copa America, the world`s oldest international football competition, will be familiar across the globe, from the Premier League to the `J` League. As well as the usual heavyweights, and hot favourites, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, there is a real chance of surprises and well worth watching are Ecuador, surprise winners of the recent South American Under 20 Championship when they finished ahead of Argentina.
Of the 12 competing nations 10 will be CONMEBOL representatives plus two invited teams which, ironically, are the countries who contested the 2019 Asian Cup Final, winners Qatar and runners-up Japan. For Qatar it is a debut Copa America as the hosts of the 2022 World Cup become the first Arab nation to play in the tournament. For Japan it is a second appearance since their debut in 1999. The flip side is not a single team from CONCACAF has been invited this year.
This will be the last Copa America to be held in an odd-number year as CONMEBOL has determined that from 2020 the competition will follow the same calendar as UEFA`s European Championship.
Hot favourites, and the whole world knows how such a burden can weigh heavy on the Samba Boys, Brazil are staging their first Copa America since 1989, which they won ending a 19 year streak without a trophy since the unforgettable 1970 World Cup. Brazil have not won a major title since they lifted this trophy back in 2007 and after their failure to progress beyond the quarter final in last year`s World Cup the pressure on the team will be ultra intense as hosts.
Neymar may well have a CV as Brazil`s Golden Boy but his temperament not to mention his recent injury-hit record will be under severe pressure from the likes of Richarlison and Coutinho.
Bolivia haven`t won the Copa since 1963 and their best since has been the quarter finals, in 1995 and 2015 and their recent international record doesn`t bode well for this year`s tournament. After beating Myanmar 3-0 in October last year they lost 2-1 to Iran before a couple of goalless draws although stalemates against Iraq and the UAE can be perceived as decent results.
Venezuela has a very experienced squad, led by skipper Tomas Rincon. The Torino midfielder with 91 appearances, is his countries third most capped player but their best known player is Salomon Rondon. Much will depend on his ability on front of goal and despite the fact his international record of 21 goals in 70 appearances is hardly prolific it does seem that he is spearheading Newcastle to Premier League safety.
One external factor that may affect Venezuela will be the political situation back home once the Copa begins.
Peru participated in the 2018 World Cup but failed to progress beyond the group stage. The squad is very inexperienced with only five players in double figures as far as caps are concerned. Peru`s main man is 35 year old striker Paulo Guerrero who has a tally of 35 goals in his squad best total of 89 international appearances.
Argentina have reached the last two Copa America Finals and only lost on penalties, each time. The big question for the two-time World Cup winners will be whether or not Lionel Messi features. It may be his last chance at an international trophy although he will only be 34 by the time Qatar 2022 comes around. Sergio Aguero is almost exactly one year younger than Messi but will score goals for ever. The ace predator is in his prime and is getting better as he gets older. Even if Messi doesn`t bother with the Copa America Aguero could carry his nation all the way to lifting the trophy and let`s not forget some of the others; Higuain, Di Maria, Rojo and Otamendi.
It`s difficult to look beyond Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez when looking at the Colombia squad but delve a little deeper and there`s David Ospina, one of the most capped goalkeepers in the world as well as Tottenham`s Davinson Sanchez. Then there`s Everton`s Yerry Mina who has an impressive international goal tally, six goals in 15 appearances, and he`s a centre half. Also worthy of mention is Glasgow Rangers` volatile striker Alfredo Morelos who is a natural predator when in front of goal, if he can control his volatile temperament. Wow, that paragraph alone suggests Colombia will be the team to beat in Brazil.
Paraguay had their best ever performance in this competition when they finished runners-up to Uruguay in 2011 and will be hoping 2019 is kinder to them than 2018 when they failed to win any of their games, the best result being a 1-1 draw in South Africa. The squad is awash with inexperienced players and only a handful are in double figures though midfielder Cristian Riveros is in treble figures, he won his 101st cap in 2018.
Qatar football has been on the rise ever since the country was awarded the 2022 World Cup and fresh from their Asian Cup success they will bring an extra exciting element to the Copa America. The football world awaits the thrilling forward play provided by Qatar`s goal duo, Aram Afif and Almoez Ali.
Much will be expected of holders Chile with extra burden on Alexis Sanchez who needs to pull up a few more trees in Brazil than he has since moving to Manchester United from Arsenal. La Roja will be looking for a hat-trick of Copa America triumphs having won in 2015. Chile will certainly have to do it the hard way being part of the most difficult group of the draw.
Japan, who were favourites for the Asian Cup, will be looking to make amends for their shock defeat to Qatar and Uruguay, expected to win the group as well as go all the way to the Final, know they will have to be on top form for all three group games.
Uruguay have three world class stars led by the master of the art of defensive football, 125 capped skipper Diego Godin. The Athletico Madrid centre back is pivotal to the astonishing defensive record his club enjoys in La Liga while at the other end of the team Luis Suarez, 55 goals in 106 international appearances, and Edinson Cavani, 46 in 109 caps, will frighten the bejabers out of ANY international side.
Ecuador won`t be worried about any team in this group or the Copa itself. If current coach Hernan Gomez has any sense, and he is the only coach to have led three different countries to World Cup qualification, he will lean heavily on Ecuador`s Under 20 squad who won the recent South America Under 20 Championship.
Predictions to progress
Two best third placed teams
Written by Brian Beard.