COPA America
Thanks to the modern phenomenon of wall-to-wall televised football a large proportion of the players involved in Copa América 2015 will be as familiar to European supporters as they are to their counterparts across the Atlantic. The tournament, in Chile, will be the 44th staging of what was once the world’s biggest international football competition.
 
The Copa América owes its origin to a tournament held in 1910 but that competition, although it was never officially recognised, laid the foundations for the first tournament proper, six years later. The inaugural competition in 1916 was held by Argentina to celebrate the centenary of its independence from Spain.
 
Just four nations participated in that opening tournament; Chile, Uruguay and Brazil joining the hosts for the competition that was held from 2nd to 17th July in Buenos Aires. Uruguay won that inaugural tournament, held on a ’round robin’ basis, by beating Chile 4-0 and Brazil 2-1 before holding the host nation 0-0 in the final game.
 
The competition was hailed a success and as a consequence a confederation of football associations was formed comprising Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Chile. A year later, on home soil, Uruguay retained their crown and again it was Argentina who were beaten, 1-0 in the last match.
 
There was no competition in 1918 due to a flu epidemic in Rio but Brazil did host the 1919 tournament and claimed a first trophy by beating holders Uruguay 1-0. A year later, with Paraguay participating in their first tournament, Argentina won the competition which, in the pre World Cup era, was the largest of its kind in world football. Unfortunately that tournament will always be tainted by the edict issued by the president of Brazil that no black players would be in the squad for Argentina. Ironic considering the fame brought to Brazil in later years by the likes of Pele, Djalmo Santos etc.
 
In 1922 there was a three-way tie between Brazil, Chile and Uruguay, all on five points. Brazil beat Chile 3-0 to be crowned champions. A year later Uruguay won the tournament and retained their crown the following year by drawing 0-0 with Argentina on the final day.
 
The all time lowest number of participating nations at the Copa América occurred in 1925, three! Consequently for the first time in its history the competition was played in a two-game series with a match and rematch format. Of the four games played by Argentina they lost three but topped Brazil and Paraguay by coming back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with Brazil.

In 1926 Uruguay became champions by thrashing Paraguay 6-1 with Hector Castro, who was to become the one-armed hero of the first World Cup just four years later, scoring four times.
 
Peru hosted the 1927 Copa América and reached the final only to be beaten 5-1 by Argentina. During the league contest Uruguay beat Bolivia 9-0 and scored four of their goals in a five minute second half burst.
 
Where South American football teams and national pride is concerned few explanations are required but the 1928 Olympic Football Final sowed the seeds of intense rivalry between Uruguay and Argentina which exists to this day. Uruguay won the gold medal but a year later Argentina avenged that reverse by beating their bitter rivals to win the South American Championship.
 
After the inaugural World Cup in 1930 it was the enmity between Argentina and Uruguay that prevented the Copa América even taking place. It was to be another nine years before the competition was reintroduced with Peru winning the tournament they hosted.
 
The 1941 Copa América celebrated the 400th anniversary of the foundation of Santiago but hosts Chile lost out to eventual champions Argentina in the last match. Uruguay hosted and won the 1942 tournament  and although the 1945 competition was staged by Chile it was Argentina who emerged victorious.
 
Then began a the most turbulent period in Copa América history. The tournament was not staged regularly but many unofficial competitions were, Argentina winning three of those in a row; 1945,1946 and 1947 before the two year cycle was restored to be replaced by one every three years then every four! Bizarrely in 1959 there were two competitions, in Argentina and Ecuador. The tournament became so derided that Brazil actually sent a state team to represent the nation, in Pernambuco.
 
Bolivia hosted for the first time in 1963 and won. Four years later Uruguay claimed the crown of South American champions, as hosts.
 
An eight year gap then ensued before the title was won by Peru. The truncated event continued with Paraguay triumphing in 1979 followed by Uruguay in 1983.
 
Sanity was restored in 1987 and from that year, until 2001, the competition was staged every two years in rotation between the members of the confederation.
 
World Cup winners, and hosts, Argentina were the hottest of favourites in 1987 but even with Diego Maradona et al they only managed to finish fourth, Uruguay being crowned champions. In 1989 hosts Brazil claimed their first international trophy since the 1970 Jules Rimet Trophy, beating Uruguay to the title and two years later Argentina won their first Copa América crown for 32 years. They retained the title in Ecuador in 1993 by defeating Mexico.
 
Hosts Uruguay won the 1995 competition while Brazil claimed the crown two years later, beating host nation Bolivia. The holders retained their crown in 1999 before suffering perhaps their worst ever humiliation in 2001 by losing in the quarter finals to Honduras. But they bounced back two years later to claim the South American championship, beating Argentina on penalties.
 
In 2007 Brazil retained the trophy, again Argentina were the vanquished opponents. It got worse for Argentina in 2011 when, as hosts, they were eliminated in a quarter final penalty shoot-out with Uruguay who went on to beat Paraguay, 3-0, in the final. That year was also significant as, in the 43rd staging of the tournament, for the first time neither Brazil nor Argentina reached the last four.
 
So lots of lip licking anticipation of this summer`s South American Championship. Argentina, with their La Liga and Premier League star-studded squad are hot favourites. Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi in the same line-up backed up by Zabaleta, Rojo, Di Maria as well as that little guy who plays for Juventus, Tevez, ensures Argentina are expected to win. Messi and Tevez enjoyed contrasting fortunes in the Champions’ League Final, which Barca won, but with the Juve player having settled his differences with his national football association after five years of tantrums, La Albiceleste start as firm favourites.
 
Brazil are still hurting from their World Cup humiliation on home soil and would probably be satisfied with a decent showing in Chile as they build towards Russia 2018. As in last summer’s staging of the tournament there will be an enormous weight of expectation on the young shoulders of Neymar but if the likes of Coutinho and Fernandinho step up to the plate they could come good. A word of caution though. If Argentina and Brazil get to the final Messi and Neymar would not be able to report back for club duty until August 4th, just 11 days before the commencement of La Liga.
 
At least Luis Suarez will be back at Barca for pre-season training. His international ban keeps him out of this Copa América and that may, in a curious way, benefit Uruguay who will require more of a team effort without the re-born striker.
 
Colombia impressed the football world by reaching the quarter finals of Brazil 2014 and in James Rodriguez they have a world class player but, as with Brazil and Neymar, the Real Madrid player cannot win Copa América on his own.
 
Hosts Chile are a good bet to reach the final and even win. As hosts the home support will be vital, and possibly the biggest factor in how far Chile go. And in Alexis Sanchez they have perhaps THE in-form striker in world football.
 
At the other end of the spectrum of expectation is one of the invited participants in this year’s Copa América, Jamaica.
 
The Caribbean team has six players from the ever improving MLS, including Giles Barnes of Houston Dynamos, formerly of Derby County, and Wes Morgan who was a key figure in Leicester City’s great escape in the Premier League. Perhaps no one player more than Joel Grant is looking forward to taking the field in Chile. After suffering relegation to League Two and being released by Yeovil Town Grant will relish sharing the stage with World Cup stars and Champions’ League winners.
 
With the vast array of talent on display at the 44th Copa América it is the most eagerly anticipated coming together of South American football talent, ever. If you think you know which of the twelve teams will come out on top, try the best football betting odds for the competition.
 
Whichever team emerges as eventual winners there is no doubt those players who are not familiar to the wider football world soon will be.
 
Written by Brian Beard

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