The European club season may have only just ended, but there is little chance for respite as many of the world’s top players gather in Chile for the start of South America’s championship, the Copa America. The quadrennial event, which was won by Uruguay four years ago, features the 10 Conmebol nations plus two invitees and begins on Santiago this Thursday.
With the potential to see Barcelona’s Champions League winning duo Lionel Messi and Neymar going head to head for fierce rivals Argentina and Brazil, there is plenty to whet the appetite.
Here’s how each of the teams shape up heading into the event.
Chile have never won a title at international level, but playing on home soil with arguably the most talented group of players the country has ever produced, this is surely their best chance yet. Led by Arsenal’s Alexis Sánchez, Chile have the ability to go all the way, but much could come down to whether they believe they can beat continental heavyweights Brazil and Argentina.
It is difficult to know what to expect from El Tri. With the Concacaf Gold Cup the priority for Mexico this summer, Miguel Herrera has taken an unfamiliar squad to the Copa America. And, although the charismatic Mexico coach has consistently stressed his confidence that Mexico can go all the way to the final, the performances in the warm-up games have not convinced. Still, there were similar doubts ahead of Mexico exceeding expectations at last year’s World Cup and there is some exciting young talent in the likes of Javier Güemez and Marco Fabián as well as the vastly experienced captain Rafael Márquez.
Having been unlucky to go out of the 2014 World Cup at the group stage, Ecuador will be desperate to emerge from the first phase of the Copa America for the first time since 1997. The tournament will be the first big test for new coach Gustavo Quinteros, who, despite missing Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia, has reason to believe that a team featuring Jefferson Montero and Enner Valencia can cause an upset or two.
It has been barren time for Bolivia since a successful spell in the mid-1990s, and they won just twice in 16 games in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup. Their preparations for the Copa America will have hardly been morale-boosting, either, having lost 5-0 to Argentina in their final warm-up game.
Prediction: 1. Chile, 2. Mexico, 3. Ecuador, 4. Bolivia
After a painful extra-time defeat in the final of last year’s World Cup, Argentina will have plenty of motivation to win the country’s first senior international title since the 1993 Copa America. Now being guided by former Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino, the Albiceleste certainly have the talent to deliver. While in Brazil last year their incredible attacking talent was hit hard by fitness issues, this time the likes of Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero are playing at their peaks. And that group also now includes Carlos Tevez, after his return from international exile.
The holders have gone under the radar this time around, and perhaps understandably so. After the highs of reaching the semifinals of the 2010 World Cup and then winning the 2011 Copa America, an aging squad is in the process of being rejuvenated. It is a big ask for team in transition to defend their crown, especially without Luis Suárez -- still serving an international ban for his biting antics in Brazil -- as well as the now-retired Diego Forlan.
Surprise finalists in Argentina four years ago despite failing to win a single match in the entire tournament outside of penalty shootouts, Paraguay came back down to earth with a bump when finishing bottom of the World Cup qualifying table. Now under experienced Argentinean coach Ramón Díaz, they will surely be happy just to emerge from the group phase.
Having been the last team to take up a place in the Copa America after being called in only after Japan and China turned down invitations, Jamaica will do well to avoid being the first team eliminated. German coach Winifried Schäfer has plenty of experience, but a squad comprised largely of players from England’s second tier and Major League Soccer will be up against it.
Prediction: 1. Argentina, 2. Uruguay, 3. Paraguay, 4. Jamaica
Nothing will ever remove the stain of a 7-1 defeat to Germany in a World Cup semifinal on home soil, but victory in the Copa America would certainly be much appreciated back in Brazil. The Seleção went back to the future with its appointment of largely unpopular coach Dunga, but, while his style will have done little to win over his critics, he has delivered emphatically in terms of results. Brazil have won all nine of his matches in charge and, together with the individual brilliance of Neymar, they have the tough, winning mentality to repeat their Copa America triumph under Dunga in 2007, when they beat a more talented Argentina team in the final.
Having reached the quarterfinals of the World Cup for the first time in 2014 before bowing out to Brazil, Colombia will feel they can now go on and become a major player on the world stage. Their attacking talent is phenomenal, with James Rodríguez coming off a superb first season with Real Madrid, Carlos Bacca having been in deadly form for Sevilla and Radamel Falcao now back involved after missing the World Cup. If their defense can hold firm at the other end, Jose Pekerman’s team should go far.
In a tournament of surprises, Peru upset the odds to finish third in the last Copa America, but they face a tough job to repeat that success. There is reason or hope, though, if an experienced attacking core including Claudio Pizarro, Jefferson Farfán, Paolo Guerrero and Juan Manuel Vargas can produce their best.
With a semifinal place in 2011 and then going close to qualifying for their first World Cup in 2014, Venezuela have shown themselves to be a growing force. And with an attack led by target man Salomon Rondon, fresh off an impressive season for Zenit St Petersburg, they will hope to at least make the quarterfinals.
Prediction: 1. Brazil, 2. Colombia, 3. Venezuela, 4. Peru
Schedule (all times EDT) Thursday, June 11 Group A: Chile vs. Ecuador in Santiago, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, June 12
Group A: Mexico vs. Bolivia in Viña del Mar, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, June 13
Group B: Uruguay vs. Jamaica in Antofagasta, 3 p.m.
Group B: Argentina vs. Paraguay in La Serena, 5:30 p.m.
Sunday, June 14
Group C: Colombia vs. Venezuela in Rancagua, 3 p.m.
Group C: Brazil vs. Peru in Temuco, 5:30 p.m.
Monday, June 15
Group A: Ecuador vs. Bolivia in Valparaiso, 5 p.m.
Group A: Chile vs. Mexico in Santiago, 7:30 p.m.
Tuesday, June 16
Group B: Paraguay vs. Jamaica in Antofagasta, 5 p.m.
Group B: Argentina vs. Uruguay in La Serena, 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday, June 17
Group C: Brazil vs. Colombia in Santiago, 8 p.m.
Thursday, June 18
Group C: Peru vs. Venezuela in Valparaiso, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, June 19 Group A: Mexico vs. Ecuador in Rancagua, 5 p.m.
Group A: Chile vs. Bolivia in Santiago, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, June 20
Group B: Uruguay vs. Paraguay in La Serena, 3 p.m.
Group B: Argentina vs. Jamaica in Viña del Mar 5:30 p.m.
Sunday, June 21
Group C: Colombia vs. Peru in Temuco, 3 p.m.
Group C: Brazil vs. Venezuela in Santiago, 5:30 p.m.
Quarterfinals Wednesday, June 24
A1 vs. B3/C3 in Santiago, 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, June 25
A2 vs. C2 in Temuco, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, June 26
B1 vs. A3/C3 in Viña del Mar, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, June 27
C1 vs. B2 in Concepción, 5:30 p.m.
Semifinals Monday, June 29
Winner Quarterfinal 1 vs. Winner Quarterfinal 2 in Santiago, 7:30 p.m.
Tuesday, June 30
Winner Quarterfinal 3 vs, Winner Quarterfinal 4 in Concepción, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, July 3
Loser Semifinal 1 vs. Loser Semifinal 2 in Concepción, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 4
Winner semifinal 1 vs. Winners semifinal 2 in Santiago, 5 p.m.
TV and live stream info: All matches will be shown on beIN Sports and beIN Sports en español, with a live stream available via beIN Sports Connect.