Copa America 2019
Unlike the European Championships, where the tournament is always held in fairly similar conditions in the summer as quality and form tend to be the determining factors, the Copa America can be played in wildly different circumstances.
Altitude can often play a part and so it’s no surprise that the two times minnows Bolivia have reached the final – 1963 and 1997 – are the only two times they’ve hosted it. Last time out, the centenary edition in 2016 was held outside South America for the first time, where there were some short turnarounds and huge distances to travel between matches in the USA.
However, on this occasion Brazil are the hosts, and unlike the 2014 World Cup where the stadiums were spread throughout the country, the organizers have only selected venues along the eastern coast and there are no major climate issues for teams to contend with.
Brazil will be seeking redemption after their failure in front of their own fans during the 2014 World Cup. That infamous 7-1 humiliation at the hands of eventual champions Germany came in the absence of key man Neymar, and with the PSG superstar picking up yet another injury, we’ll be looking to take the Selecao on at the prices.
Indeed, going back to and including that game, Brazil have lost a total of seven matches over 90 minutes and another by penalties, and of these eight combined fixtures overall, Neymar was absent on six occasions and all but one came in competitive action.
Meanwhile, when looking at those who will be expected to step up and plug the gap, Gabriel Jesus has spent the season playing second fiddle to Sergio Aguero, Phillipe Coutinho has been constantly booed by Barcelona’s fans as he’s failed to live up to expectations, while Roberto Firmino endured some injury troubles at the back end of the season and could possibly need his game time managed after a long campaign.
Another of the big guns we can’t be getting behind are the winners of the past two editions of the Copa America, Chile. In addition to those 2015 and 2016 triumphs, La Roja also reached the final of the 2017 Confederations Cup.
However, this is a team past their best as they’ve grown old together and failed to even make it onto the plane to Russia last summer, and given 11 of the past 12 winners of the Copa America featured in the preceding World Cup, the omens for a third straight title don’t look good at all.
In particular, player of the tournament in 2016, Alexis Sanchez, has of course taken a deep slump in form and has had his injury issues to boot.
We’d expect him to perhaps raise his game in national team colours a bit (he could hardly play any worse than he has for us at Old Trafford), but it’s wildly fanciful to suggest he’s suddenly just going to recapture peak form.
Meanwhile, goalkeeper of the tournament in both 2015 and 2016 (Chile won both on penalties), Claudio Bravo, has spent the entire season injured and didn’t make the cut.
Both of those penalty triumphs came over Argentina as Lionel Messi’s long wait for major international honours continues. He’s fast running out of chances to win a Copa or a World Cup, but he’s come so close in recent times as La Albiceleste also lost to Mario Götze’s extra-time strike in the 2014 World Cup final.
It may have been a cruel period for Argentina, but their showing in Russia last summer was hardly inspiring and the defence has been growing weak over the years.
Indeed, their chances are ever receding as the likes of veterans Javier Mascherano, Martin Demichelis and Pablo Zabaleta have all departed from the international scene, while they may also regret leaving our very own Sergio Romero behind after a lack of game-time domestically saw him miss out on the squad entirely.
Whereas Argentina kept clean sheets in eight of 12 matches across the last two Copa’s, they failed to produce a shutout in Russia from four outings, conceding a worrying total of nine goals.
Although the Copa America has a history of surprise semi-finalists, with Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela all making it that far in 2011, the only sides other than Brazil, Argentina and Chile we’d give a chance to are Colombia and Uruguay.
Indeed, of the other five South American teams, Peru are reliant upon an ageing strike force of Paulo Guerrero (35-years-old) and Jefferson Farfan (34), Venezuela finished bottom of CONMEBOL qualification for the 2018 World Cup, and Bolivia aren’t a threat without altitude.
Paraguay are just W6-D3-L17 since May 2016 and shorn of all-time top scorer Roque Santa Cruz, while Ecuador are still reliant upon Antonio Valencia and last made the semi-finals back in 1993.
Of the two invited nations, Japan have selected an inexperienced squad with their home 2020 Olympics in mind, Qatar were recently outclassed by Brazil in a friendly, while Mexico (who are not competing) are the only non-CONMEBOL side to ever get as far as the final in 1993 and 2001.
In fact, the last time someone other than Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia or Chile lifted the trophy was Paraguay all the way back in 1979.
Colombia possess a decent balance to their side with Yerry Mina and Davinson Sanchez at the back, as well as talents like Juan Cuadrado, James Rodriguez, Radamel Falcao and Duvan Zapata further forwards.
However, while they can give anyone a run for their money on their day, we’re not entirely convinced by the deeper options in midfield, nor their ability to go all the way.
They’ve succumbed to better sides in the knockout rounds of the past two World Cups to Brazil and England, reached the quarter-finals of the 2011 and 2015 editions of the Copa America, while they couldn’t get past the semis in 2016 as they lost to eventual winners Chile.
By contrast, Uruguay have Copa America success in their DNA and have won the tournament a record 15 times, compared to Colombia’s solitary triumph on home turf in 2001.
Long-time coach Oscar Tabarez landed the trophy as recently as 2011 and he’ll be mightily relieved that Luis Suarez has returned from injury in time, easing fears by finding the net in their final pre-tournament friendly.
He’ll of course be paired with Edinson Cavani, while back-up striker Cristian Stuani has been the best form of his career over the past two seasons with 40 goals in La Liga. However, Uruguay are much more than just their star strike force.
Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez are probably the best centre-back pairing in world football having become familiar with each other over the years at Atletico Madrid, under the similarly combative Diego Simeone, while there’s much-needed young talent coming through in midfield – most notably Juventus’ Rodrigo Bentancur and Arsenal’s Lucas Torreira.
Taking everything into consideration, Brazil are poor value at close to evens without Neymar, Argentina’s backline will eventually cost them against quality opposition in the knockouts, while Chile would need sheer heroics to win their third Copa America with an ageing squad.
Colombia may well fancy their chances of topping their group with Argentina, but like La Albiceleste, should fall short in the end when encountering the more fancied outfits. Uruguay won’t mind being underdogs at all, and with the tools to grind out clean sheets and star power up top, are a fantastic price to land a 16th title.
*all odds are subject to change