Copa America 2019: Preview11 June 2019
Credit Image – @CopaAmerica
Copa America 2019 is nearly upon us. The 46th edition of the oldest (international) continental competition in the world begins later this week, hosted by Brazil.
The South American tournament will be played out across 6 venues in the Brazilian cities of Salvador, Belo Horizonte, São Paulo, Porto Alegre and Rio de Janeiro.
The ten nations from the CONMEBOL region are joined by two invited teams, Qatar and Japan, to make a 12 team competition.
Three groups of four teams will see the top two from each progress to the quarter finals along with the two best 3rd placed finishers.
So let’s have a brief look at the teams involved and how the tournament may pan out.
Group A will see hosts BRAZIL as overwhelming favourites to top the section also containing a limited BOLIVIA and an energetic but hugely inferior VENEZUELA and PERU.
While talisman and global superstar Neymar is now missing for Brazil through injury, their squad is still strong, with youth, experience and quality throughout.
Marshalled by PSG’s Thiago Silva and with the likes of Coutinho, Marquinhos, Alex Sandro, Gabriel Jesus and the evergreen Dani Alves, Brazil will be desperate for success on home soil.
Despite Neymar’s injury, there is huge strength in depth and it could lead to an opportunity for exciting Ajax youngster David Neres to shine.
Two time Copa champions Peru join the hosts in group A. Ricardo Gareca’s squad is mainly made up of players plying their trade across the Americas, based from Brazil to the USA.
Though always technically decent, the Peruvians are very much a hard working unit, built on an energetic and high intensity approach.
Creativity and goals are certainly an area of concern for a Peru side still heavily reliant on the services of veterans Jefferson Farfan and Paulo Guerrero.
They do however look to get the ball to the feet of Carlos Cueva in offensive positions to use his skill and trickery to unlock defences.
It would probably be fair to say that, though Peru may well make it out of the group, they are highly unlikely to trouble the latter stages.
Venezuela head into the showpiece hoping to lift a nation struggling against the backdrop of continued political unrest.
With a largely limited and inexperienced squad, they will look to Newcastle loan striker Salomón Rondón and Espanol’s Roberto Rosales to lead them in Brazil.
Surprisingly, few of Venezuela’s 2017 under 20 World Cup runners up have progressed enough to be part of the first team squad and it’s tough to see them having an impact here.
Bolivia enter as one of the real outsiders of the tournament and odds of 75/1 are certainly a fair reflection of their liklehood of success.
The Bolivians are not good travellers and rarely pick up positive results when playing outside of their own nations high altitude conditions.
A chronic lack of creativity and cutting edge allied with a squad lacking in real quality suggests their stay in Brazil may be short lived.
With most of the squad based at domestic clubs such as The Strongest, Blooming and Bolivar, they will at least have a chance to put themselves in the shop window this summer.
Group B sees 14 time winners ARGENTINA joined by a talented COLOMBIA, resilient PARAGUAY and largely unknown invitees QATAR.
Argentina go into the finals as one of the favourites, with incredibly dangerous attacking options aplenty, though with a squad perhaps lacking balance and structure.
Magic man Lionel Messi is aided by the likes of Sergio Aguero, Paulo Dybala, Angel di Maria and Lautaro Martinez to produce an offensive unit capable of breaching defences at will.
That being said, they perhaps lack the depth in other areas of the pitch and don’t possess the top quality midfield schemers and defensive linchpins of yesteryear.
It’s likely Lionel Scaloni’s side will go far in the competition, though with their defensive deficiencies they may come up a little short.
Colombia certainly fall into the category of strong dark horses heading into the finals.
Boasting a nice blend of hardwork, aggression, pace, power and technical ability, Carlos Quieroz’ side will go in with a real belief they can pick up the trophy.
The key for Quieroz is to get the best from James Rodriguez. While James hasn’t settled at some of Europe’s biggest clubs, he makes this Colombian side tick and fizz when on his game.
Colombia have a vastly experienced squad playing throughout Europe’s top leagues and the likes of Falcao, Mina, Davinson Sanchez, and Cuadrado will be looking for international honours here.
Eduardo Berizzo’s Paraguayans also compete in Group B and are a somewhat unpredictable side, certainly capable of being a potential ‘banana skin’ for the more fancied teams.
Most of the La Albiroja squad play their club football in South America, with a smattering based in Europe, most notably Miguel Almirón of Newcastle.
Another player to look out for is veteran striker Óscar Cardozo, formerly of Benfica and Trabzonspor, and now in prolific form in his homeland for Club Libertad.
While Paraguay face a tough task in getting out of the group, it would be foolish to discount them completely. They could well be tricky opposition for the tournament’s big boys.
Lastly in Group B is guest team Qatar, who will be looking to gain as much tournament experience as possible prior to hosting the World Cup in 2022.
They enter as 100/1 outsiders and the entirety of their squad play their club football domestically, with Xavi Hernandez’ Al Sadd heavily represented.
Despite being a largely unknown quantity, Félix Sánchez’s side head into the tournament on the back of a surprising Asian Cup victory earlier in the year.
Going in with nothing to lose and a great deal of experience to gain, it will be interesting to see how Qatar fare against the raised calibre of opposition.
Finally Group C sees 15 time winners URUGUAY joined by reigning two time champions CHILE aswell as ECUADOR and the 2nd invitees JAPAN.
Uruguay will head to Brazil looking to add to their haul of successes in this competition.
Although a small country by population, they continue to produce top quality footballers playing for big clubs across Europe.
Top strikers Edison Cavani and Luis Suarez still provide a very potent threat at the top end, ably backed up by Christian Stuani and Maxi Gomez.
Óscar Tabárez’ side are built on a rock solid base and defensive supremos Jose Giminez and Diego Godín are a formidable partnership at the heart of it.
The midfield is packed with quality, with Rodrigo Bentancur, Nahitan Nāndez and Lucas Torreira capable both in and out of possession.
We know with Uruguay that they are a very capable footballing team, but are also able to mix it up to grind out results. Therefore they are a team that will feel they can taste success this summer.
Chile enter having won both the 2015 and 2016 Copa’s, but perhaps coming to the end of their cycle as South American champions.
A familiar but aging squad reliant on (an out of form) Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal, Gary Medel, Jean Beausejoir and Gonzalo Jara is probably in need of freshening up.
All be it, if the aforementioned players are able to resurrect their old form, Chile could be a real threat. This, however seems unlikely as they have been in very patchy form for some time now.
It seems this tournament may well be a swansong on the international stage for some and a step to far for the previously successful La Roja.
Not a great deal is hoped of Hernán Gomez’ Ecuador side as they look for their first Copa America title more in hope than expectation.
With a squad predominantly based in North and South America, notable names include departing Manchester United man Antonio Valencia and former West Ham striker Enner Valencia, now in Mexico.
Although Ecuador will be compact and organised, it’s difficult to see them having the quality to reach the latter stages in Brazil.
Lastly Japan arrive as the other guest team, competing in their 2nd Copa America following their inclusion in 1999.
The Japanese, like Qatar, are largely looking at the tournament as an exercise in gaining experience and knowledge ahead of the next World Cup.
Japan struggled in 1999, finishing 10th in the pecking order and it’s likely to be an uphill struggle for them again this time.
Like all Japanese sides, they will be diligent, hardworking and organised but perhaps lack the creative weapons to trouble the better teams.
So there we have it. It’s sure to be a football festival full of fun, colour and verve.
Brazil will go in as huge favourites, but can Lionel Messi inspire Argentina to victory? Or Diego Godín lead a dogged Uruguayan side to success? Will Colombia take home the trophy?
We’ll see over the next few weeks.
By Chris Kelly