The oldest international cup in soccer gets underway today, and I’ve got a handy dandy third rate breakdown of the whole shebang for you. Jump right in, don’t be shy.
The Scene: Argentina
Argentina are the hosts for the first time since 1987. It’s the country’s ninth turn at hosting the event, more than any other CONMEBOL member. The matches will be played in eight different cities across the northern half of the country (Patagonia is too cold and desolate right now), starting at the newly renovated Estadio Ciudad de La Plata, in the city of, um, La Plata. It’s the first stadium in South America to have completely covered seating. The most interesting venue is Santa Fe, where the stadium is known as the “Elephant Burial Ground.”
The Format: Just Like the Gold Cup
There’s 12 teams in the tournament: all ten CONMEBOL countries plus Mexico and Costa Rica’s U23 squads. They’re broken down into three groups, with the top two sides from each group plus the two best 3rd place teams advancing to the quarterfinals.
Group A features hosts Argentina, Colombia, Bolivia, and Costa Rica (who are filling in for Japan). Group B is Brazil, Paraguay, Venezuela, and Ecuador. Finally, you’ve got Chile, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay in Group C. Let’s call that one the Group of Death.
On to the team previews.
The Usual Suspects: Argentina and Brazil
From manager Sergio “Checho” Batista on down, every member of Argentina’s squad is determined that anything less than victory in the final would be a disappointing failure. They’ll have major home field advantage to go with a few names you may have heard before: Messi, Tevez, Higuain, Di Maria, Pastore, Lavezzi… need I go on? Lionel Messi especially seems to be on a personal mission to win some hardware for La Sele so he can bury the critics who say he always plays better for Guardiola.
The weak spot is at the back where things aren’t always as solid as they ought to be. Argentina shouldn’t have too much trouble winning group A in any case. Maybe Colombia will give them a hard time.
Brazil is playing down their chances of winning this and heaping the pressure of being title favorites on Argentina. Coach Mario Menezes sees this cup as a warm up of sorts for Brazil 2014. That’s a sneaky move, but everybody knows the Brazilian fans expect nothing less than first place. They’re also the defending champions in this tournament.
You’ve heard of most of their star players too: Robinho, Alexandre Pato, Neymar. But the real strength of this time lies in the defense, with talented guys like Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, and David Luiz. Brazil face Venezuela first, a nice appetizer to get the goals flowing, which should make things easier when they face Paraguay. They’ll top group B, no doubt.
Some people say the Copa America is just a pretext to stage a title match between Argentina and Brazil, but there’s definitely some other teams here that could upset the established conventional wisdom.
The Trendy Dark Horse Picks: Uruguay and Chile
Uruguay is looking to capitalize on the success they had in South Africa and win their first cup since they hosted it in ’95. They’ve got their stars like Forlán and Suarez ready to go. This team could very well beat Argentina or Brazil in the semis if they have one of their classic giant killer games.
Standing in Uruguay’s way is La Roja. A now Bielsa-less Chile will bring red hot Alexis Sanchez along with Humberto Suazo, Matías Fernandez and company to vie for the top spot in Group C. Argentine manager Claudio Borghi hopes to have a good showing to erase the mess he made at Boca Juniors last year. Chile should have a sort of home field advantage in the group stage as well, as all their matches will be played in Mendoza and San Juan, just across the border from Chile.
Uruguay and Chile should take the top two spots in group C and could do well in the knockout stages.
The Also Rans: Colombia and Paraguay
These two countries have decent lineups and should finish second in their respective groups, which is good enough to make a dignified quarterfinal exit. Colombia has Porto’s Falcao García, but he never plays as well with the national team as he does in Europe. If Colombia and Paraguay do finish second in their groups, they’ll face either Uruguay or Chile in the quarters.
The Furriners: Mexico and Costa Rica
These two U22 CONCACAF squads are here to round out the field. Mexico’s young players are quite good, though the prostitute scandal has weakened the squad. Still, a 3rd place finish isn’t out of the question. Costa Rica, on the other hand, will be missing most of the veteran players that make their team competitive in CONCACAF. Argentine manager Ricardo La Volpe will try to motivate them to make a good showing in his home country, but group stage matches against Argentina and Colombia will be too much for them to overcome.
Just Happy to Be Here: Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela
These guys are screwed. Ecuador’s national team has been fading for a couple years now. They’ve got United’s Antonio Valencia, but not much else. La Tri will be happy to finish third in group B. That might be enough for a spot in the quarters. Peru was relying on some Bundesliga magic from Jefferson Farfán and Claudio Pizarro to make any kind of an impact, but they’re injured so it’s up to Hamburger SV’s Paolo Guerrero to find the net. Peru could finish bottom in group C. Bolivia is probably shooting for third place in group A, assuming they even have uniforms to wear, and Venezuela is the weakest team in group B.
So there’s your longwinded Copa America preview. The first match is tonight at 8:45, when Argentina face Bolivia in La Plata. Univision is carrying all the matches on TV and online, and you can also watch all the games on Youtube, which is awesome. No sketchy streams to dig up. Enjoy the games.