You thought this summer’s football was winding down didn’t you? Hell no. Cancel your plans and get stuck in, with the Copa America landing in Brazil this weekend for a colourful summer-fest of South American football. Well, South American + Japan and Qatar football. It’s an odd one. Just go with it.
12 teams will contest the 46th edition of the tournament with Chile laying claim to winning the title on the previous two occasions (2015, 2016) – Brazil are favourites as the hosts, but the narrative surrounding this tournament already has a Messi feel to it: can Lionel finally scoop a major International trophy for his beloved nation of football-mad fanatics?
Having hosted the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, Brazil are a nation well-versed in putting on a carnival of sports, with a majority of the venues being well-known to the millions of viewers around the world. The hosts are pretty much Evens to win the competition for the first time since 2007. The famous yellow of the Canarinho haven’t even reached a semi-final since that win, a win that saw them clinch four titles in five years since 1997.
A Neymar-less Brazil opens up the conversation for the chasing pack this year. There are two standout sides that are likely to push Tite’s side close: Argentina and Uruguay. Combined, these two sides have won 29 of the 45 Copa America crowns; the tournament was a bit different back in 1916, however.
Argentina are a tempting price of 6/5 to reach the final. The Albiceleste have struggled in recent tournament football, but with Lionel Scaloni’s injection of youth players into the main set up, Messi finally has a system, and team, that doesn’t need carrying on his broad shoulders. Sure, there is still huge pressure on the star of this Argentinean side to perform, but with Lo Celso and Lautaro Martinez proving exciting additions to the midfield, we can expect a different side to the one that suffered at the World Cup in Russia. It’s been heartbreak in the last two finals for Argentina losing on penalties twice to Chile – will this inspire them to become lucky on the third attempt?
It’s a huge tournament for Lionel Messi. The lack of an International trophy will be a huge, unmissable blotch on his copybook once he has hung up his magic boots. It’s arguably his last dance at glory before signing off in 2022 with a World Cup in Qatar and the Copa in Argentina and Colombia – three years is a long time in football when you’ve reached your 30s.
Uruguay are the dark horses. At 7/1 to win their first Copa since 2011, La Celeste find themselves in a similar position to most previous tournaments: a rigid defence, with star-power up front. Suarez and Cavani – as we know – are proven goalscorers in tournament football. Their threat is unavoidable, with an experienced back line of Gimenez and Godin allowing Bentacur and Vecino to flourish in midfield. This is looking like on the best balanced Uruguay sides for a while, with Oscar Tabarez in his 13th year as national coach.
It’s looking likely that Argentina and Uruguay could meet in the semi-finals, providing both win their groups. It’ll be a real pick-em’ of a contest.
So soak it up and get ready for the continuation of football this summer. Brazil know how to put on a party, but there are many in line looking to gate-crash in style.