CONMEBOL: 2011 Copa America Preview
South America’s premier international football tournament, known to all and sundry as the Copa América, will take place in Argentina from July 1st. For the home nation it is imperative that they reclaim an international trophy as their success starved supporters haven’t experienced any silverware since the 1993 tournament. But their arch rivals Brazil will not wish to relinquish the title that they have won on four of the last five occasions whilst the likes of Uruguay and Paraguay will hope to make further progress following a successful 2010 FIFA World Cup. Stoppage Time – International Football Blog previews the latest edition of this grand old tournament.
World football’s oldest international competition is being played for the 43rd time since its inception in 1916. In the early days the tournament was dominated by Uruguay and Argentina, a fact which is still reflected today in the number of titles won by each country (both have a joint record 14 wins each). From 1916-37 the two initial powers of the South American game won twelve out of the first 14 championships (Brazil won the other two) before Peru became the first country outside of the traditional Big Three to win the trophy in 1939.
One aspect of this tournament which did surprise for many years was the inability of Brazil to win the Copa. The Brazilians chalked up only 4 title wins in the first eighty years of a competition which featured on the calendar much more frequently than the FIFA World Cup, a competition which they have come to see as private property over the years. Indeed when Uruguay won their most recent Copa America title in 1995, defeating Brazil on penalties, beaten Brazil coach Mario Zagallo lifted four fingers into the air in the direction of Uruguay’s jubilant supporters to remind them that Brazil still enjoyed more success in the World Cup, which they also won once more in 2002. However the Selecao have been on a role in recent years having won four of the last five Copa America tournaments but they still lag six title wins behind both of their main rivals.
The record of smaller nations in the Copa America shows just how difficult it is for any country outside of the usual suspects to win it. Only on six occasions has anybody else won the trophy with Peru (1939 & 1975) and Paraguay (1953 & 1979) winning it on two occasions whilst Bolivia (1963) and Colombia (2001) have savoured one solitary title win apiece. Colombia’s Copa triumph was the last time that none of the traditional powers lifted the trophy and it is difficult to see a repeat this time around. The tournament has been enhanced in recent years by the invitation of various nations from outside South America to play in the Copa. This recent tradition will be upheld this time with the inclusion of Costa Rica (a last minute replacement for Japan) and Mexico who are now as good as established in this competition having made seven previous appearances.
GROUP A (Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Bolivia)
Tournament hosts Argentina are desperate to end their title drought having last won a trophy in the 1993 Copa America. The Albiceleste have lost to arch-rivals Brazil in the last two finals and are determined to end that run of home soil especially as the world’s best player Lionel Messi will be playing in his homeland. 2001 Copa winners Colombia are most likely to join the hosts into the quarter-finals and have a good chance of making the semi-finals should striker Radamel Falcao be in good form. It’s difficult to see either Costa Rica or Bolivia going through as a best third-placed team as the former are playing in only their fourth tournament whilst the latter haven’t got beyond the group stage in the last four tournaments.
GROUP B (Brazil, Paraguay, Ecuador, Venezuela)
After years of underachievement in this competition the Brazilians have been making up for lost time in the last decade having won four of the last five tournaments. The last two victories in 2004 and 2007 have come against Argentina and it would be a truly remarkable feat if Brazil were to repeat such an outcome this time around. Paraguay, having reached the quarter-finals of last year’s FIFA World Cup in South Africa, are a good bet to go far in the tournament especially if deadly striker Lucas Barrios repeats his prolific goal scoring form which has made him such a hit at his club Borussia Dortmund. Ecuador and Venezuela, two countries never to have won this competition, are expected to struggle but one of them may be fortunate enough to qualify for the last eight as a best third-place team.
GROUP C (Uruguay, Chile, Peru, Mexico)
Joint record champions Uruguay haven’t got their hands on the trophy since 1995 but there is a lot of optimism around that a renaissance for Uruguayan football is just around the corner. Following the national team’s run to the semi-finals of last year’s World Cup, coupled with Penarol’s appearance in the Copa Libertadores final, many are predicting Uruguay to go far in the Copa America. However they have been drawn in arguably the toughest group of the tournament with Chile, Peru and Mexico. Chile made it to the quarter-finals of the 2007 Copa but were thrashed 6-1 by eventual winners Brazil, Peru have made it to the last eight stage in the last four consecutive tournaments whilst Mexico, recent winners of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, may field a weakened team but are always a tough proposition, a fact borne out by the fact that they have reached the final twice in seven attempts albeit without ultimate success.
Unlike in previous tournaments to be held in the country Argentina 2011 will be unique in that only one game in the whole tournament will be played at the national stadium “El Monumental” in Buenos Aires, that game being the final on July 24th. Throughout the group stages and knockout rounds leading up to the final seven cities will be playing host to the talents of South America’s finest with La Plata having the privilege of hosting six matches. Cordoba, Mendoza and Santa Fe will host four games, San Juan three and Jujuy and Salta feature in two matches each. This is the ninth Copa America tournament to be held in Argentina and history shows us that only the host nation (six times) or Uruguay (twice) emerge victorious. Will that be the case this around? Will Brazil ensure that the Copa remains firmly within their grasp? Or can an unexpected contender defy the odds and come away with South America’s biggest prize? In any case it should prove to be a fascinating tournament.