Four score and twenty years ago, the South American Football Championship was born. Now simply known as the Copa America, the world’s oldest continental football tournament celebrates its centenary.
It was only last year when a Jorge Sampaoli inspired Chile lifted the Copa America on home soil. And yet to the chagrin of many who decry the value of international tournaments in this club-filled modernistic age, the South American nations are back again to celebrate the tournament’ s 100 year history.
Questions arise of CONMEBOL, South America’s football governing body which has not always been the model of sound management. An expanded tournament on North American soil (the tournament will be held in the USA, with six North American nations having been invited) seems more an attempt at opportunistic commercialism rather than an interest in the football.
Whatever the shenanigans however, the landscape is set for yet another chance for South America’s finest to battle out in continental battle. As the tournament begins, here are our power rankings, based on likelihood of each of the 16 nations lifting the trophy come the 26th of June.
It is difficult to look beyond Argentina’s illustrious array of talents. A country so blessed with attacking talents boasts arguably the greatest of them all in world football currently – Lionel Messi. It is because of the man from Barcelona that Argentina has reached a World Cup final and a Copa America final in consecutive years. He may not light the international stage in the same manner he does those glorious nights at the Camp Nou, but aided by a supporting cast of Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero, it is difficult to see past Argentina winning the tournament.
At the birth of the Copa America in 1916, it was Uruguay who denied Argentina the trophy on home soil when Argentina were celebrating 100 years of independence. It set the trend that now sees the tiny South American nation as the most successful nation in the tournament with 15 wins. The defensive solidity of Diego Godin is complimented by the attacking quality of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez. All this is brought together by the tactical astuteness of Washington Tabarez.
In South America, it is rare to rule out Brazil. Even though the heydays of joga bonito are gone, Brazil still possess the talent to strike fear into many an opponents eyes. It does however seem as if the priority is the quest for Olympic gold on home soil – a sort of carthatic healing to the disaster of the 7-1 defeat to Germany at the World Cup two years ago. As such, Neymar has been left out, but so too have THiago Silva, David Luiz and Marcelo. This will all seem like a rebuilding for coach Dunga, although the only consolation could lie in the fact that when they last won the tournament in 2007, it was Dunga who was at the helm.
It is odd for the champions to come in as fourth favourites, but the reality has been that they have not moved on swiftly from the intensity of the Jorge Sampaoli years. New management has not spawned with it freshness, and the tournament win on home soil last year still seems to indicate an end of the 99 year wait to lift a major trophy, and not the beginning of a new journey. Within all this however, Chile still boasts the talents and driving force of Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal and should surely be a force to reckon with.
The major question raised is James Rodriguez. Whereas the 2014 World Cup seemed to falsely advertise him – James strongest quality is that of creator, not goalscorer – the subsequent move to Real Madrid has seen him digress into nonchalance and a sense of entitlement of stardom. He does however represent Colombia’s new era of a post-narcotic driven football world, and fills in the shoes inevitably passed on from the imperious days of the Falcao era.
Buzzing with excitement, Mexico almost always seem to make their mark on the Copa America, even though they are perennial guests by virtue of being a North American nation.
The last two Copa Americas have shown a slow but steady progress on the international stage for Peru. They may be devoid of any outrageously gifted star quality, but they do have a cohesiveness and solidity that works well to mean they should make meaningful progress.
As hosts, the feeling is that the home crowd may inspire them to great heights. In truth, the USA are usually harshly disregarded on many an occasion. However, the major stumbling block may be that the over-commercialisation of the MLS in attracting players from Europe who are past their peak may be proving to be detrimental to the quality of the national side. That and the fact that Juergen Klinsmann, for all his appearances of a progressive manager seems to have tactical inadequacies that relegate him to quixotism.
They have suffered a hugeblow in that Real Madrid goalkeeper, Keylor Navas, will be missing from the tournament through injury. It thus means that a lot of the onus will fall on the shoulders of Arsenal’s Joel Campbell.
A far cry from the nation that qualified for four consecutive World Cups prior to the 2014 World Cup. Largely having overachieved, Paraguay have probably returned to their level.
Last year, they surprised many by progressing past the group stages. From a country of high altitude, they perennially only perform at high altitudes, which explains why their away form is generally very poor.
Another surprise package at last year’s tournament, they are probably the most improving of the North American sides and in captain Wes Morgan have a Premier League winning captain. Expect them to impress even where the results may not be what they expect.
Having impressed at the 2011 edition, Venezuela have lacked the quality to build on from that and probably illustrate why they are still the only South American nation to have never qualified for the World Cup.
Despite all odds, managed a third place finish in the last edition of the CONCACAF Gold Cup (North America’s continental tournament).
[all images courtesy of zimbio.com]