Copa America 2016 Preview

Sergio AgueroThe 100-year anniversary of the Copa America will be celebrated with a one-off tournament featuring sides from both the CONMEBOL and CONCACAF federations in the United States this summer. The action gets under way in the early hours of Saturday morning (BST) when the hosts take on Colombia, with an intriguing three weeks in store as North, Central and South American sides go head-to-head with one another in a competitive environment (Starts Saturday June 4, UK time).

2015 runners-up Argentina are favourites to land the trophy, with the 14-time Copa America champions desperate to end a barren run of 23 years without a senior title. Manager Gerardo Martino has named a strong and experienced squad for this year’s competition, with Lionel Messi, Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero forming a star-studded forward line and young talents such as Paulo Dybala and Maurco Icardi left out. The major doubt surrounding the Argentinians is the balance of the side and its defensive strength, but with such firepower going forward it is easy to see why many are backing them to end almost two and a half decades of hurt.

Brazil are also widely fancied to do well in the US, even if this is far from a vintage Selecao squad. Neymar is set to compete in the Olympics and will therefore not take part in the Copa, while Douglas Costa is another big miss, but there are still plenty of quality options in the 23-man group, including Dani Alves, Joao Miranda, Filipe Luis, Willian, Lucas Moura and Hulk. It will be interesting to see how domestic-based players such as Lucas Lima and Gabriel Barbosa get on, with Brazil likely to go far in the tournament given that boss Dunga could be sacked if they do not.

Colombia and holders Chile will both be looking to make an impression, although both nations may use the Copa as an opportunity to ready their teams for the next round of World Cup qualifiers in September. In Juan Antonio Pizzi, Chile have a new boss to bed in following the departure of Jorge Sampaoli, while the Colombians have left many of their established forward players at home in order to give some of their younger prospects a chance.

Uruguay, meanwhile, are a country that should never be written off, and the likely return to fitness of Luis Suarez in time for the knockout stage could see them go all the way, while Ecuador will be in confident mood after their fantastic start to World Cup qualifying. Of the other South American nations, Paraguay will struggle to make it out of a tough group, Venezuela’s focus will be on building a new side under a new manager, Peru will hope to upset Brazil and Ecuador to progress and Bolivia are likely to be fighting for third spot in Group D.

Jurgen Klinsmann finds himself under pressure to deliver for the United States, who will not want to be shown up on home soil. Group A is probably the toughest of the four, though, and it would not be too much of a surprise to see them fall at the first hurdle. Costa Rica will be battling it out with the US for a place in the quarter-finals; while they were excellent at the World Cup two years ago, Los Ticos do not seem to be as strong now as they were then.

Mexico therefore look to be the best-placed CONCACAF side heading into the tournament, with a strong squad and a reasonably favourable draw likely to put them through to the knockouts rather comfortably. For underdogs Jamaica, Panama and Haiti, simply making it out of the group stage would be a tremendous success.

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