Brazil enters this tournament as hot favorites, along with Argentina. With a relatively young squad and a few war-hardened veterans, the team not only looks solid at the back but also offers an impressive array of attacking options upfront.
In all probability, Brazil will field a 4-2-1-3 formation. While Julio Cesar would be the obvious choice, the defense will be manned by Thiago Silva and Lucio. The right back position is still an open question as both Maicon and Dani Alves have proved time and again that they are both capable of playing very well in that position. If Menezes decides to field Alves, it would signify his intent for attack from the start; however, should Maicon play, we are assured of a sound defensive display.
The midfield is likely to comprise Ramires, Elano and Lucas Leiva. A box-to-box player like Ramires would come in handy any day, and he would be ably supported either by Elano or Leiva, depending on who starts. That leaves the most important position to none other than Ganso, who has been raising eyebrows for quite some time with his awesome performances. A player in the mould of Riquelme, Ganso’s playmaking abilities would be tested to the core in this year’s Copa. He would be the one pulling all the strings behind the three strikers, and on his day can wreck havoc to any defense with his accurate passing and vision.
The forward line comprising of Pato, Neymar and Robinho are the envy of every team in Copa, having scored as many as 31 goals between them. The brilliance of Neymar would be ably supported by the trickery of Robinho and the positional skills of Pato.
The person in charge of this young yet experienced brigade is Mano Menezes. Taking over the reins from Dunga after the 2010 WC debacle, Menezes has won 6 out of 9 matches so far. Other than two back-to-back losses to Argentina and France, Menezes hasn’t put a foot wrong, even though rumor has it that he was not the first choice to replace Dunga. Although most of the squad picked itself, why Menezes chose to go with Adriano instead of a more attacking Marcelo has stumped quite a few people.
Key players: Thiago Silva, Ganso, Neymar, Pato and Robinho
Best Performance: Champions 8 times, including last two years. Runners-up 11 times.
Prediction: This is the time for the young guns of Brazil to come to the fore and uphold the honor of being the defending champions. With all the key players in red-hot form, this is their key chance to win the Cup the third time in a row.
In what is regarded as the group of death, Ecuador’s presence is as good as a trout amongst sharks. Here is a closer look at La Tri. With a new coach and a few new players drafted into the squad, it is a formation that the players are still getting used to and have enjoyed very little success with it so far.
Ecuador is likely to go forward with a 4-4-2 formation. Ecuador’s captain and left-winger, Walter Ayovi has been playing for his country since the 2002 World Cup. Ayovi has a strong left-foot and can play at the fullback, midfield as well as central midfield positions. He is surely a vital player for the team. Another key player for them would be Antonio Valencia as he is probably the most watched and most heard-of player from Ecuador. Valencia is a player of great promise and potential as has been evident from his successful seasons in top-flight English football. His presence is vital to team and fans no doubt.
Their strike force consists of Felipe Caicedo, who arrived at Manchester City carrying a good reputation on him but City’s spending power saw new arrivals at Eastlands, which then hampered Caicedo’s progress. Nevertheless, the striker has a boisterous presence on the pitch and will be vital to the Ecuadorian front-line attack.
New coach Reuda was appointed less than a year ago after being sacked as coach of the Honduras national team. Many are of the opinion that Reuda has taken over the team in order to lead them back to winning ways in domestic as well as international competitions but so far the coach has managed more draws than wins, earning him the title of the ‘King of Draws’.
Key Players: Walter Ayovi, Antonio Valencia, Felipe Caicedo
Best Performance: Finished 4th in 1953 and 1993.
Prediction: With opponents like Brazil, Paraguay and Venezuela, getting through the group phase is going to be no easy task but if Reuda can instill a working, tactical approach to Ecuador’s game, then it is no doubt going to rattle the rest of the teams in the group.
Paraguay are one of the more stronger teams in South America and historically have performed well in the Copa America. Los Guaraníes have been consistent in recent memory having reached the quarterfinals on six of the last seven occasions. Striker Roque Santa Cruz and coach Gerardo Martino have outlined their ambitions of winning the tournament for the third time and while they do have the ammunition to punch above their weight they don’t naturally start off as favorites.
Martino’s preferred formation is 4-4-2 although he isn’t afraid to tinker. He famously made six changes to the team that ousted Japan in the World Cup ahead of the quarterfinal defeat to Spain. His fullbacks Piris and Torres are both adventurous, while the defense will be marshaled by the experience of Da Silva and Alcaraz. In midfield, Barreto is expected to provide the width down the right while Riveros is the engine of the midfield. He’s known for his tireless box-to-box running ability. Roque Santa Cruz will lead the line and is a formidable hit man. He will be supported by Argentine born Lucas Barrios. Martino’s team is a well-organized defensive unit whose off the ball pressing is key to their game plan. Lucas Barrios is expected to lead Paraguay’s attack. His club form has been impressive while contrastingly enough his scoring rate for his country is rather disappointing. All Paraguayan hopes will rest on his shoulders to drive them towards Copa America success and in the process bang in the goals.
Martino was appointed head coach of Paraguay after the 2006 World Cup, taking over the reins from Anibal Ruiz. After a pretty successful 2010 World Cup where Paraguay were eliminated by eventual Champions Spain in the quarter-finals, he was expected to step down. However, he opted to continue up until the 2011 Copa America. Martino’s stint has been deemed a successful one so far and he was named South American Coach of the Year in 2007 for his efforts with Paraguay.
Key Player: Lucas Barrios
Best Performance: Two time winners in 1953 and 1979
Prediction: Paraguay find themselves in a tricky group to negotiate but certainly have the quality to qualify. Qualification from the group is undoubtedly one of their fundamental priorities. They will want to better their quarterfinal appearance in the last Copa and look to go all the way and cause a few upsets on the way. A bit of motivation courtesy the lovely Larissa Riquelme couldn’t hurt either.
Though, Venezuela have never had a fantastic outing at the Copa America, the noughties (2000-2009) have been very decent for La Vinotinto. In the last Copa held at their home, they managed to make it to the quarterfinals finishing at the top of their group. This time round, they have perennial favorites Brazil, Ecuador and tricky campaigner Paraguay for company.
Farias plays in an attacking 4-2-3-1 formation with Moreno as the Central Striker and veteran forward Maldonado sitting just behind the front man in the “hole”. Thomas Rincon plays as a defensive shield alongside Luis Seijas who likes to venture forward. National Captain Juan Arango also plays as an attacking midfielder and is the talisman of the team. Another midfield gem is the player from Hamburg, Tomas Rincon, the player is responsible for making the whole unit click together. Gonzales and Wolfsburg attacking mid – young and exciting Yohandry Orozco patrol the wings. Veteran of over a 110 games for the country, Jose Manuel Rey plays at Center Back and is a key man. In the old man’s absence, Grenddy Perozo and Franklin Lucena have also played very recently at the back. Rosales and Chichero were the Full Backs employed in their last outing against Spain.
Giancarlo Maldonado is the all-time leading goal-scorer of Venezuela. He scored 6 goals in 15 appearances in the 2010 WC Qualification campaign and thereby quite easily spearheads the attacking system of Venezuela. Juan Arango, arguably the best player to ever play for the country is one of the few players to ever play in a top-division club in Europe. The Borussia Monchengladbach man is the fulcrum of the team, responsible for creativity and even scoring goals. The captain had helped the team make impressive progress in the last Copa and all will be looking at him to ‘run the show’ in this one too.
The 38-year-old Farias has graduated from the Under-20 coaching of the national team, which participated in the 2009 FIFA U-20 World Cup. He has a huge task in hand competing against the likes of Brazil and Paraguay in the same group. The manager needs to keep the squad disciplined and ask his boys to enjoy and gather as much big-match experience as they can possibly get.
Key Players: Giancarlo Maldonado, Juan Arango, Tomas Rincon
Best Performance: Quarterfinals in 2007
Prediction: It will be extremely difficult for Venezuela to get past this group taking into consideration their current form and also the kind of football they play.