The Hard Tackle takes an in-depth look at the 47th edition of Copa America, the oldest international footballing tournament.
With the 2020/21 club footballing campaign coming to an end, it is that time of the year again, as fans brace themselves for some of the major international footballing events, the oldest of which – Copa America – is set to kick-start on Sunday, with host nation Brazil welcoming Venezuela at Estadio Nacional de Brasilia.
The tournament was initially scheduled for 2020, but much like UEFA Euro 2020, it had to postponed to 2021 in light of the pandemic. CONMEBOL faced major problems heading into this year’s competition as well, as rising cases amid the pandemic forced the authority to rescind Argentina and Colombia as the hosts.
Brazil was then named as the host nation about a month ago, sparking outrage among fans, with the tournament’s reputation also being questioned. CONMEBOL, however, has gone to great lengths in assuring that the safety protocols will be adhered to by the ten participating nations. There will also be no audience inside the stadium, keeping the pandemic in mind.
Unlike the 2019 edition, there won’t be 12 participants either, as the two guests nations invited to participate in Australia and Qatar had to withdraw, citing clashes with their 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying schedule.
The show, nonetheless, must go on! And here, at The Hard Tackle, we will take a close look at the 47th edition of Copa America, as the likes of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay hope to continue their dominance over South American football.
Group A: Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela
Group B: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay
Each group will have four teams qualifying to the knockout stages, meaning only the last-placed team will miss out on qualifying the next round. It is a significant deviation from the traditional system that has three groups of four teams, with the top two automatically reaching the knockout stages, while the two best third-placed teams join them in the quarter-finals.
Group A: Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela
Brazil have been included in Group A where they face tricky opponents such as Colombia and Ecuador while Peru and Venezuela are also capable of springing a surprise. The hosts, nonetheless, are heading into the tournament as the red-hot favourites, having won six of the last 13 editions of Copa America, including the 2019 edition, despite the absence of Neymar.
This time around, the PSG superstar will spearhead the Selecao attack, partnered by a team chock-full of established Premier League stars such as Roberto Firmino, Gabriel Jesus and Richarlison. Brazil have a solid foundation in their defence as well, led by Neymar’s PSG teammate Marquinhos.
Although Thiago Silva is an option, Brazil have built a solid foundation in the partnership of Marquinhos and Eder Militao. And with Casemiro leading the entire team from the holding midfield position, it is fair to say that Tite’s men are heading into the tournament as one of the best defensive sides.
Brazil do lack the presence of a trusted goalscorer, though, and might struggle finding the back of the net often, especially if Neymar fails to offer the required productivity. It will be a potential cause for concern for Tite, although the hosts, nonetheless, are the undisputed favourites to top Group A.
Judging by the form in the FIFA World Cup 2022 Qualifiers, Brazil’s main rivals will not be Colombia, but Ecuador. Led valiantly by new coach Gustavo Alvaro, Ecuador have performed marvellously well, exhibiting attractive, attacking football with well-calculated risk-taking – making them the 2021 Copa America underdogs.
As far as the team is concerned, Pervis Estupinan and Moises Caicedo are Ecuador’s star players, pointing towards the energy and dynamism they have in the second line of press. However, the spotlight will be on striker Michael Estrada, who has been in terrific form in the World Cup Qualifiers, scoring three goals in six matches. His form in front of goal will go a long way in dictating the fate of La Tri.
As for Colombia, they do not, unfortunately, have that mystery and spark that they often do in tournaments like these. Without James Rodriguez, Reinaldo Rueda’s side is missing their main creative lynchpin who might have created goalscoring opportunities for lethal forwards like Duvan Zapata and Luis Muriel.
The onus will be on Juan Cuadrado to offer that creativity going forward, having enjoyed a somewhat decent campaign at Juventus. Los Cafeteros are weak defensively, though, with Davinson Sanchez certainly not enough to marshal a backline that has conceded 13 goals in six matches in World Cup 2022 Qualifiers.
The remaining two teams in Group A are Peru and Venezuela, neither of whom have performed well in the qualifiers. Peru are even dawdling at rock bottom, securing just one win in six matches. It is quite the decline for a team that reached the final of the 2019 edition of Copa America, only to be beaten by Brazil in the final.
Venezuela, on the other hand, have not fared any better in the qualifiers. They do have the second-youngest team in the tournament, though, can play with a lot of energy upfront. That said, scoring goals could be a problem, with La Vinotinto netting only thrice in six matches – the lowest in the qualifiers.
Likely to Qualify: Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Peru
Brazil are the undisputed favourites to rank top in Group A due to the sheer quality of their squad. The Hard Tackle predicts Ecuador to finish second, in light of their inspiring form in the early stages of the World Cup qualifying campaign while Colombia’s lack of cohesion might see them finish third, just ahead of Peru, who are likely to pip Venezuela as they have more experience of handling the pressure.
Group B: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay
Argentina are the second most successful team in Copa America with 14 titles – a tally only bested by Uruguay (15). However, they have not won the coveted tournament since 1993 and this time out, it will perhaps be Lionel Messi, aged 33, to secure his first major international with his country, following years of disappointment, including the defeat to Brazil in the 2019 Copa America semi-final.
As far as the team is concerned, Argentina are packed with a bunch of talented attackers who are more than capable of breaking the shackles of the opposition. The creativity unit will likely be led by Messi and Angel Di Maria, with additional assistance from the likes of Papu Gomez, Rodrigo de Paul and Emi Buendia while Sergio Aguero and Lautaro Martinez, in addition to Messi, will be in charge of goalscoring duties.
Unlike last years, however, La Albiceleste found an appealing young core in their defensive unit, thanks to the emergence of Cristian Romero, Lisandro Martinez and Juan Foyth. The team has also looked very sharp defensively under Lionel Scaloni, so it won’t be surprising to see Argentina appear resilient at the back and top Group B, in this edition of Copa America.
After Argentina, Uruguay are the next favourites to clinch the Copa America title this year, having won the competition more than any other team. Their last title, meanwhile, came back in 2011 under Oscar Tabarez, who is also in charge of the team in this edition of Copa America.
Unfortunately, the 74-year-old veteran coach will not have the world-class attacking trio he had at his disposal back in 2011. Instead, he will rely on the services of the ageing Luis Suarez, with Ignacio Ramirez and Jonathan Gonzalez serving as potential alternatives.
In many ways, Uruguay are living on their past glories, with the team heavily reliant on ageing stars like Luis Suarez, Fernando Muslera, Martin Caceres and Diego Godin. At the same time, they do have exciting young talents like Federico Valverde, Rodrigo Bentancur and Brian Rodriguez.
This Uruguay side certainly has a nice balance about them, but one could argue that they may not have the desired creativity and might appear slow defensively. A lot will depend on how Oscar Tabarez implements his tactics, but it will be a surprise to see La Celeste topping Group B, ahead of Argentina, especially after securing just two wins in six qualifying matches.
There is no doubt that Group B is by far the more difficult of the two, involving serial winners like Argentina and Uruguay. But it also has Chile, who have won two of the last three editions of the Copa America, including back-to-back titles in 2015 and 2016 – the Centenario edition.
However, much like Uruguay, Chile, too, are living off their past reputation and have not produced a great deal of talented stars since their last triumph in 2016. As a result, the team is still highly dependent on Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez, neither of whom had big roles to play in Inter Milan’s sensational title win this past season.
Even the defence is filled with veterans like Mauricio Isla, Gary Medel and the 37-year-old Jean Beausejour. They also have Claudio Bravo – their number one goalkeeper, aged 38, one of the oldest to participate in this edition of Copa America.
That said, Chile do have an interesting team, especially in midfield, where work-horses like Charles Aranguiz and Erick Pulgar can act as ideal anchormen while Guillermo Maripan is one of the best defenders in South American football, having enjoyed stellar success at AS Monaco over the past few years, making them among the favourites to finish second in Group B.
The remaining two teams in Group B are Bolivia and Paraguay. While Chile are highly reliant on their ageing stars, Bolivia and Paraguay have the youngest teams in the competition, with Bolivia, in particular, heading into Copa America with an average age of just 26.7 even though they are yet to release an official squad.
Bolivia do not have a star-studded squad, but their captain Marcelo Moreno is a distinguished star, having played for Werder Bremen and Shakhtar Donetsk. The 33-year-old has also won 77 caps for his country, scoring 17 goals. It is fair to say that the onus will be on him to offer productivity going forward.
Paraguay, on the other hand, have performed quite well in the early stages of the FIFA World Cup 2022 Qualifiers, losing just once in six matches. As their record suggests, they have defended remarkably, thanks to a backline led by Gustavo Gomez, Junior Alonso and Fabian Balbuena.
Los Guaraníes La Albirroja have an exciting creative department as well, with Miguel Almiron being their star player while Angel Romero has netted four times in the qualifying stages. Paraguay, therefore, are one of the dark horses in the tournament, along with Ecuador from Group A.
Likely to Qualify: Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, China
Argentina are likely to top the group, albeit by a narrow margin as they do have strong opponents to face off against. A close second might be Uruguay, despite their fair share of troubles and lack of form heading into the competition.
For the third place, it is a close call between Chile and Paraguay, with the latter showcasing inspiring improvements, at least in the qualifying stages of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. As such, the Hard Tackle predicts Paraguay to finish third in Group B, ahead of Chile, who are more than likely to overcome the challenge of an inexperienced Bolivia side.
Predicting the winner
Argentina and Brazil are the red-hot favourites to win this tournament due to the quality they have in their ranks, coupled with other big teams like Uruguay and Chile heading into the tournament on the back of underwhelming runs of form. The two powerhouses are also expected to top their respective groups meaning they are set to face the fourth-placed team from the other group.
Put simply, it will be a surprise to see anyone other than Brazil or Argentina win the tournament. But between them, Brazil have more strength on paper, although a lot will depend on whether or not Neymar manages to find his scoring boots whereas La Albiceleste have a world-class attacking unit and might even emerge as the favourites, should their new look defence hold it together.
Unlike the 2019 campaign, Brazil will not have that element of home support despite actually hosting the tournament. As such, we are expecting a shock triumph for Argentina, with Lionel Messi likely to continue his sizzling form on the international stage while players like Emiliano Martinez and Cristian Romero might emerge as heroes for their nations.
The Hard Tackle also predicts the two teams to meet in the final, so it will be a spectacle to behold, as these two rivals lock horns for the coveted tournament at the iconic Maracana.