Monday, April 27, 2015

On the horizon – 45 days until start of the Copa América

It’s not long anymore until the prestigious South American tournament returns. June 11 sees the first match of this year’s edition in Chile. The hosts face Ecuador in the opening match. Here is a quick look at all teams for you, with their chances as of right now.
Group A: Chile, Mexico, Ecuador, Bolivia
Led by Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal, Chile strives for glory in their first home tournament since 1991. In addition, they have never won the Copa América before, four second places was the best they could manage so far. The group will (most likely) not be much a problem for Chile. Sure, Mexico have a good team, but with the home advantage, they are also very beatable. As the back three seems to get more popular in European football again as well, Chile have practiced that tactic for quite a long time now, giving them a lot of power on the wings, as well as five defensive players on one line when defending. Especially in games against favored teams, the coach tends to use this strategy, seen in the World Cup against Spain, the Netherlands and Brazil. Having Premier League star Alexis Sanchez up front does not hurt either.
Mexico do have some recognizable names throughout their lineup too, Real Madrid striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez only being one of them. They play the same 5-3-2 as does Chile. Héctor Herrera is their engine in midfield, the game rises or falls with his game. Realistically, they will make it out of this group, but when facing the really strong South American teams, I don’t see them advancing much further.
Antonio Valencia’s Ecuador will have an uphill battle to reach the second round. Since the World Cup, they continued their up and down form, beating this year’s group rivals Bolivia, but losing narrowly to Brazil. Goalkeeper Alexander Domínguez will need to show his very best form three times. Since September of last year, Ecuador play in a 4-2-3-1 formation instead of the 4-4-2 with double 6. Beating Bolivia is a must.
Those Bolivians are the clear outsider of this group. Nearly the whole squad that will be nominated plays in the small countries’ league. Bolivia does not have any real set tactic they can rely on, a coaching change did its part to that fact. Under Néstor Clausen, they did win their first game though, beating Venezuela 3-2. Alejandro Chumacero and Damián Lizio in central midfield will be under a lot of pressure to hold this team together defensively.
Group B: Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Jamaica
The World Cup runner up Argentina has to be the favorite when it comes to group B. With all the offensive firepower they have got, you have to feel sorry for the rest of the teams. Lionel Messi, coming off yet another fantastic season with Barcelona, alongside of players like Sergio Agüero, Gonzalo Higuaín and the list goes on. After they got it together defensively as well, there is not much speaking against them as the favorite for this tournament. Betting companies agree, and give them the best odds of all participating teams.
Defending Copa América champions Uruguay look ahead to an uncertain tournament. They obviously still have a lot of quality, but the retirement of Diego Forlán and the suspension for superstar Luis Suárez, which will most likely not be overturned and keeps him out of the tournament, hurt the small country a lot. All that is left of the former triumvirate is PSG striker Edinson Cavani. Granted, a lot of the other teams wish they had a player like him. Despite all problems up front, they still have an absolute powerhouse defense, captained by Diego Godín from Atlético Madrid. Count them in for one of the first two spots in this group.
Paraguay are so out of form that they have not won a game since September 2013. A shocking development for a team that ended up losing the 2011 final to Uruguay. You really wonder why when you see former and current Bundesliga stars in Lucas Barrios and Raul Bobadilla in their lineup. 37 year old Justo Villar is their constant in goal, and will probably play his last big tournament.
That leaves us with the biggest outsider I can remember in all the recent Copa América’s. Jamaica does not care though and is unbeaten in 2015. Defenders Wes Morgan and Adrian Mariappa are probably the only names you would recognize if you are paying attention to midfield and bottom clubs in the English league. The only focus can lay on not getting destroyed by Argentina and Uruguay. Maybe if they get something out of Paraguay, there will be a chance of advancing as third placed team.
Group C: Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela
Change was needed for Brazil after being humiliated by Germany in their home World Cup, and change happened. Since summer 2014, the winner of 4 of the last 6 Copa’s did not lose a game, beating the likes of Argentina, France and Chile. Neymar, of course, remains the focal point of the squad, but he receives better support compared to previous times. Players like Roberto Firmino, Luiz Adriano, Oscar or Coutinho stand for balanced attacking football. 32 year old Jefferson took over in goal and has the luxury of Thiago Silva and Miranda ahead of him. The tactics are very variable, but a back 4 usually remains.
The team that excited everyone during the World Cup, Colombia, is the other strong team in this group. Their attacking force remains one of the best in South America, Falcao did not have a good year in Manchester, but will be needed to do well by the Colombians to make it far in the tournament. James Rodríguez, after a long injury, also slowly returns to form and should be able to make his mark on this team. Their worry remains the defensive side of the game with a rather inexperienced backline.
Peru is led by striker Paolo Guerrero, who plays in Brazil for Corinthians. Fiorentina’s Juan Vargas is supposed to get him the ball from the left side of midfield. So much for the plan. In the actual games it usually looks different, because the team simply does not have enough quality aside from those two. They will have some serious trouble defending against Brazil and Colombia and I would personally be surprised if they make it into the quarter finals.
Lastly, Venezuela. Zenit St. Petersburg Striker José Rondón leads the way for a team, that I am not quite sure about. On paper, they have the players to win games, but most likely not Brazil or Colombia. Juan Arango is the captain of the team, but with his 34 years, he is not the prime candidate to decide a game alone either anymore. Venezuela try to tighten up the midfield, I expect them in a 4-5-1 formation during the Copa América. They, to me, are one of the teams that can make it into the next round via third place.


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