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Copa America – The Perfect Tonic???

If you’re a bit sad like me, then you might already be experiencing withdrawal symptoms following the end of the football season. If that’s the case then Copa America could be the perfect cure  (if you don’t mind staying up late). For those of you that are unfamiliar with the South American equivalent of the Euro’s, the tournament will be held in Argentina and features ten of South America’s top football teams, plus two ‘invited’ teams from other continental associations. This time around Japan and Mexico were given the wildcards but due to the earthquake, the Japanese team had to withdraw, with Costa Rica taking the final place instead.

The event consists of 3 groups in what can only be described as a rather convoluted format, built around ensuring that the two favourites, Brazil and Argentina, don’t face each other until the final. Surely such cynical tactics couldn’t be commonplace in the world of international football….

Here is a preview of the likely contenders:

The Favourites; Argentina and Brazil:

The historic relegation of Argentina’s most illustrious football club is still sending shock waves through the country. With the media pressure expected to shift to the national team, the hosts will be hoping to bring an abrupt end to the dominance of their nemesis, Brazil. Argentina are favourites to win the 2011 Copa America but if they are going to end 18 years of hurt then surely they need to find a way of stopping Brazil from lifting the trophy for a 5th time in 6 attempts.

Like England, Argentina are often accused of living on its former glories and the blind faith shown in their beloved ‘handball’ expert as manager last year ensured that they faced another early exit from the World Cup. They have now turned to another world cup winner, Sergio Batista to restore some pride.  His first move was to try and imitate Barcelona by playing Lionel Messi in the false No.9 position with Ever Banega playing in the Xavi role. Factor in the strike power of Tevez, Aguero, Milito, Higuain and Di Maria then it’s hard to imagine that either Columbia, Bolivia or Costa Rica are going to stop them from topping Group A. However while the hosts are not going to struggle to find the back of the net, they are going to need to find a way to sure things up at the back if they are going to lift the trophy that has eluded them since 1993. Compare the likes of Zabeleta, Milito and Zanetti (who are average, can’t get a game and 55 years old respectively) to Thiago Silva, Lucio and Maicon then you can understand why Brazil looks like a more attractive proposition.

For the gamblers amongst you, an each way bet on Messi to lift the Golden Boot looks like a bet to nothing but the only criticism that has ever been levelled at the world player of the year is that he doesn’t score enough for his country. So with that in mind the highly coveted Neymar looks like better value. He is on the verge of a big money move to Europe and will be full of confidence. So with him spearheading the attack and the fact that when you consider that Brazil have only conceded 2 goals since their shock elimination at the hands of the Dutch last summer coupled with a far more attacking approach under Mano Menezes, then perhaps the bet of the tournament is a Neymar/Brazil Top Goalscorer/Outright Winner Double.

The Rest of The Field

You could be forgiven for thinking that there are only two teams that can win this tournament! So apart from Brazil’s recent ability to self-implode where do the other main threats come from? After their impressive 4th place at the World Cup, Uruguay looks like a force to be reckoned with. They are favourites  to win Group C, and are a solid outfit that are capable of ending Brazil’s monopoly  if they can utilise their main assets; Forlan, Suarez and Cavani. Forlan is coming off the back of a disappointing season in La Liga and will be eager to regain the form that saw him lift the World Cup Golden Ball last summer. He finds himself in good company with Luiz Suarez who is coming off a strong end to the Premier League season and must fancy his own chances of winning the Golden boot. Uruguay have group matches against an injury-hit Peru and a young Mexican B team in the offing so they will be keen to get off to a good start.

The main threat to Uruguay’s hopes of a winning Group C will come from Chile, who will be relying on the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Esteban Paredes and Humberto Suazo to add to their combined tally of 40 international goals. The now fully fit Suazo will be eager to eradicate painful world cup memories and Sanchez who is coming off the back of a great season with Udinese are likely to be ‘La Roja’s’ key weapons. However without the authoritative Marcela Bielsa cracking the whip they are more of an unknown quantity.

Uruguay and Chile will be keen to finish in the top 2 of Group C in hope that they avoid the 2 big heavyweights, which is likely to ensure that they face either Paraguay or Colombia in the quarter finals and therefore a realistic chance of a semi-final berth.

The Dark Horses:

Paraguay were only 7 minutes away from taking Spain to a penalty shoot-out last summer and are quietly fancied by many experts. They boast a very mean defence and will be massively reliant on in-form striker Lucas Barrios to lead their attack after being highly influential in Borussia Dortmund’s surprise Bundesliga triumph. ‘La Albirroja’ will fight it out against Brazil, Ecuador and Venezuela in a Group that might struggle for goals. In my opinion the real dark horses are Columbia, who are in transition after failing to qualify for the World Cup. They are a young side and have the likes of Zapata, Yepes and Porto duo Falcao and Guarin in their ranks. The latter will be oozing confidence after a very successful season with Porto. Falcao has been widely tipped to follow manager Villas Boas to Chelsea and he will be eager to continue his rich vein of form. A strange quirk in the formatting of the competition means that Columbia could once again face their Group A rivals and hosts in the Semi-Finals. If the Argentinian’s have not sorted out their defensive frailties then Falcao and co could be ready to rub salt into very painful wounds.

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