Of all of FIFA’s major tournaments, Copa America may be the most underrated.
Every four years CONMEBOL’s premier competition flies under the radar, with viewing confined to clandestine computer streams and practically unsearchable destinations in the deepest reaches of the cable galaxy.
What most of the world is missing is a beautiful display of grit, unparalleled style and an often breakneck pace of play.
Arriving on the heels of the World Cup, Copa America is always filled with juicy story-lines and this iteration has it in spades. Brazil is trying wipe the blood from their hands after the world painfully watched the massacre in Belo Horizonte. Argentina is trying to re-cement themselves as a footballing superpower after a few uncharacteristic misses from Leo Messi kept them from World Cup glory.
Make no mistake, this isn’t just about Argentina and Brazil, as evidenced by reigning champions Uruguay, Chile’s exhaustive list of elite players and a Colombia side fresh off a brilliant World Cup run.
For all the pomp and circumstance of the European Championships, Copa America delivers exciting, quality attacking football from national sides overflowing with talent in a refreshingly unpretentious setting.
Three of these sides made it to last year’s World Cup quarterfinals, and it would have been more had it not been for friendly fire in the previous knockout stages.
With a deep field and many surprises sure to be in store, we try to look into the crystal ball and give our predictions of how Copa America 2015 will unfold.
Who will disappoint?
Joey: Uruguay. It’s hard to imagine the reigning champions retaining the title come July. This team has aged considerably since the deep World Cup run of 2010 and the exhibition in survival Diego Forlan and co. displayed in 2011. Edinson Cavani will provide the firepower needed to get through the group stages, but it is hard to imagine anything further than the quarterfinals for La Celeste unless they are blessed with a favorable path. Sans Luis Suarez, don’t expect this side to overachieve.
Joey: Chile. Consistency is their forte’ as they have cruised to the Copa America semis an eye-popping 19 times. On the highest of stages Chile has shown they can hang with the best sides in the world. Alexis Sanchez is in the best form of his life, and Arturo Vidal is a force to be reckoned with regardless of where Jorge Sampaoli chooses to deploy him.
Steven: Colombia must conquer both the hosts and the heavyweights. Jose Pekerman’s squad earned their spot at football’s top table last summer in Brazil, only being dumped by the Selecao in a questionable quarterfinal. A reformed defense needs to synchronize quickly, but experienced David Ospina can remedy minor growing pains. If that question is answered, James and co. can feast like kings.
Who is the player to watch?
Joey: Sergio Aguero. Maradona’s son-in-law was battling niggling injuries during Argentina’s World Cup campaign but is poised to set Copa America on fire. Don’t be surprised if Manchester City’s most consistent forward finds the net more than his compatriot Lionel Messi. Aguero has big plans for this tournament. Watch out.
Steven: Watch Messi. Watch Neymar. Watch James and Alexis but definitely save room for Edinson Cavani. Paris Saint-Germain and Uruguay’s second striker takes the lead role in the champions’ run at a repeat. His 31 goals in 53 appearances for club side show his elite potential, but Uruguay prefers to feed on talisman Luis Suarez. His god-sized-hole is left for Cavani to fill. His long respected talent finally gets a glint out of Zlatan and Suarez’s glare. Let’s see how bright he shines.
Who will win Copa America 2015?
Joey: Argentina. Brazil could very easily set the tournament ablaze, leaving a wake of destruction in their path, but until they prove they have steady footing at the very least, they cannot be trusted. This Argentina side is fitter and deeper than last year’s world beaters. If Angel Di Maria can find his form, and Javier Mascherano’s legs don’t give out just yet, this team will waltz through the tournament even if Lionel Messi continues his inconsistent international career.
Steven: Chile. La Roja (more aptly La Furia Roja, but despite all they took from Spain at the World Cup the nicknames remain). While Jorge Sampoali warns against the perils of host’s pressure, the comforts of home should energize the swashbuckling red fury. Sneaky stabilization of the Chilean football culture since Marcelo Bielsa has blossomed under Sampaoli. A golden generation casting Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal and the tournament’s best keeper Claudio Bravo provides a fantastic foundation. Combine a underrated supporting cast and the blemished competition, the hosts have everything necessary to capture their first continental cup.