The 2015 Copa América begins today, when hosts Chile face Ecuador. Here are some of the storylines to watch for in CONMEBOL’s continental tournament.
Argentina are the favorites
Argentina came a Mario Götze goal away from winning the World Cup last year, so it should come as little surprise that Tata Martino’s troops are the favorite in this tournament. This is essentially the same Argentina squad from 2014. Javier Mascherano will still be a presence in central midfield and Lionel Messi will still be Lionel Messi. And if anything, this year’s attack may be even stronger than the 2014 squad, as Carlos Tévez has returned to the national team after being largely absent from the squad during Alejandro Sabella’s tenure. Argentina is hardly the only contender for this year’s tournament, but they are definitely the deepest team and the one with the fewest clear weaknesses.
Turnover in the Brazil squad
When you lose 7-1 in the semifinals as the host nation in the World Cup and have another international tournament a year later, it’s almost expected that a certain amount of turnover will occur. This is even less of a surprise when you remember that Big Phil Scolari (now China-bound) resigned and was replaced with Dunga. Dani Alves, Hulk, Julio Cesar and Maicon are amongst the big names that won’t find themselves in Chile for Copa América. Fred and Jo are not big names by any stretch of the imagination, but they also won’t feature in Chile after their dreadful combined efforts as Brazil’s striker last summer. Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino will be given opportunities at attacking midfielder, while Danilo will be expected to replace Alves and Maicon at right back. Filipe Luis and Miranda also have received call-ups, albeit a year too late.
UPDATE: Dani Alves will indeed play in the Copa América. The Barcelona right back will replace Real Madrid’s Danilo after the latter suffered an ankle injury.
Uruguay doesn’t have Suarez
While Luis Suárez’ suspension from club football with Barcelona ended in October, his suspension from international play means he can not represent Uruguay in this year’s tournament. This is not good news in the slightest Óscar Tabárez and his side. Edinson Cavani will be the go-to-guy in the ex-Liverpool man’s absence. Cavani’s 2014-15 season for PSG was by and large solid, but his days as a world-class striker seem to be numbered. Bordeaux’s Diego Rolán scored 15 goals in a breakthrough campaign and could be of some assistance, too. But the absence of Suárez will hurt Uruguay a lot.
Chile are the hosts
One of the most entertaining teams from last year’s World Cup is back and this time they’re the hosts. In last year’s World Cup, Chile was a Mauricio Pinilla crossbar away from upsetting Brazil in the round of 16. Chile bring back all of their big contributors from last year’s squad: Claudio Bravo in net, Gary Medel at center back and most importantly, Arturo Vidal in midfield and Alexis Sánchez in attack. Everyone in Chile has spent the past year dwelling on that round of 16 game, and would love to avenge it with winning the Copa América as hosts this year. They won’t be the favorites, but they also won’t go down on home soil without a fight.
The 2014 World Cup turned James Rodríguez into a global superstar, whereas entering the tournament he was merely “that awesome young midfielder from Monaco.” The Real Madrid midfielder’s brilliant performance has hardly been forgotten, but for a refresher: he scored six goals in five games and led Colombia to the quarterfinals. There are massive expectations for James to, once again, be a major contributor for Colombia. Even if he doesn’t perform up to his World Cup level, the 2001 Copa América winners still have Carlos Bacca, Juan Cuadrado and Jackson Martínez, and perhaps Radamel Falcao will find form after a disastrous spell at Old Trafford. But as James goes, so go the hopes of a nation.