THE Copa America curtain-raiser features tournament hosts Chile entertaining Ecuador in Santiago. Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) looks to kick-off the Copa with a winning bet or two.
Chile v Ecuador | Friday 00.30 | Premier Sports
Widely regarded as their best ever crop of players, Chile begin their challenge for a first Copa America title against Ecuador in their home capital of Santiago. The nation is in buoyant mood after another impressive World Cup campaign last summer and while most teams have viewed this tournament as a stepping-stone, the Chilean public are expecting glory.
So how will they cope with the pressure? That’s the big question as we approach the competition’s first fixture. Traditionally tournament hosts are given a soft introduction but the 2015 version sees Jorge Sampaoli’s men straight into battle against a feisty, powerful and direct Ecuador side as opposed to Group A outsiders Bolivia.
It certainly won’t be easy for La Roja. Despite kind scheduling, Copa hosts haven’t tended to be as formidable in the curtain-raisers as we might expect. Although unbeaten since the Copa began hosting tournaments in fixed countries, the 11 home sides have returned W6-D5-L0 but that record is skewed by the W1-D4-L0 results in the past five. Last time out in 2011 Argentina failed to better Bolivia and so punters should be aware before piling into 8/15 quotes on Chile (Ladbrokes).
But as I mentioned earlier, the aims and aspirations of this Chilean side differ to that of their rivals. Sampaoli has brought the oldest and most experienced squad to the competition with little thought for future challenges – it’s all about winning the Copa America and getting the monkey off their back.
There’s a familiarity around the squad now too. The roster hasn’t changed dramatically across the past four years and so they’re a close-knit bunch, gelled together with a collective identity. There’s a blend of options available to Sampaoli but the core are high-end performers across Europe’s best clubs. The ingredients are certainly there.
We can expect Chile to set-up with a 3-4-2-1 for the sterner tests but their flexibility allows a change to 4-3-3 where necessary, or when taking on lesser teams. However, the latter formation has often seen the defence exposed. La Roja are weakest at centre-half and can certainly be ‘got at’ by more streetwise opponents.
The high-energy approach and pressing game unsettles opponents but Ecuador do offer a different test. Although boss Gustavo Quinteros has only been in the job a matter of months, La Tri should adopt the same physicality and old fashioned wing play that’s brought success for his predecessors and that could well bring joy against a Chilean side that enforces their wing-backs to get forward.
Amarillos hold a woeful record outside their altitude home in Quito (not beating a South America side away since 2009) as well as in the Copa – Ecuador have failed to make it out of the group since 1997 – and losing key man Antonio Valencia to injury won’t have helped their cause. But there’s still quality in the ranks and Jefferson Montero, Renato Ibarra and Christian Noboa are all capable of producing moments of magic from midfield.
In attack, Enner Valencia will be flanked by promising forward Miller Bolanos and the duo will be hoping to profit from the fast and skilful options on the flanks as well as at full back. Watch out for rampaging Walter Ayoví and Juan Carlos Paredes joining the attack and it’s that pace on the wings that could cause Chile most problems, especially if utilised on the counter.
So I’d like to think La Tri can get on the scoresheet on Thursday night – they’ve done so in all bar four of their previous 20 competitive outings whilst Chile have kept just six clean sheets across a similar sample. Their downfall though, is likely to come at the other end of the field. It’s a weak and fragile back line that relies on power and mobility to get by with no outstanding defender.
La Roja have scored at least twice in eight of their previous 10 competitive outings and with a passionate home crowd behind them, you’d expect Sampaoli’s side to enhance that record in Santiago. We can back Chile to score Over 1.5 Team Goals at 3/4 with Boylesports and that’s a nice starting point.
Six of the last 11 Copa America openers have featured Both Teams To Score winners and with a 60% win-rate across both nations’ past 10 fixtures, I’m happy to give the BTTS market my full attention too. Coral are dangling 5/4 in our direction and that holds plenty of appeal.
But hey, I’m going to be ballsy seeing as it’s the first game. Let’s have a play on the 16/5 from Coral that Chile win and Both Teams Score. I’d be surprised if this clash didn’t throw up a few goals; it should be fast-paced and full of entertainment and those with bigger balls than mine might be attracted to Coral’s 17/2 on a 2-1 Chile win with 3-1 offered at 14/1 by the same firm. For me, I’ll stick to the two punts below to get things started…
Chile v Ecuador – Chile to score Over 1.5 Goals (3/4 Boylesports)
Chile v Ecuador – Chile to win and Both Teams To Score (16/5 Coral)
How do you see the first game of the Copa America panning out? Expect Chile to make a fast start?
We’d love to hear your views so let us know in the comments box below.