WHO’S going to be crowned Copa America champions? We asked international football obsessive Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) for his outright analysis.
Copa America | Outright| 14th June – 7th July 2019 | Premier Sports
The 46th edition of the Copa America gets underway on Friday night as hosts Brazil take on South American outsiders Bolivia in Sao Paolo. Having registered a solitary semi-final appearance across their last three World Cup and Copa America outings, the pressure is now on the Selecao to produce the goods in front of their home supporters this summer.
This year’s Copa America arrives at a curious juncture. Often hampered by scattergun scheduling, the competition will finally find order in a new four-yearly cycle from 2020, a curious decision by CONMEBOL considering the European Championship will probably dominate the scene outside of the region going forward.
Whilst the Euros is treated with the utmost respect by UEFA’s fraternity, the Copa has tended to be used a vital breeding ground for nations looking to trial, test and cement their sides ahead of World Cup qualification. That’s a familiar theme again this summer, although the scheduling of Qatar 2022 makes the 2019 renewal even flimsier.
With World Cup qualification not commencing until March 2020, the majority of nations have time on their side in their quest to find the right formula, especially as another Copa America will take centre-stage again in 12 months; arguably, that is the competition where the 10 CONMEBOL countries will expect to be hard-wired and ready for battle.
As already alluded to, the continent has seen plenty of change in the various dugouts and only Brazil, Uruguay, Venezuela and Peru come into the competition with a head coach that has overseen competitive football with their current side. It’s worth noting that nations who missed out on Russia in 2018 haven’t played competitively since October 2017.
Copa America intricacies
Before we go any further, it’s worth highlighting a couple of quirks with the 2019 competition. Twelve teams compete across three pools with only four sides being eliminated at the group-stage – the two best third-place finishers join the top two from each section in the quarter-finals.
If quarter-final scores are level after 90 minutes then penalties immediately come into action, although extra-time is introduced at the semi-final stage. Such rules and regulations can often favour the underdog in the Copa America and Paraguay famously reached the final of the 2011 edition having failed to win a single match in 90 minutes en-route.
Only six stadiums are being used across five cities with the largest distance between two venues being four hours – Salvador to Porto Alegre. Venezuela are the only side to suffer the irritation of playing at both locations in successive matches, although the impact of travel is unlikely to be major factor in success or failure.
Copa America outright analysis
It’s a fools game to try and predict a path to the final for any side at this summer’s Copa America. With third-placed finishers complicating the schedule, it’s very difficult to second-guess who or how each nation could progress through the competition bar arguably hot Group A favourites Brazil.
The Selecao will be set to face either Group B or C’s third-placed outfit should they take top honours in their pool, suggesting a spot in the semi-finals will be well within their range. However, we’re old enough and experienced enough in the wild and wacky world of football to know that nothing is guaranteed in this game.
The only slice of value garnered from studying the schedule is the realisation that Group B and Group C winners, as well as the runners-up in Group C could/should avoid Brazil until a potential final should they progress through their knockout matches. That is of course presuming that the Selecao justify their short price favouritism in Group A.
If I’ve not lost you yet, it’s nearly time to pin our colours to the mast. The market is dominated by Brazil (45% share), whilst Argentina and Uruguay ensure the top three contenders according to the bookmakers make-up 80% of the book – they’re essentially saying there’s just a 20% chance of any of the remaining nine sides winning the competition.
It would be remiss of me to go any further without sharing my views on Brazil themselves, and as an outright prospect at 6/5 (Paddy Power). The odds eased from 4/5 quotes following Neymar’s injury, and whilst the available offering now is more palatable, I still wouldn’t be rushing to tie up my cash on such a quote.
The majority of available evidence points towards the Selecao as the clear team to beat. Unlike the bulk of continental rivals, Tite is fully focussed on securing the title that will ensure he remains in his role as head coach, selecting an experienced squad. However, Brazil are not without faults, as well as battling against the weight of an expectant nation.
Much will be made of the Selecao’s previous Copa history on home turf, and their remarkable competitive record as hosts over the past 40 years. But I’m unwilling to tie up my money in a short-priced jolly in the notoriously competitive, physical and demanding world of South American soccer. There are more interesting selections elsewhere.
Uruguay to win outright (7/1 each-way Bet365)
Uruguay have reached at least the Copa America semi-finals in five of the last nine editions and can challenge in the latter stages of the competition again this summer. Having flattered to deceive in Russia last year, La Celeste’s rigid until returns for another crack at glory having consistently claimed the tag as CONMEBOL kings under Oscar Tabarez.
The veteran boss has a remarkable record for reinventing and refreshing his Uruguay squad and the latest batch of recruits from the U20 team have added plenty to a midfield that lacked style and swagger. The renowned defensive system remains in the place and with two of the globe’s meanest strikers in attack, La Celeste have few weaknesses.
Uruguay have a kind group to negotiate with a very youthful Japanese squad, an ageing Chilean outfit and an Ecuadorian team at pains to point out their preparations are at an early stage all in opposition. La Celeste should really show their class to finish top of the pile and from there they will avoid Group A’s winners (probably Brazil) until the final.
A potential showdown with Colombia or Argentina could be in store in the semi-finals but with the stability and continuity imposed by Tabarez far exceeding that of either possible opponent, Uruguay should have the edge, as well as the experience necessary to progress.
Punting Uruguay each-way ensures we’ll earn a third of the odds should La Celeste flop in the final.
Peru to reach the final (9/1 Paddy Power)
As is customary in Copa America tournaments, selecting a wildcard outsider to go deep in the competition has plenty of merit. Having toyed with Venezuela, I’ve settled with their Group A rivals Peru who I feel are further down the road in terms of development.
Obviously being housed in the same pool as Brazil is a little problematic, although the Group A runners-up are scheduled to meet Group B’s runner-up. Clearly that’s far from serene with Colombia and Argentina possibly waiting in the wings but I’d be confident Los Incas could run Lionel Messi and co close, whilst no extra-time in the last-eight aids underdogs.
Peru’s encounter with Venezuela on Saturday night is probably the most pivotal but thereafter the schedule is advantageous. Facing Brazil last could be crucial with the Selecao probably already assured of top spot in the group, whilst Venezuela must face the hosts three days after their crunch contest with Peru following the longest trip between cities.
What’s more, La Blanquirroja are clearly moving in the right direction under Ricardo Gareca’s watch. Impressing neutrals around the planet at last summer’s World Cup, the framework and potential is in place to kick-on with a squad packed with experience, pace, power and ability.
Peru have progressed past the group-stages in each of their last eight Copa America competitions, and although La Blanquirroja haven’t reached the final since 1975, they can boast third-placed finishes during lean spells in 2011 and 2015, and fit the bill as a lively outsider capable of taking down one of the continent’s big guns.
Copa America – Uruguay to win outright (7/1 Bet365)
Copa America – Peru to reach the final (9/1 Paddy Power)