With the Euro and Copa America, this will be a football summer like no other!

Published: June 3, 2016
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It’s not just the Euro taking place in France that will the set our pulse racing, but us fans have got a one-off tournament in shape of Copa America Centenario taking place in the American continent to look forward too. PHOTO: MISSOCCER

This summer is like Eid, Diwali and Christmas rolled into one for all us football fanatics. It’s not just the Euro taking place in France that will the set our pulse racing, but us fans have got a one-off tournament in shape of Copa America Centenario taking place in the American continent to look forward too.

Slotted in between the usual four year cycle, the Centennial Copa America is scheduled to celebrate the 100 years of South American football competition that started off in 1916.

Chile won the Copa America for the first time on Saturday when a cheeky penalty from Alexis Sanchez clinched a shootout victory over Argentina in front of their own fans. Photo: AFP

To mark the occasion, the organisers have rather bizarrely chosen The United States, despite being on a different continent, as the host. Non-South American countries such as Mexico, USA and Costa Rica have featured previously, though this will be the first time the event has been held outside South America.

Changes have been implemented due to it being a special occasion and there will be 16 countries involved this year rather than the usual 12. To join in the celebrations, six countries from CONCACAF will join the 10 CONMEBOL members in vying to be crowned Copa America champions.

The once-in-a-lifetime event features some of the world’s best teams and players divided up in four groups of four, with top two teams in each group advancing to the knockout round.

Group A

In a group dubbed as the “group of death” hosts, Team USA are all set to lock horns with Real Madrid’s James Rodrigues led Colombia, Costa Rica and Paraguay.

Edagr Benitez (C), and Costa Rican Christian Gamboa (R) vie for the ball during a friendly match of the national football team.
Photo: AFP

Playing in the Copa America for the first time since 2007, Jurgen Klinsmann and company are determined to make a real go at it on home soil. While Colombia’s title bid rests on the shoulders of AC Milan Striker Carlos Bacca with Jackson Martinez and Radamel Falcao both absent. Los Cafeteros fell to Argentina on penalty kicks in last year’s Copa quarters, scoring only one goal in four games so they would be looking to correct that record during this year’s edition.

Another team whose run was abruptly halted by Argentina in the semi-finals of the previous event, Paraguay are without their leading goal-scorers Roque Santa Cruz, Lucas Barrios and Victor Caceres so getting out of the group for them would be a major accomplishment.

Costa Rica complete the group but they also face an uphill task with number one goalkeeper and recently crowned Champions League winner Keylor Navas ruled out due to an Achilles problem.

June 3: US vs Colombia, Santa Clara

June 4: Costa Rica vs Paraguay, Orlando, Fla.

June 7: US vs Costa Rica, Chicago; Colombia vs Paraguay, Rose Bowl

June 11: Costa Rica vs Colombia, Houston; US vs Paraguay, Philadelphia

Group B

A Brazil without Neymar – imagine the furore! But that is precisely what the Seleção have to make do with due to the proximity of the Summer Olympics to the centenary version of the quadrennial CONMEBOL tournament.

Neymar, who had already been booked, was shown a second yellow card after kicking.
Photo: Reuters

The difficult roster decision for Brazil came to the fore when they had to accommodate a request by Barcelona that the talismanic forward only play in one international tournament and since the Canarinhos have never won an Olympic Gold, there is some pressure to bring home the Gold in July.

Copa America 2016 Group B preview: Can Brazil ease past Ecuador, Peru and Haiti?
Photo: Reuters

As such, it was decided that Neymar would sit out the Copa America tournament and play in the Olympics.

Ecuador and Peru are set to vie for second spot but with a powerful midfield consisting of Antonio Valencia, Michael Arroyo and Jefferson Montero, it’s La Tricolour who are tipped by the bookies to make it to the next round. Minnows Haiti complete the quadrant.

June 4: Brazil vs Ecuador, Rose Bowl; Haiti vs Peru, Seattle

June 8: Ecuador vs Peru, Glendale, Ariz.; Brazil vs Haiti, Orlando, Fla.

June 12: Ecuador vs Haiti, East Rutherford, NJ.; Brazil vs Peru, Foxborough, Mass.

Group C

Copa America’s most in-form team, Mexico enters the summer contest on an 11-game unbeaten run in competitive games, including eight wins in a row, and it has yet to concede a goal in their last five games, and are rightly labelled as pre-tournament favourites. But they are still not sure to have all of it their way, since they are grouped with Luis Suarez’s Uruguay. The former Liverpool striker broke the 50-goal mark for Barca in 2015-16 and is single-handedly capable of delivering the title for La Celeste.

Uruguay’s national soccer team player Edinson Cavani (L) looks at teammate Luis Suarez.
Photo: Reuters

Venezuela and Jamaica round-off the group that is certain to be won by either Mexico or Uruguay.

June 5: Jamaica vs Venezuela, Chicago; Mexico vs Uruguay, Glendale, Ariz.

June 9: Mexico vs Jamaica, Rose Bowl; Uruguay vs Venezuela, Philadelphia

June 13: Mexico vs Venezuela, Houston; Uruguay vs Jamaica, Santa Clara

Group D

Quick trivia – when was the last time Lionel Messi won an international tournament?

Simple.

Never!

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring a goal during their King’s Cup quarter-final.
Photo: Reuters

Arguably the greatest footballer ever, the five-time world player of the year has never won a major senior competition. Leo has twice fallen at the last hurdle of the Copa America, along with losing the final of the previous World Cup, so make no mistake that he would be chomping at the bit to get this one in the bag for Argentina who have gone 23 years since lifting a major trophy.

Panama, Bolivia and, defending champions, Chile, are also part of the group. With coach Jorge Sampaoli having left, there are fears Sanchez, Vidal and Company have peaked following an unconvincing start to the world cup qualifying but they would still have enough to qualify from the group along with La Albiceleste.

June 6: Panama vs Bolivia, Orlando, Fla.; Argentina vs Chile, Santa Clara

June 10: Argentina vs Panama, Chicago; Bolivia vs Chile, Foxborough, Mass.

June 14: Chile vs Panama, Philadelphia; Argentina vs Bolivia, Seattle

The Copa America Centenario will kick off on June 3rd and will conclude with the final on June 26th.

Hassan Sardar

Hassan Sardar

The author is an aspiring filmmaker and a diehard Liverpool fan. He also teaches Screenwriting and Cinematography, and loves tattoos and flip-flops. He tweets as @CineSardar (twitter.com/CineSardar)

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