Copa America Centenario 2016 Preview
Written by Ben Nadeau, Daniel McGuinness, Danny Moon, and Terrell Brown
Today, Copa America Centenario kicks off all across America, starting with the USMNT facing Colombia, one of the world's best. Most often, Copa America is a tournament typically held every four years between South America's best twelve teams. However, this edition is in celebration of their 100th anniversary, so North America's top squads have been invited along to double the fun.
In 2015, Chile won on home soil thanks to superstars like Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez -- but can the holders retain their trophy? Four of CoachUp's finest dished on pool play and predicted which countries would move into the knockout bracket. Let us know who you've got!
Group A: Columbia, United States, Costa Rica, Paraguay
Colombia has existed as a global soccer power in on and off spurts for almost fifteen years, sometimes captivating the world’s collective attention, but falling flat just as many times. Following their magical run to the 2014 World Cup, in which they lost to host nation Brazil in the quarter-finals, they only managed a 6th place finish in last summer’s Copa America tournament. The star of the 2014 run, James Rodriguez, who is now a UCL winner, scored six goals and Colombia will need that output again. In goal for Colombia is David Ospina, the backup keeper for Arsenal, and he should make enough saves to ensure that they move on to the knockout round. Additionally, Colombia won Copa America in 2001 as the host nation.
Key Player: James Rodriguez, obviously. With constant underdogs in Costa Rica and USA lurking, they’ll need their star to shovel in the goals.
Los Ticos surprised everybody during the 2014 World Cup and formerly unknown national reached the quarter-finals, their highest finish ever. Although they eventually fell to the Netherlands on penalty kicks, it proved that Costa Rica was finally ready for the game’s biggest stages. Lead by Bryan Ruiz of Sporting CP and Joel Campbell of Arsenal, they’ll look for another strong showing in a tournament they’ve generally found success in.
Key Player: Bryan Ruiz, the captain. As the heart and soul of Los Ticos, he’ll need to command the field and lead them to victory. Ruiz has scored 20 goals for Costa Rica since his debut in 2005, so they’re rather dependent on his abilities and distribution.
The world’s 39th best team by FIFA rankings comes into Copa America Centenario feeling like they drew a bit of short straw. Last summer, the defensive-minded squad made the Copa America semifinals, but they’re still not getting much praise right now. While they’re often able to hold teams to just a goal, they depend completely on Roque Santa Cruz to score on their end. Any team that holds their goals against numbers low cannot be counted out, but they’re unlikely to get through pool play.
Key Player: Justo Villar, the 38 year-old goaltender that will need to shut out James Rodriguez, Joel Campbell, and Clint Dempsey for Paraguay to have any hope of moving on -- good luck.
There’s a fairly high chance you opened this article to read this very blurb -- does the USMNT have any chance of making it out of this certain Pool of Death? Remember, Jurgen Klinsmann declared in 2014 that “they call it the Pool of Death because we are in it,” and this still rings true today. Naturally the USMNT runs hot and cold and many of the old guard can incite a passionate debate between any fans. Are Tim Howard and Brad Guzan good enough for the national stage still? Should Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones occupy the middle of the field still or is it time to let youngsters like Darlington Nagbe or Christian Pulisic take over? One thing is for sure, in classic USMNT fashion, they’ll have one great upset, lose one they shouldn’t have, and their knockout round hopes will ride on the Costa Rica-Colombia result on the final day of group play.
Key Player: Michael Bradley, the hands that make the USMNT tick. Other candidates include the pair of keepers, Clint Dempsey, and Jermaine Jones, but it’s no secret that USA sinks or swims based on the captain’s play.
Predictions: Colombia, USA advance.
Group B: Brazil, Haiti, Peru, Ecuador
Brazil continue their efforts to rebound in international competition after their shocking defeat against Paraguay in the Copa America quarter-finals last year. They've looked strong recently, coming off a dominant 2-0 victory over Panama on May 30th. However, without superstar Neymar, whose participation has been restricted by Barcelona, Brazil will have to depend on veterans Felipe Luis and Dani Alves to lead the squad defensively.
Key Player: Dani Alves, the stalwart defensive superstar that is moving from Barcelona to Juventus this summer.
Ecuador: Following a late loss to the United States in a international friendly on May 26th, Ecuador has been blessed with the tournament's weakest group. In 2014, Ecuador defeated Honduras, but fell 2 points shy of the Round of 16 as France and Switzerland advanced. This time around, they should be in the running for second in the group with Peru. Offensively, they look towards striker Enner Valencia to make a significant impact coming off a solid year at West Ham in the Barclays Premier League.
Key Player: Enner Valencia, the striker capable of goals like this.
Haiti enters Copa America Centenario play with minimal success in the past. After a tough loss 3-1 loss to Columbia on May 29th, Haiti must prepare for rigorous group competition. All hopes rest upon midfielder Wilde-Donald Guerrier, who leads the squad in goals. Unfortunately, any hammering from Brazil on June 8th may end their bid on goal differential alone.
Key Player: Wilde-Donald Guerrier, a relatively unknown player, but he'll need to unleash a goal or two like this in order for Haiti to cling to Round of 16 hopes.
Peru Finally, Peru jumps into the fray following a strong performance against El Salvador on May 29th, winning 3-1. Peru boasts strong offensive threats like Alexander Larin and will need constantly on target efforts against the veteran defensive units in Group B. After finishing third in last year's Copa America, Peru will not be written out this year. They look to their two leading scorers, Andy Polo and Raul Ruidíaz, to put some goals away this summer.
Key Player: Raul Ruidíaz -- they don't call him "Peruvian Messi" for nothin'.
Predictions: Brazil, Peru
Group C: Jamaica, Mexico, Uruguay, Venezuela
The Jamaicans enter Copa America as potential dark horses in Group C. Fresh off a 2-1 upset over Chile, the 3rd ranked team in the world, the Reggae Boyz are hoping to continue their run of form. With a solid defense featuring Leicester City's Wes Morgan and the Philadelphia Union’s Andre Blake, the Jamaicans will look to slow down the high powered attacks present in Group C. Remember the clinic they put on the USMNT in last year's Gold Cup? Yeah, we tried to block out memory out as well. While some may say that it is unlikely for the Jamaicans to move past the group stage, a key injury to Uruguayan striker Luis Suárez may give them the window they need to move on.
Key Player: Wes Morgan, the captain of England's champions (!!) anchors a tough Jamaican unit -- just ask Clint Dempsey.
El Tri enter Copa America Centenario with a multitude of variables on their side. To start, the Mexicans are the hottest team in the tournament and are currently riding an 11-game unbeaten streak which includes eight consecutive wins in competitive matches. Next up, the Mexicans have one of the most in-form players in the world in Bayer Leverkusen’s Javier Hernandez. To top it all off, all three of El Tri’s group stage games will take place in areas where Mexican fans are sure to congregate in abundance -- Arizona, Southern California, and Texas. With all these working in favor of El Tri, it's not hard to argue that they're the favorites to win Group C.
Key Player: Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, the striker that scored 25 goals in 28 games in Germany this season.
On paper, the Uruguayans have one of the strongest teams in the tournament with big names like Luis Suárez, Edinson Cavani, Diego Godín, and José Giménez. However, a nagging hamstring injury to Barcelona’s Luis Suárez has many critics doubting Los Charrúas. Despite the loss of Suárez for at least a couple of games, the Uruguayans still sport an incredibly well-balanced team. The Uruguayans will rely on a robust defense and potent attack that, sans Suárez, is still is a favorite to come out of Group C.
Key Player: Edinson Cavani, the Paris Saint Germain striker that carried the French side to the Champions League quarter-finals alongside Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
As one of the youngest squads at the tournament, the Venezuelans will look for an early win against Jamaica to boost their confidence. Coming off two winless fixtures in the past week, Los Llaneros need to start off hot if they are to advance to the knockout rounds. Up front, Venezuela will rely on Salamón Rondón and youngster Adalberto Penaranda to provide them with goals. In the back, 32 year-old veteran Oswaldo Viscarrondo will be relied upon to deter the powerful offenses present in Group C. Ultimately, if the Venezuelans are to reach the Round of 16, they will need to have big showings from their role players as well.
Key Player: Salamón Rondón, who came off a solid 1o goal debut season with England's West Bromwich Albion -- two of the ten came against Wes Morgan and Leicester City, so look for him to repeat that impressive feat.
Predictions: Mexico, Uruguay
Group D: Argentina, Chile, Panamá, Bolivia
Argentina come into the Copa America Centenario as the likely favorites to win the tournament. With the likes of Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuaín, Sergio Agüero, Ángel Di María, Javier Mascherano, and Sergio Romero in goal, the team reads more like an All-Star lineup than an international squad. Even though they may have some injury woes, Messi is currently dealing with some back problems, they're extremely deep at every position and won't be pushed to the brink of elimination until the quarter-finals at the earliest.
Key Player: Did you really think anyone other than Messi would be the answer? Even if he's still injured, the answer would be Messi's absence.
As the lowest-rated team in the tournament, unlikely placed in the same group as the defending champion and the out-and-out favorites, finishing third would be considered a big victory. They will need to depend on defend-first and bunker mentality, hoping for a draw or a lucky counter-attack in order to get a result in this group. Bolivia has a decent shot at the third position in the group over Panama, but it will depend on their head-to-head game.
Key Player: Luis Gutiérrez, the defensive leader and the man that will need to play out of his mind to give them a glimmer of hope.
The reigning champions have only held onto that distinction for a year thanks to the anniversary nature, but they're still hungry to represent. They're invested, passionate, and know what it takes to win a tournament like this. Chile is an absolute shoe-in to advance, but if Messi's injuries linger, they may be the odds-on favorites to win the group. Don't be surprised if Chile wins this group on goal differential.
Key Player: Alexis Sánchez, as one of the most beautiful players in the game, both by his model looks and style of play, is set to take Chile back to the finals after a successful season with Arsenal.
Panama boasts one of the oldest average aged lineups in this tournament, with eight players over 30, it could work to their advantage using experience to try to make it out of this group. For Panama, like Bolivia, making it out of this group would be a bit of a miracle hoping to bump Chile or Argentina out, but that doesn’t mean they won’t go down fighting.
Key player: Luis Tejada, the 34 year-old that's appropriately nicknamed "The Matador."
Predictions: Chile, Argentina
So, all that's left is the actual game playing! Who do you got?