As we are on the eve of the Copa America Centenario, there is no better time than now to roll out the expectations for the Group stage of the tournament. There are many interesting story lines throughout the tournament, which will feature teams for North, South and Central America and will be hosted in the USA for the first time. The opening match this Friday, June 3rd as Colombia taking on the host country USA will set the tone of the competition. Interestingly, it will also be one of the most pivotal matches of the entire tournament as the Group A match up will likely drive the table in that group. Here are my expectations for the round robins:
Group A: Colombia, United States, Paraguay, Costa Rica
Group A is by far the toughest group. Colombia would seem to be the team to beat and, after the USA-Ecuador friendly, you would definitely say that was the case. But a strong offensive performance against Bolivia showed that the USA may have some firepower to compete. The USA also has history on its side as it has historically performed well against Colombia – going back to the 1994 World Cup (although some USA players were not even born yet when that miraculous game occurred). The Americans have not historically performed well against South American countries, but tune up games against Ecuador- a likely quarterfinalist- and Bolivia, have the USA at least pointed in the right direction. Paraguay and Costa Rica are also dark horses in this group with either one able to spring an upset and advance. So, the most important game may not be the opener on Friday, but really how the USA does against Paraguay in the battle for #2. Costa Rica will keep it close in all of the games, but they will likely be the odd team out.
Group B: Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Haiti
Group B is a two-horse race between Brazil and Ecuador. Haiti is the surprise team in this draw and they are happy just to be in the tournament. The Haitians will have their debut against Peru and pulling off that upset will be their moment of the tournament. Peru is just a mess right now and a loss to the Haitians in the opener might just be the best thing for them in cleaning up their act for the future. Ecuador has had a solid year since last year’s Copa America with upsets over Argentina and Uruguay in World Cup qualification games. But, Brazil is built for the big stage and it is hard to see Ecuador knocking off the Brazilians – even without Neymar. Brazil has some sorting out of their own to do, but they should still run the table in this group
Group C: Uruguay, Mexico, Jamaica, Venezuela
If you look at recent results, you would think that Mexico is in the drivers’ seat in Group C. They are definitely one of the hottest teams coming into the tournament and have been playing very well over the last year. They split a series with Uruguay last summer during the Pan-American Games. Mexico has a great following in the USA; but Uruguay has the combination of star players and team chemistry to win this group. Venezuela is just not competitive in this group and Jamaica while athletic, will have trouble sneaking into to the quarterfinals by knocking off either Mexico or Uruguay.
Group D: Argentina, Chile, Panama, Bolivia
Until proven otherwise, Argentina is going to be a contender in every tournament they appear in. Since winning Copa América in 1993, Argentina has lost one World Cup final (2014), two Confederations Cup finals and three Copa América finals. So, while they might be in a championship drought, they have had no issue making it to the final stage plenty of times and have done it more than any other national team in the world over that stretch – that includes Brasil, Spain and Germany. This turn should be no different: Argentina is still the team to beat in Group D. For Lionel Messi, this will be his big stage and his best opportunity to leave his mark as the best of all time (He will be 31 years old by the 2018 World Cup, so likely on the decline by then.)
The runner up spot could be a little more interesting. Chile has a bevy of star players in goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, defender Gary Medel, midfielder Arturo Vidal and forward Alexis Sánchez, among others. Many of them play key roles on tope European club teams. So, on paper, they definitely look like the team to push Argentina and could make it interesting against their neighbors. Panama, has been an upstart team. In a tournament where all you need is one upset to make it more interesting, you never know. However, this does not look like the group to expect those types of upsets and Panama would have to upend one of the top two teams in the group – both of which have finals aspirations this year. Lastly, Bolivia is just young and out of there element here. Their record at sea level is not very impressive.
Expected finish for Group D:
Quarterfinal predictions to come....
Quarterfinal predictions to come....