At long last, the field for the 2016 Copa America “Centenario” is set, and the countdown to kickoff can begin in earnest.
The draw for the 2016 Copa America — the biggest men’s soccer tournament to take place on United States soil since the 1994 FIFA World Cup — Â was held Sunday in New York. The 16 competing nations were separated into four groups.
Group A: Colombia, Costa Rica, Paraguay, United States
Group B: Brazil, Ecuador, Haiti, Peru
Group C: Jamaica, Mexico, Uruguay, Venezuela
Group D: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Panama
The view from the top
ESPN tabs traditional superpowers Brazil and Argentina as favorites to win the tournament.
How the teams fare will depend on the availability of star players such as Brazil’s Neymar and Argentina’s Lionel Messi. Both are expected to compete at Copa America 2016, but Neymar is among the players who must decide between playing in this tournament or representing his country at the 2016 Rio Olympics, which take place later in the summer.
Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and either the United States or Colombia will compete in both the Copa America and the Olympics. While the Olympics are primarily an U-23 tournament, each country can bolster their roster with three overage players, who most likely will come from the ranks of their senior national teams.
The Copa America is a FIFA-sanctioned event, so clubs can’t block their players from participating, as they can in the case of the Olympics. Each federation must play a political balancing act with leading players, who will need some rest this summer following a marathon season full of club and international games.
However it turns out, we expect either Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay to win the Copa America Centenario.
The United States’ perspective
The United States doesn’t have to defy “death” in order to escape Group A, but the Americans must reach and sustain their highest level of play in order to achieve head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s stated goal: progress into the knockout rounds. Team USA should be fine if it plays well, as it failed to do throughout 2015.
On paper, Colombia is the toughest of Team USA’s three group-stage opponents. “Los Cafeteros” impressed at the 2014 World Cup, but their performances and results have dipped from the heights that took them to the quarterfinals in Brazil.
Beating or drawing against Colombia would put the United States in fine position to advance. A loss wouldn’t be fatal but would reduce Team USA’s margin for error.
Costa Rica, another World Cup quarterfinalist, also has fallen from the perch it occupied two summers ago but it remains a formidable opponent, as its 1-0 exhibition win over the United States last October proved.
Paraguay no longer qualifies as a South American power, despite reaching the semifinal at last summer’s Copa America in Chile. The outcome of Paraguay’s game against the United States likely will hinge on form and advancement scenarios.
The winner of Group A will play the runner-up in Group B in the quarterfinals. The runner-up in Group A will play the winner of Group B — likely Brazil — in the last eight. Team USA must target the top spot if it wants to make a deep run in the tournament.
The view from Gillette Stadium
Gillette Stadium will stage three games:Â Chile vs. Bolivia on June 10, Brazil vs. Peru on June 12 and a quarterfinal on June 19.
The June 19 game is poised to be the best of the bunch, as Group D’s winner faces Group C’s runner-up. Argentina and Chile are the favorites in Group D. Mexico and Uruguay are Group C’s leading contenders. Any combination of the four teams makes for a mouth-watering prospect of a game.
Thumbnail photo via Craig Ruttle/Associated Press