Copa America 2016 is set to start Friday.
NESN.com’s Marcus Kwesi O’Mard and Nick Goss look into their crystal balls and predict what will happen at the biggest soccer tournament to take place on United States soil in a generation.
Who will win Copa America 2016?
MKO: Uruguay will extend its current record of 15 Copa America titles. Question marks surround the oddsmakers’ favorites, opening the door for a dark-horse winner. Uruguay, the 2011 Copa America winner, has experience and no fear against the likes of Argentina, Brazil and Chile. If Luis Suarez recovers fully from the hamstring injury he suffered on May 21, he’ll fire Uruguay to further glory.
NG: Argentina — the runners up at the 2014 FIFA World Cup — last won this tournament in 1993, and that drought will end this month. The forward trio of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain will propel what should be a high-scoring Argentinian attack through to the final and, ultimately, a tournament win.
How will the United States fare?
MKO: Team USA isn’t good enough to win the tournament, but Jurgen Klinsmann’s group should advance from Group A before falling in the quarterfinals against a genuine title contender.
NG: The Americans won’t make it out of the group stage, which will make the calls for Klinsmann’s firing even louder. The loss of injured striker Jozy Altidore is a huge one.
How will Mexico, the de-facto co-home team, fare?
MKO: “El Tri” is red-hot and will thrill the huge, pro-Mexico crowds in attendance. Mexico should breeze to the semifinals, grind out a victory over a tough opponent but fall at the final hurdle.
NG: Mexico has experience, tons of talent (particularly in the midfield) and as Marcus mentioned above, should have large crowds at most venues. This team is capable of advancing all the way to the final, and no one should be surprised if it wins it all. A trip to the semifinal or further is the expectation.
Which team will be the biggest surprise?
MKO: Jamaica will show surprising strength against Uruguay, Mexico and Venezuela in Group C and sneak into the quarterfinals as one of the best third-place finishers. The experience the Reggae Boyz gained in last summer’s Copa America and CONCACAF Gold Cup will serve them well. Plus, they have Leicester City captain Wes Morgan, who knows a thing or two about unexpected success, in central defense.
NG: Ecuador beat Mexico in last year’s Copa America, then won all four of its 2018 World Cup qualifying matches that followed, including victories over Argentina and Uruguay. Ecuador should not be taken lightly by any opponent in this tournament.
Which team will be the biggest disappointment?
MKO: Brazil won’t have Neymar, Douglas Costa, Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Luis Gustavo and other stars like Kaka. The weakened “Selecao” is neither talented, nor inspired, enough to win the tournament, as many predict it will.
NG: Brazil’s inexperience and Neymar’s absence are huge factors. Brazil clearly is more focused on winning gold on home soil in August at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and its Copa America performance could suffer as a result.
Who will be the tournament’s top goal scorer?
MKO: Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez is coming off a great season with Bayer Leverkusen. He’ll score freely in the group stage and has enough big-game experience to fire Mexico deep into the tournament. He enters the tournament three goals short of passing Jared Borgetti as Mexico’s all-time leading scorer. He’ll exit it on top.
NG: Gonzalo Higuain is coming off a fantastic Serie A campaign for Napoli during which he scored a record 36 goals. He’ll carry that form through Copa America as the tournament’s leading scorer.
Who will be the tournament’s top player?
MKO: Colombia’s James Rodriguez is fresh, having played a reduced role with UEFA Champions League winner Real Madrid in recent months. He’ll feel the love of Colombia and play with something to prove. If Colombia reaches the semifinals, he should win the Golden Ball.
NG: Lionel Messi arguably is the best player in the world and will lead the most talented squad of this tournament. He’s going to be the key cog in Argentina’s attack, both as a playmaker and goal scorer.
Thumbnail photo via Jake Roth/USA TODAY Sports Images