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Breakdown and analysis of all four groups at this summer's Copa America Centenario

May 27, 2016

The much anticipated Copa America Centenario kicks off June 3, with the host United States taking on Colombia at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California. The match kicks off a march toward the June 26 final at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., where the champion of this one-of-a-kind competition will be crowned. 

Each of the four groups presents its own set of storylines. For the USA, it's a matter of navigating a tough Group A en route to achieving its lofty goals. In Group B, a Brazil side missing a number of key names will be out to showcase its depth. In Group C, Mexico will enjoy crowd support while trying to fend off a Uruguay side that is sweating the injury to Luis Suarez. In Group D, it's all eyes on Lionel Messi's Argentina, which is hoping to lift a trophy on the senior level for the first time in 23 years. 

Scroll below for in depth looks at each of the four groups, with detailed analysis, match schedules, players to watch and picks to go through to the knockout stage.

Under pressure to make a statement following a tough 2015, the U.S. and coach Jurgen Klinsmann find themselves in the Copa América’s most balanced quartet. It’s the closest thing to a “group of death” this competition has. It’s not hard to imagine any of the four teams finding its way through. But five years into Klinsmann’s tenure and with the comforts of home at their disposal, the Americans will be afforded no excuses. They must finish first or second, especially now that Klinsmann has publicly targeted the semifinals.

It’s an intriguing time for the U.S. Gifted newcomers like Christian Pulisic, Darlington Nagbe and Bobby Wood are changing the face of the team. While they may be fixtures at the World Cup in two years, their ability to impact the Copa is uncertain. Klinsmann will have to find the proper balance between veteran savvy and youthful enthusiasm.

Colombia is the favorite on paper even though it’s stumbled a bit since its run to the 2014 World Cup quarterfinals. Los Cafeteros fell to Argentina on penalty kicks in last year’s Copa quarters, scoring only one goal in four games, and is a modest 3-2-1 in World Cup qualifying. Nevertheless, they have talent to spare—so much so that veterans like Radamel Falcao, Teófilo Gutiérrez and Jackson Martínez were left behind.

Costa Rica and Paraguay will be tough outs. Los Ticos proved their tournament mettle two years in Brazil, are comfortable playing in the U.S. and have several players shining in MLS, England and Spain. Traditionally a defensive juggernaut, Paraguay is anchored by Club América defender Miguel Samudio. Any team that can keep clean sheets is a threat.

Match schedule (all times Eastern)

June 3: USA-Colombia at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, 9:30 p.m.

June 4: Costa Rica-Paraguay at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida, 5 p.m.

June 7: USA-Costa Rica at Soldier Field in Chicago, 8 p.m.

June 7: Colombia-Paraguay at Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, 10:30 p.m.

June 11: USA-Paraguay at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, 7 p.m.

June 11: Colombia-Costa Rica at NRG Stadium in Houston, 9 p.m.

Five players to watch

Carlos Bacca, Colombia: The AC Milan striker is a prolific tip to the spear wielded by midfielders James Rodríguez and Juan Cuadrado. He’s reached 20 goals in each of the past four seasons (including two with Sevilla and one with Club Brugge) and has scored three times in World Cup qualifying.

Jermaine Jones, USA: He’s a force of nature for good or ill. Jones can impose himself on both sides of the ball and lift the energy of an entire team, as he did during stretches of the World Cup. He also can run too hot, whether its through overly ambitious runs or passes or clashes with opponents and referees. Klinsmann’s trust in Jones is complete. The midfielder’s performance will have a massive impact on the U.S.’s fate.

Dario Lezcano, Paraguay: The 25-year-old FC Ingolstadt forward is the unexpected co-leader in scoring in South American World Cup qualifying with four goals. And Paraguay is in the hunt at 2-1-3. He doesn’t have the pedigree of the tournament’s other top forwards, but he’ll be key for La Albirroja in June.

Keylor Navas, Costa Rica: He was spectacular at the World Cup and has replaced a legend at Real Madrid. For years, American goalkeepers carried the CONCACAF flag in Europe. Now it’s Navas, who could win the Champions League on Saturday. Rumors that Madrid is courting the likes of David De Gea or Thibault Courtois persist, meaning Navas may enter the Copa inspired rather than fatigued.

James Rodríguez, Colombia: The breakout star of the 2014 World Cup has faded since his blockbuster move to Real Madrid, for which he started just 17 La Liga games this season. Still, he managed eight goals in all competitions and has netted twice for his country in World Cup qualifying. At his creative and audacious best, James can dominate. If he rediscovers that form at the Copa, Colombia will go far.

Surprise potential

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Altidore donates for Copa America matches to be shown in Haiti

It’s strange to call a World Cup quarterfinalist a surprise, but another run from Costa Rica certainly would raise eyebrows in South America. Los Ticos won’t be intimidated by the U.S. and Paraguay, especially after beating Italy and Uruguay two years ago. And Costa Rica always plays the Americans tight on U.S. soil. In Joel Campbell, Bryan Ruiz and Álvaro Saborío, it has players who can do some damage. They shouldn't be overlooked.

Two picked to advance

Colombia, USA

Focused on finally adding an Olympic gold medal to its packed trophy case and becoming only the second country to win the World Cup, Confederations Cup, Olympic, U-20, U-17 and continental title sextuple, Brazil has undercut its Copa prospects—and arguably the entire tournament—by leaving Neymar behind.

Barcelona didn’t want the talismanic forward spending his entire summer with the Seleção, so the Centenario was sacrificed. While Brazil remains the Group B favorite and boasts a typically skillful midfield that’s among the best in the tournament, the lack of obvious goal-scoring punch could mean trouble in the knockout rounds.

Ecuador is the heavy favorite to join Brazil in the quarterfinals. One of only two CONMEBOL nations that’s never won the Copa, Ecuador is a dangerous team that’s making its presence felt in the region’s World Cup qualifying competition. It won in Buenos Aires in October, beat Uruguay the following month and now is tied for first place with La Celeste. In Antonio Valencia, Michael Arroyo and Jefferson Montero, Ecuador has some of the most dangerous and dynamic midfielders in the competition. But the absence of injured striker Felipe Caicedo will hurt.

Not much is expected from Peru and Haiti, the Copa’s surprise qualifier. Peru is bringing a young team absent the likes of Claudio Pizarro and Jefferson Farfán, while Haiti—which features six U.S.-based players including five from the NASL—will hope to earn some respect and make its mark as the tournament’s underdog.

ROSTERS: Brazil | Ecuador | Peru | Haiti

Match schedule (all times Eastern)

June 4: Haiti-Peru at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, 7:30 p.m.

June 4: Brazil-Ecuador at Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, 10 p.m. 

June 8: Brazil-Haiti at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida, 7:30 p.m.

June 8: Ecuador-Peru at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, 10 p.m.

June 12: Ecuador-Haiti at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, 6:30 p.m.

June 12: Brazil-Peru at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, 8:30 p.m.

Five players to watch

Willian, Brazil: Stung by the absence of Neymar and the injured Douglas Costa, Brazil will rely even more heavily on Willian, 27, the skillful midfielder who was Chelsea's player of the season in 2015-16. Willian has six international goals and will be Brazil's primary attacking threat.

Paolo Guerrero, Peru: The responsibility to score will fall on the shoulders of the 32-year-old target forward from Flamengo (and formerly Bayern Munich), who notched a hat trick in the each of the past two Copa América tournaments.

Hulk, Brazil: One of the scapegoats for Brazil’s horrifying World Cup collapse, the burly Zenit Saint Petersburg forward has returned under coach Dunga and will have to find his finishing touch, or at least occupy defenders, in Neymar’s absence.

Johnny Placide, Haiti: The France-born goalkeeper spent the past season in Ligue 1 with Stade de Reims and was outstanding at last year’s Gold Cup. His experience and leadership will be massive for a team that can’t afford to be awestruck.

Antonio Valencia, Ecuador: Fears that the 30-year-old winger may have lost a step were put to rest upon his March return to the Manchester United lineup. As a right back he helped the Red Devils win the FA Cup and will be expected to maintain his form further up the field with Ecuador.

Surprise potential

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Altidore donates for Copa America matches to be shown in Haiti

Haiti proved to be a handful at last year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup. Sturdy and strong on the counter, Les Grenadiers rode the opportunistic finishing of striker Duckens Nazon to the quarterfinals, where they outplayed Jamaica for significant stretches. If Haiti can find the net again—it’s struggled to do so in World Cup qualifying—and gain some confidence with an early win over Peru, it'll be a story to follow.

Two picked to advance

Brazil, Ecuador

Copa America’s most in-form team, one of its most in-form players and a near-facsimile of home field advantage all live in the tournament's Group C. What’s more, they all live within the same team. Though South American powers like Argentina and Brazil are popular picks to win the Copa America this summer, Mexico has all the ingredients to win what could arguably be the most consequential trophy in the country’s proud soccer history.  

Mexico enters the summer tournament on an 11-game unbeaten run in competitive games, including eight wins in a row, and it has yet to concede a goal in five games under manager Juan Carlos Osorio (five games). It balances an experienced, battle-tested defense, a savvy midfield, and Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez up top. Mexico games seem to draw well wherever they take place in the U.S., but the location of El Tri’s three group games (Glendale, Arizona; Pasadena, California; Houston) ensures that the team will be playing in front of raucous, pro-Mexican crowds every time. 

Uruguay striker Luis Suarez’s hamstring injury makes the rest of Mexico’s group seem a bit easier than it would otherwise, but not by much. Uruguay has enough quality throughout its side and is dogged enough defensively that it can still give Mexico a run for the group even without Suarez, but the task will be tougher than it looked a month ago. 

If Suarez’s injury does affect Uruguay’s effectiveness in this tournament, Jamaica would be a good bet to take advantage and possibly nip the second spot in the group. However, the team will be reliant on veteran Giles Barnes for goals and hasn't been in great form since finishing as runner-up in last year’s Gold Cup. 

Venezuela is another outfit that could surprise, with intriguing individuals in all three lines. However, the team hasn’t been in good form, currently sitting last in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying. There aren’t a whole lot of reasons to think La Vinotinto could turn that around in Copa America. 

Match schedule (All times Eastern)

June 5: Jamaica-Venezuela at Soldier Field in Chicago, 5 p.m.

June 5: Mexico-Uruguay at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, 8 p.m.

June 9: Uruguay-Venezuela at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m.

June 9: Mexico-Jamaica at Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, 10 p.m.

June 13: Mexico-Venezuela at NRG Stadium in Houston, 8 p.m.

June 13: Uruguay-Jamaica at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, 10 p.m.

Five players to watch

Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Mexico: The Mexico forward bagged 26 goals this season for Bayer Leverkusen, a career high. His pace and instincts in front of goal are among the best in the world, and his continued good form will be imperative if Mexico is to live up to its potential in this tournament. 

Miguel Layun, Mexico: He may not score goals like Chicharito, but Layun’s ability to stretch defenses with his width, work rate, and passing ability will be very important in making those goals happen. Layun is fresh off a solid 15-assist season with Porto in the Portuguese league, and Mexico will hope he has a few more this summer.

Edinson Cavani, Uruguay: If Suarez is out, or limited, the onus will be on Cavani to score (which he's done plenty this season at PSG), and also come through in big moments—something he hasn't done at PSG. However, Cavani does have a stellar record scoring for his national team. Either way, his ability to deal with the pressure of being Uruguay’s primary scoring option will help determine his team’s fate. 

Wes Morgan, Jamaica: The captain of surprise EPL champion Leicester City, Morgan obviously has the leadership qualities one wants in a back line marshal. Morgan is also a commanding physical presence, and his matchups with dangerous attackers like Chicharito, Cavani, and others will be fascinating to watch. 

Salomon Rondon, Venezuela: Rondon is coming off a solid debut season in the English Premier League with West Bromwich Albion, including a memorable one against none other than Morgan and Leicester City. He’ll hope to repeat that feat, albeit while wearing different colors. 

Surprise potential

Jamaica hasn’t been in great form lately, having only won twice in seven games since making a run to the Gold Cup final in 2015. However, the team has that oh-so-important experience of a deep tourney run, and should be tough to break down given the presence of Morgan and goalkeeper Andre Blake, who has been in excellent form for the Philadelphia Union this year. 

Two picked to advance

Mexico, Jamaica

It’s a mystifying drought, made all the more poignant by its drag on the career of a player who’s already so close to being considered by many as the best ever. But Lionel Messi still hasn’t won a major senior title with Argentina, a world power that’s somehow gone 23 years without a trophy. Since winning the 1993 Copa América, Argentina has lost one World Cup final, two Confederations Cup finals and three Copa América finals. Messi played a part in half those defeats (all shutouts).

He’ll turn 31 during the 2018 World Cup in Russia, where the mileage in his legs and the strength of the European powers will lengthen the championship odds. This Copa América may be Messi’s last best chance to win with Argentina, and that quest will be the defining storyline of the tournament. The group stage will serve as a nice warm-up.

Under new coach Juan Antonio Pizzi, Chile should be forgiven if it doesn’t really want to be here. La Roja waited 99 years for its first Copa title and now must defend it only 12 months later as part of a lucrative celebration in the U.S. But Chile also should be feared. If motivated, this is a team that should ease through the first round and then make a run at repeating. In goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, defender Gary Medel, midfielder Arturo Vidal and forward Alexis Sánchez, among others, Chile has players that star at some of Europe’s top clubs. 

Panama and Bolivia round out the group and almost surely will play each other for third. Panama has improved considerably in recent years—it should have beaten Mexico in the controversial 2015 Gold Cup semifinal—and can be tough to break down. The draw was unkind to Los Canaleros. Bolivia struggles when it descends from La Paz.

ROSTERS: Argentina | Chile | Panama | Bolivia

Match schedule (all times Eastern)

June 6: Panama-Bolivia at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida, 7 p.m.

June 6: Argentina-Chile at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, 10 p.m.

June 10: Chile-Bolivia at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, 7 p.m.

June 10: Argentina-Panama at Soldier Field in Chicago, 9:30 p.m.

June 14: Chile-Panama at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, 8 p.m.

June 14: Argentina-Bolivia at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, 10 p.m. 

Five players to watch 

Juan Carlos Arce, Bolivia: He’s pretty much Bolivia’s only consistent threat to score. The 31-year-old Bolivar star has eight goals in 48 international matches. The rest of Bolivia’s Copa squad has tallied a combined seven.

Aníbal Godoy, Panama: The San Jose Earthquakes midfielder has emerged as a high-quality holder who can tackle, distribute and set the tone. He’ll be key to establishing the structure that should boost the offensive prospects of veterans Blas Pérez and Luis Tejada.

Gonzalo Higuaín, Argentina: Coming off a brilliant season with Napoli, for which he scored a career-high 38 goals, Higuaín will have maintain that form and remove some of the load from Messi’s shoulders. Perhaps Argentina’s drought would’ve ended if he’d done so in 2014:

Or 2015:

Lionel Messi, Argentina: He frequently looks like he’s playing under pressure in the albiceleste, rather than with the joy we’re accustomed to seeing when he wears the blaugrana. Messi was a reluctant golden ball winner at the World Cup and then reportedly rejected the honor outright after last year’s Copa América final. He'll be the story of this tournament, regardless of how it ends. 

Arturo Vidal, Chile: The do-everything midfield dynamo is the heart and soul of La Roja. He can create and destroy in equal measure and is as noticeable for his fiery temperament as for his impact on the run of play. The Bayern Munich star was man of the match at the 2015 Copa America final.

Surprise potential

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Panama is a well-organized team with a sturdy defense, strong midfield and a pair of experienced, savvy strikers in Blas Pérez and Luis Tejada who can make an opponent pay for an error or lapse in concentration. Goalkeeper Jaime Penedo won an MLS title with the LA Galaxy and defender Felipe Baloy, who plays in Mexico, anchors a veteran back line. Chile and Argentina will overlook Los Canaleros at their peril.

Two picked to advance

Argentina, Chile

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