Copa America Power Rankings: Mexico, Argentina enter as top teams
International tournaments are always interesting exercises in testing a national team's form. Time and time again, teams that have struggled in other competitions have excelled when given a compact, high-stakes task in front of them. Sometimes, the opposite is true, and teams that have dominated in qualifying tournaments and friendlies simply fall flat.
This summer’s Copa America Centenario represents a unique twist on this type of experiment, pitting North American and South American teams against one another in a one-off, hybrid regional championship. With so little history for this type of competition, it can be difficult to know where teams stand in comparison with one another going in. With that in mind, here are power rankings of the 16 Copa America Centenario teams, as it stands today.
Remember, these rankings reflect the recent form of the teams and their players, not necessarily the net “good-ness” of them.
The classic saying about Brazil is that it could field about three completely different starting XIs that could beat anyone in the world. Well, it’s time to (sort of) put that depth to the test. Brazil is saving Neymar, its most potent attacking force, for the Olympics. David Luiz, Thiago Silva, and Oscar have been left out as well. However, it’s not like Brazil has been tearing the world to shreds at full strength—it currently sits one point outside of World Cup qualification. Maybe some fresh faces are exactly what’s needed.
Los Cafeteros turned heads with their entertaining performances at the 2014 World Cup, but their journey since then hasn’t been quite as spectacular. Colombia snuck into the quarterfinals of the last Copa America before going out on PKs to Argentina, and currently sits fifth in CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying. James Rodriguez will lead the attack, but he’s coming off a down year with Real Madrid, and other Colombian stars (Jackson Martinez, Fredy Guarin, Teofilo Gutierrez) weren’t even called up.
Costa Rica was the surprise package at the 2014 World Cup, and it returns many of the same players to the Copa America. New coach Oscar Ramirez has the Ticos playing well after a difficult 2015, and the team has stormed through CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. However, a big part of Costa Rica’s success has been the big-time play of Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas, and he’ll miss the tournament with an Achilles issue. That’s a huge loss.
Since defeating Brazil on penalties in last year’s Copa America, Paraguay has gone 2-5-3 in its last 10 games, including a 6-1 shellacking at the hands of Argentina in the very next game. Seattle Sounders forward Nelson Valdez and Ingolstadt's Dario Lezcano figure to lead the attack, which will be without injured midfielder Nestor.
If this generation of Panama’s national team knows anything, it knows how to grind out results against the odds. That’s a big reason why the country was a Graham Zusi goal away from an intercontinental playoff for a 2014 World Cup spot, why it nabbed third place in last year’s Gold Cup, and why it once again finds itself in position to reach the Hexagonal in 2018 World Cup qualifying. Panama faces a couple stiff tests in Argentina and Chile, but is dogged and determined enough to feel confident going in.
When the Reggae Boyz focus in on a goal, like they did in the 2015 Gold Cup where they made a run to the final, they can be tough to beat. An in-form back line, featuring Leicester City captain Wes Morgan, is a big reason why. If a 2-1 win over Chile in a pre-tournament friendly is any indication, Jamaica won’t be pushovers in this tournament, but its record as an invited team in last year’s Copa America (three 1-0 losses) gives reason for pause.
The goalscoring exploits of forward Paolo Guerrero led Peru to a surprising third-place finish in last year’s Copa America, and he will return for this year’s edition. Veterans Claudio Pizarro and Jefferson Farfan aren’t in the squad, though, and as a result this Peru team is fairly inexperienced. On the other hand, its preparations for the tournament have gone well, with multi-goal wins over Trinidad and Tobago and El Salvador. Not exactly the caliber of opponent they’ll be facing here, but any momentum is good momentum.
Venezuela owns last place in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying, where it has yet to win a game and has been outclassed in nearly every contest. The team does have talent, with striker Salomon Rondon coming off a solid debut EPL season with West Brom, midfielder Tomás Rincon playing well for Serie A’s Genoa, and defender Oswaldo Vizcarrondo captaining Nantes of Ligue 1. Rafael Dudamel is a young, unproven head coach who faces a stiff test getting this team ready to play after only being in the job for a couple months.
Small nations like Haiti and Panama get the “minnow” tag, but Bolivia might deserve to get the same based on form alone. Bolivia has won only four games in the past three years, a span of 29 games. That includes a run of just one win and nine losses in its last 10. Amazingly enough, La Verde’s made a run to the 2015 Copa America quarterfinals in the midst of all that badness, but that more than likely is a mirage.