What is the Copa America Centenario? A guide for infrequent soccer viewers
Unless your name is Mike Francesa, you’re probably at least somewhat familiar with the fact that the United States is hosting a major soccer tournament this summer. In fact, it begins this weekend.
The Copa America Centenario will kick off Friday night when the U.S. men’s national team plays Colombia at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
If you’re looking to learn about how the tournament works (and the corruption allegations surrounding it, of course), we’ve got you covered.
What is the Copa America?
Each of the six regional confederations that make up FIFA contest a continental championship tournament in non-World Cup years. The Copa America is the championship for CONMEBOL, the South American confederation.
What makes this one special?
This is the 100th anniversary of the Copa America, so they’re playing a special bonus edition called the Copa America Centenario just one year after Chile won the tournament on home soil. They’re also holding it outside South America for the first time and adding four extra teams.
The tournament will stage matches at Levi’s Stadium (Santa Clara, Calif.), MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford, N.J.), Lincoln Financial Field (Philadelphia), Gillette Stadium (Foxborough, Mass.), NRG Stadium (Houston), Century Link Field (Seattle), Soldier Field (Chicago), University of Phoenix Stadium (Glendale, Ariz.), Camping World Stadium (Orlando) and the Rose Bowl (Pasadena).
Who plays in the tournament?
Every member of CONMEBOL participates in each Copa America, including world powers Argentina and Brazil. Chile beat Argentina in last year’s final.
Since CONMEBOL only has 10 members and the tournament moved to a 12-team format in 1993, two non–CONMEBOL teams get invited every year. Mexico has been invited to play in all nine Copas since the format was introduced. Costa Rica is second with four and the U.S. is third with three invites. Even Japan participated one year.
The Copa America Centenario is super-sized, with 16 teams instead of the usual 12. Joining the 10 CONMEBOL teams are the U.S., Mexico, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Haiti and Panama.
What is the format?
The 16 teams are split into four groups, and each team will play against the other three teams in its group. Each team is awarded three points for a win, one point for a draw and no points for a loss. The top two teams in each group advance to the quarterfinals, at which point the tournament is single–elimination.
If quarterfinal or semifinal games are level at the end of regulation, teams will head to a penalty shootout. In the final, teams will play 30 minutes of extra time, and if necessary, go to a penalty shootout.
The whole event will take about three weeks to play, with the final on June 26 in East Rutherford, N.J.
Alright, enough boring stuff. What about the corruption?
The FIFA scandal that exploded last year wasn’t all about the World Cup. According to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, there were $110 million in bribes handed out in connection with the Copa America Centenario. Last summer, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati and CONMEBOL secretary general Jose Luis Meiszner both said the scandal threatened to derail the tournament.
Jose Hawilla, the founder of Brazilian sports marketing company Traffic Group, admitted that his company paid bribes in exchange for the contracts to four Copa America tournaments, including the Centenario.
Who’s the favorite?
Argentina, led by Lionel Messi, is the betting favorite. Brazil is second, followed by defending champion Chile. Haiti is the biggest longshot.
Who are the stars of the tournament?
Messi is in a class of his own, but he’s not the only star coming to America this summer. In addition to Messi, Argentina features world–class forwards Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain.
Messi’s Barcelona teammate Luis Suarez plays for Uruguay, and his compatriot Edinson Cavani is also a top goal–scorer. Defending champion Chile boasts Arsenal forward Alexis Sanchez and Bayern Munich midfielder Arturo Vidal, while 2014 World Cup star James Rodriguez headlines Colombia.
Mexico is led by Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, who recently sat down with SI’s Grant Wahl to talk tactics.
Brazil’s Neymar is skipping the Copa in favor of Rio 2016, but Dunga’s side is still loaded with talent like Oscar, Douglas Costa, Dani Alves, Willian, Philippe Coutinho and Filipe Luis.
Let Kobe Bryant tell you about some of the tournament’s biggest names:
And then, of course, there’s the United States.
Does the U.S. stand a chance?
It won’t be easy. The Americans were drawn into the toughest group, with Colombia, Costa Rica and Paraguay. Colombia is ranked fourth in the world, led by Real Madrid star James Rodriguez. Costa Rica made it to the round of 16 at the last World Cup but will be without standout goalkeeper Keylor Navas. Paraguay didn’t qualify for the last World Cup but reached the semis of last year’s Copa America after beating Brazil on penalties.
Jurgen Klinsmann’s 23–man roster is a mix of World Cup veterans like Clint Dempsey and newer players like Christian Pulisic, an extraordinarily promising 17-year-old forward for Borussia Dortmund.
Advancing out of the group will be a challenge, but certainly it’s a possibility. The knockout stage will be a real challenge, with powers like Brazil and Argentina lurking.
How can I watch?
SI’s Richard Deitsch has a guide to the TV coverage of the Copa America and Euro 2016 right here.