- The groups are set for the 2019 Copa America, and there are plenty of storylines and intriguing matchups waiting to play out in Brazil. Here's a closer look at the three groups and who looks poised to do some damage.
The groups are set for the 2019 Copa America, which kicks off June 14 in Brazil. The nation gets ready to host the tournament for the fifth time–it last hosted in 1989–and is out to win its first title since 2007. There will be some new wrinkles as well, as after making its introduction in Russia and mainly receiving a positive response, VAR is poised for its debut in the competition.
The Seleçao will open the competition’s 46th edition against Bolivia at Estadio do Morumbi in Sao Paulo, and the remaining 10 nations join in starting the day after, with the action continuing through the end of the group stage on June 24. The famous Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro will serve as the host venue for the final on July 7.
Aside from the South American nations that are automatically participating, Japan and Qatar will also take part as guest nations, making it the first time the tournament won't have a Concacaf representative since 1993, when teams from that region were first invited. Japan returns to Copa America for a second time after making an appearance in 1999, while Qatar, looking to continue its development as it prepares to host the World Cup in 2022, makes its inaugural appearance. It is also the first time the nation plays in a major tournament outside of Asia.
One particular reason why this might be the most interesting Copa America in recent memory is that due to the growth of talent and technical development across the nations, the gap between the perceived favorites and other contenders has narrowed. Yes, there’s still the argument to be made for the top three seeded teams: Tite’s Brazil is naturally a contender, given the home-field advantage and the overwhelming depth in talent. There is also Uruguay, managed by the universally popular Oscar Tabarez, historically the most successful team in the tournament, which is also entering the competition with a healthy balance of experience and younger players who are making a mark in Europe. Argentina, which has made it to the final in four of the last five Copa America tournaments, will come with a squad that, since its departure from last summer’s World Cup, aims to create a clearer, more disciplined identity under Lionel Scaloni. It all depends, of course, if the great Lionel Messi plays. Much of the tactics depend on his inclusion, and he hasn't worn his national team's shirt since the last-16 exit vs. France at the World Cup.
Despite the strengths of this trio, other South American nations have been improving in the last few years, and after a lot of changes in management and style, there are fresh, intriguing storylines all across South America.
Here's a closer look at the three groups for this summer's competition:
Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela, Peru
The immediate reaction is that the host nation should take care of business in this group, especially since it wants to erase memories of the failures from 2016’s Copa America Centenario, when it failed to get out of the group stage. Tite’s Brazil, playing in front of its own fans, should be too dominant against its opponents and by the time it faces Peru, arguably its toughest opponent. By that point, the Seleçao should already have done enough to get through to the quarterfinal.
Ricardo Gareca’s Peru, which qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 36 years and earned admiration for its style of play in Russia, is still evolving under the Argentine manager and has many young stars about to enter their prime. Its opening match against Venezuela will be a test, though, as La Vinotinto, managed by the always-impressive Rafael Dudamel, keeps taking big steps going forward.
Argentina, Colombia, Paraguay, Qatar
Welcome to South America, Juan Carlos Osorio! The Colombian manager who coached Mexico last summer in Russia begins his tournament tenure with Paraguay with a very talented side that includes MLS stars (for now, anyway) such as Miguel Almiron and Kaku. There isn't a real group of death in the competition, especially with two third-place finishers going through, but Osorio's side will look to make some noise in what is a deep group. After Paraguay's opening match against Qatar, things get challenging for La Albirroja with matches against two of the best teams in South America–including one against Osorio's native land.
If there is a time to play both, however, it’s now. Given the fact that Argentina is still trying to find itself under Scaloni and the talented Colombia is still waiting for a permanent head coach (reports suggest Carlos Queiroz will take over after Iran’s run in the Asian Cup), Paraguay could surprise a few and come out strong in Group B.
Much of Argentina’s success depends on Messi, and if he plays it's all about learning how to utilize him and work the squad around his strengths. Scaloni, who comes from Argentina’s U-20 setup, is a smart manager who encourages a sense of team cohesion throughout. If anyone can help this team play alongside La Pulga, it could be him. He is also the manager that can help this nation move past Messi. Time will tell what the Barcelona star's plans are come June.
Uruguay, Ecuador, Japan, Chile
Uruguay, the tournament’s most successful nation with 15 all-time titles, returns with the same philosophy that makes it so dangerous. Under Tabarez, it’s difficult to pick against La Celeste winning this group. What’s more disheartening for its opponents is that, it's young players are the ones who take center stage these days. This is not just about Luis Suarez or Edinson Cavani anymore. From Arsenal’s Lucas Torreira to Juventus’s Rodrigo Bentancur, Uruguay will bring its usual pressure and physical attributes combined with youthful exuberance–but it won’t necessarily be a walkthrough to the quarterfinals.
Japan was one of the top surprises at the World Cup and pushed Belgium to the brink in the last 16, while Ecuador looks more disciplined under Hernan Dario Gomez, who took Panama to the World Cup for the first time last summer. Amazingly, Chile, which won the last two tournaments, has more questions to answer than anyone else in Group C after failing to qualify for Russia 2018. But it did make a smart move in Reinaldo Rueda, an experienced manager who left Brazilian club Flamengo for this role. Rueda has a lot of experience and took Honduras to the 2010 World Cup, but Chile faces a daunting task of rediscovering its grit and ability with a new nucleus of players in a group where no one will give it any favors.