Copa America Centenario is happening. It begins June 3rd. It celebrates of the 100th anniversary of Copa America. What could be more fitting than moving the whole thing to the United States for the cash?
This is a 16-team tournament, with all 10 South American teams and six CONCACAF countries. Having a round 16 teams in four groups should eliminate a scourge of both Copa America and the Gold Cup: the team that fails to win a single match and somehow ends up in the semifinal.
This is fun. It should happen more often. Here’s a breakdown of the field.
Argentina [2/1] The Germans of the Western Hemisphere. Argentina nearly won the 2014 World Cup. They have the best and deepest squad in this tournament. That squad battle tested. The Argentine back line is credible. They have balance between fortitude and flair in midfield. Up front: Lionel Messi (world’s best), Sergio Aguero (EPL’s best), and Gonzalo Higuain (just set the Serie A scoring record). No team is more capable or more prepared to win this tournament.
Brazil [9/2] Brazil had a nightmarish end to the 2014 World Cup. They followed that with a crap Copa America effort. Dunga hit the reset button. Neymar won’t play, so he can appear during the Summer Olympics. David Luiz (PSG), Thiago Silva (PSG), and Marcelo (Real Madrid) were left out. Only five players in the tournament squad have more than 30 caps. Of course, it’s still Brazil. That unproven crew includes established, top-level players like Marquinhos and Philipp Coutinho. There may not be a match-winner in this squad. Brazil may not need one until the final.
We’re Saying There’s a Chance
USA [8/1] Hard to explain these odds, given form and a tough group. Home-field advantage? Didn’t help in the Gold Cup. Klinsmann’s penchant for having the screws tight come tournament time? The goalkeepers are out of form. The back four remains a muddle. Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones are 34. Clint Dempsey is 33. Hope is 17-year-old wonderkid Christian Pulisic. Slick technical play hasn’t happened. Perhaps, as in Brazil, the U.S. can muster their characteristic and annoying doggedness.
Chile [8/1] The Chileans are coming off a reputable World Cup effort and lifting the trophy at last summer’s Copa America. But, well regarded coach Jorge Sampaoli left in January. Recent World Cup qualifying form has been suspect, with one win from four matches. The Chileans can field one of the more formidable lineups in the tournament, with stars Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal. But, there’s uncertainty.
Uruguay [9/1] Similar to what we’ve seen from Uruguay the past few tournaments. Solid veteran midfield and defense, anchored by Atletico Madrid’s Diego Godin. Loaded up front with Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez. The latter is back from a biting suspension, which caused him to miss last summer’s Copa America. Uruguay, at present, top the table in South American World Cup qualifying.
Colombia [10/1] Excellent World Cup. Not so excellent since. The Colombians produced one goal at the 2015 Copa America. Their qualifying campaign has underwhelmed. The team still features James Rodriguez, Juan Cuadrado, and coordinated dance celebrations. But, they have an inexperienced defense and no proven scoring outlet up front. They get the U.S. off the bat, in the fortress that is Levi’s Stadium.
Mexico [12/1] Miguel Herrera got canned. Mexico has not missed him. El Tri have won eight-straight competitive matches. They have held opponents scoreless in their past six matches. They are rife with attacking talent. Chicharito is coming off his best season since arriving in Europe, scoring 26 goals in all competitions for Bayer Leverkusen.
Ecuador [40/1] Hard team to read. They were decent at the 2014 World Cup. They followed that with a brutal Copa America last summer, going down 3-0 to Bolivia in the first half and bowing out in the group stage. Then they turned around and beat Argentina away in qualifying. They offer a fair bit going forward with Antonio Valencia and Enner Valencia. But, they also may struggle at the back. Winning seems a stretch. Reaching the knockout rounds seems reasonable.
Costa Rica [50/1] Los Ticos were darlings in Brazil, reaching the quarterfinals. Then, they failed to win a match at the 2015 Gold Cup. Their World Class goalkeeper Keylor Navas will be starting for Real Madrid in the Champions League final. They have reasonable scoring options up front. Not sure they have enough in between, in what should be a tough group.
Paraguay [50/1] Paraguay made a run to the semifinals at Copa America, albeit while winning one match. There has been a bit of a guard change. Most of the squad is based in the Americas. Established names such as Roque Santa Cruz were left home. Twelve of the 20 outfield players called up have fewer than 15 caps for the national team. A tough group may limit their prospects.
Peru [66/1] Peru is opting for a fresh start. Thirteen of the 20 outfield players have fewer than 10 caps. Seven have one or zero caps. Seventeen of the 23 man squad are based in Peru. Notable veterans such as Claudio Pizzaro, Jefferson Farfan, and Juan Manuel Vargas were left on the tarmac. The face an uphill battle in a group with Brazil and Ecuador.
Venezuela [80/1] Nothing is going right in Venezuela. That includes the soccer. Qualifying has been a disaster. Venezuela have one point from their first six matches. They have conceded 17 goals. They just appointed a new manager in April. The off-the-pitch climate has been toxic. Prognosis: not good. But, they do have a credible striker in Salomon Rondon. That’s something.
Not Going To Be Leicester City
Bolivia [100/1] Terrible qualifying campaign, with three points (win over Venezuela) from six matches. Traditionally, their biggest strength is an altitude advantage at home. Their three matches – Orlando, Foxborough, Seattle – are at sea level. At last check, Bolivia is still trying to get striker Marcelo Moreno to come back.
Panama [150/1] Impressive run to the semifinals at last summer’s Gold Cup. Impressive, because they managed to get there without winning a match. They have an excellent chance…to get a result against Bolivia.
Jamaica [150/1] Jamaica upset the U.S. in the Gold Cup last year, before losing to Mexico in the final. Their run since then has included losses to Nicaragua and Panama in Kingston. Maybe there’s some home-field advantage. A substantial portion of their squad is MLS based.
Haiti [500/1] Half-full: Haiti has a smattering of European-based players. They beat Trinidad & Tobago to qualify for this tournament. Half-empty: Haiti has not scored a goal in its last four World Cup qualifying matches. Virtually no chance to get out of their group.
Argentina are clear favorites. But, there’s not much value at 2/1. This is not a league. There are 6-7 teams that could hold them to a 1-1 draw and sneak by on penalties.
The easiest route to the semifinals is winning Group A. Presuming Brazil takes care of business, that team Colombia/USA would face Peru/Ecuador in the quarterfinals. Though, that sets up a date with Argentina before the final.
The Group C winner Mexico/Uruguay would face Chile/Panama in the quarterfinals and likely Brazil in the semifinal. Both are in strong form. Both have goal scorers. Either or both of those may be your best value.
We’d also check odds for Ecuador to get to the semifinal. They should finish second in their group. They are a long odds team that could pull off one upset over Columbia/USA and reach the semifinal.