By Michael Place
RIO DE JANEIRO, June 9 (Xinhua) – The 47th edition of the Copa America kicks off on Sunday with a radically different look from that envisioned by organizers.
The world’s oldest international football tournament has been postponed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and will feature strict health protocols that will effectively force the 10 competing teams to remain in a safety bubble while banning the presence of supporters in the stadiums.
The competition will be private to the two invited nations which had been invited to participate. Qatar and Australia withdrew in February, citing a clash with the 2022 Asian World Cup qualifiers.
In addition, the event will not be played in either of the two countries initially chosen as co-organizers. On May 31, the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) awarded accommodation rights to Brazil, after abandoning Argentina due to the upsurge in COVID-19 cases and Colombia due to social unrest.
Despite these setbacks, the Copa America is expected to be a success on the pitch as some of the best players in the world – including Lionel Messi, Neymar, Luis Suarez and Arturo Vidal – try to lead their teams to continental glory at the Maracana stadium. July 10. Here are six things to watch out for.
1. Messi: Will this be the year?
Just before his 34th birthday, it’s reasonable to assume that this will be Lionel Messi’s last chance to win the Copa America, a tournament Argentina haven’t won since 1993.
The Barcelona striker has made no secret of his desire to win his first major trophy with Albiceleste and seems more motivated than ever, having said last month that Argentina “cannot be satisfied” with their third place in the the last Copa America two years ago. .
Even taking into account his years of progression, Messi is still a force to be reckoned with, scoring 38 times and providing 14 assists in 47 games for Barcelona in 2020-21.
2. Peru: The Gareca effect
Peru may be struggling in the 2022 South American zone World Cup qualifiers, but rival teams will know they can’t underestimate Blanquirroja in big tournaments. Led by Argentinian Ricardo Gareca, Peru beat Uruguay, Chile and Bolivia on their way to the 2019 final, which they lost 3-1 to Brazil.
A year earlier, Peru were more than competitive at the World Cup in Russia, their first appearance in the competition in 36 years.
3. Brazil aims for more silverware on the way to Qatar
Brazil have shown they are unaffected by the turbulence off the pitch with World Cup qualifying wins over Ecuador and Paraguay last week.
Tite’s men now have six wins in as many qualifiers as they are heading for an automatic berth at the flagship football tournament in Qatar next year. The five-time world champions have not lost a competitive game since their quarter-final loss to Belgium at the 2018 World Cup in Russia and they are clearly the favorites to win a 10th Copa America title here.
The sublime run of form comes despite the ruts behind the scenes. Brazil’s national team released a joint statement on Wednesday questioning the decision to host the Copa America in the country as it grapples with the surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths.
4. Venezuela doesn’t just invent numbers
For many years, a punching bag for their stronger South American rivals, Venezuela has commanded respect since reaching the Copa America semifinals for the first time in 2011. In addition to such veterans that former Malaga and Espanyol right-back Roberto Rosales and Turin midfielder Tomas Rincon, Vinotinto head coach Jose Peseiro, have a host of talented young players.
Among them are goalkeeper Joel Graterol, midfielder Ronald Hernandez, defender Nahuel Ferraresi and midfielder trio Yangel Herrera, Cristian Casseres and Yefferson Soteldo. All of them are under 25 and have already impressed internationally.
Opponents will likely be offered few scoring opportunities against Vinotinto, with Peseiro likely to adopt a five-man defensive line that includes Alexander Gonzalez, Mikel Villanueva, Jhon Chancellor, Ferraresi and Rosales.
5. Colombia ushers in a new era
Colombia manager Reinaldo Rueda is also expected to give the youngsters a chance after leaving national team stalwarts Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez out of his squad.
Those expected to take on greater responsibility include Boca Juniors playmaker Edwin Cardona, Bournemouth ball-winning fulcrum Jefferson Lerma and Al-Hilal midfielder Gustavo Cuellar.
After disappointing results under Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz, Colombia appear to have passed the milestone since Rueda took office in January.
6. Cavani-Suarez: A double number for the ages
Uruguayan forward duo Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez both have superb seasons for their respective new clubs.
Cavani has recovered from a slow start to his career at Manchester United, scoring 17 goals in 39 appearances after his October 2020 transfer from Paris Saint-Germain. Suarez, who joined Atletico Madrid after being unceremoniously released from Barcelona last September, scored 21 times for Los Colchoneros, helping them win their 11th La Liga title.
Now is the time to savor these magnificent strikers who, at 34, should play their last Copa America.