Few tournaments have had more chaotic build-ups than the 2021 Copa America but after plenty of uncertainty, the 47th edition of South America’s continental championship kicks off on Sunday.
After political issues elsewhere, holders Brazil have now been settled on as hosts, despite their own internal debates.
Like the Euros, the Copa appears almost harder to be knocked out of in the group stages, with two pools of five and four teams from each reaching the quarter-finals.
It is then onto the semis and the final at Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Maracana Stadium on July 10.
The tournament always throws up the good, the bad and the ugly of South American football and even without fans, it is sure to be another festival of football.
Pressure on the Hosts
With everything going on in Brazil, retaining their title could prove crucial to national morale. After falling short at the 2014 World Cup, the Selecao lived up to expectations by winning this tournament as hosts in 2019.
Tite’s side are the
11/10 favourites for outright glory and while they have the likes of Neymar, Roberto Firmino and Gabriel Jesus available, it could be their defence that wins the tournament.
The Selecao have won all six of their 2022 World Cup qualifiers, keeping clean sheets in five of those games and are just
10/27 to win their opener against Venezuela to zero.
They have been drawn against the Venezuelans, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru and will expect to progress as top seeds from Group A (South Zone).
Can Messi Finally End His and Argentina’s Hoodoo?
He may have won the lot at club level with Barcelona but international success has so far eluded Lionel Messi.
The 33-year-old has lost in the final of this competition three times, including missing his penalty in the shootout against Chile in 2016.
Argentina have made a decent, if not brilliant start to World Cup qualifying, but like so often in recent history, their defensive options fall someway short of their attacking expertise.
Lionel Scaloni’s side will expect to come through Group A (South Zone) with ease but with Messi’s international future always in the balance, this could be his last chance for glory.
Muriel Might Be One to Watch
Messi and Neymar will, of course, be the centre of attention but look slightly off the beaten track and there are plenty of other classy characters to follow and Colombian forward Luis Muriel could fall into that category.
Only Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku outscored the Atalanta man in Serie A this season and at 30, he finally seems to be justifying the hype that saw him first earn a move to Europe as a teenager with Udinese in 2010.
Muriel has often had to play second fiddle at international level to the likes of Radamel Falcao and Teofilo Gutierrez but will hope to get the nod as his country’s lone striker ahead of La Dea teammate Duvan Zapata.
20/23 to open their campaign with a Group B win over Ecuador, while in Group A, a familiar name might be a breakout star for Chile.
Blackburn’s Ben Brereton, who represented England at under-19 level, received his first call-up for La Roja in March and qualifies for the South Americans through his Chilean mother.
Although still to make his international debut, the 22-year-old is in decent form, netting in two of Rovers’ last three Championship games and could play a big role if
12/1 Chile are to win a third Copa America crown.
*All odds correct at time of writing.