The 2015 Copa America kicks off on Thursday in Chile. Lionel Messi and Argentina are the obvious pre-tournament favorites, and it will be exciting to see if Messi can keep up the fine level of play he’s shown with Barcelona this season and add another medal to his collection.
Here’s a preview of Group A that contains the host nation Chile, Mexico, Ecuador and Bolivia.
The host nation Chile will as always have a massive support from the home fans, and with Premier League star Alexis Sanchez leading the way, they will be hoping for a good run at the trophy. Sanchez scored 25 goals for Arsenal in all competitions this season and had a very successful first year with the Gunners after moving from Barcelona.
Chile played some extremely entertaining soccer during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and reached the Round of 16 before getting knocked out on penalties by Brazil. They will be the favorites in Group A.
Arturo Vidal is the other big superstar on the Chilean team, and the Juventus midfielder is surely looking for some form of revenge after losing the Champions League Final against Barcelona. Vidal will be the guy who will dictate the game in midfield for Chile and try to find Sanchez out wide so he can break in from the wing and unleash ferocious shots like the one against Aston Villa in the FA Cup Final which resulted in the goal of the game.
Barcelona goalkeeper Claudio Bravo will most likely be the guy in net for Chile and he was the top choice in the league for Barcelona this season, but did not play for them in the Champions League as the opted to go with Marc-Andre ter Stegen in Europe.
The Mexicans were invited to the tournament along with Jamaica and will represent the CONCACAF. The Mexican squad relies heavily on players from the Mexican league, with only Jesus Manuel Corona (FC Twente), Javier Aquino (Rayo Vallecano), Raul Jimenez (Atletico Madrid), and captain Rafael Marquez (Verona) playing in Europe.
Marquez, 36, will have to try and lead a pretty young Mexican side to a second spot in the group as a group win seems unlikely. This will be good experience for some of the players who might make the squad for the 2015 Gold Cup later this summer.
The Mexicans have finished runners-up at the Copa America on two occasions (1993 and 2001).
Ecuador is looking to make the knockout stages for the first time since 1997, and with a team led by West Ham striker Enner Valencia, they should give Mexico a run for that second spot in the group. Gustavo Quinteros took over as national team manager earlier in the year after leading Ecuadorian club side Emelec to two league championships in three seasons.
Besides Valencia, they also have players like Antonio Valencia (Manchester United), Juan Carlos Paredes (Watford), and Jefferson Montero (Swansea) together with a lot of players from the domestic league.
Bolivia is the lowest ranked nation in the tournament (92nd in FIFA’s rankings), and the expectations on this side is extremely low. They might be able to pull off an upset against one of the other teams in the group, but it’s very unlikely that they will be able to make it out of the group stage. Their best Copa America result came back in 1997 when they hosted the tournament and ended up in fourth place. They’ve failed to get out of the group in the last five Copa America tournaments.
AC Milan prospect Sebastian Gamarra is a player to keep an extra eye on in the Bolivian lineup, as the 18-year-old midfielder is one of the most promising Bolivian soccer players, and one of few that plays in Europe.
The schedule for Group A is as follows:
June 11: Chile vs. Ecuador
June 12: Mexico vs. Bolivia
June 15: Ecuador vs. Bolivia
June 15: Chile vs. Mexico
June 19: Mexico vs. Ecuador
June 19: Chile vs. Bolivia