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Friday, July 1, 2011
Copa comes home

Jon Carter

In 1910, Argentina invited Uruguay and Chile to compete in a three-team tournament called the Copa Centenario Revolucion de Mayo. The seeds were sown for a larger continental competition and in 1916 Argentina hosted what is considered to be the inaugural South American Championship of Nations.

• GROUP A |  GROUP B |  GROUP C
• Kelly: Argentina out to break Brazil
• Lomas: Players to watch
• Rewind to 1947: Stabile's heroes
• WATCH live games on ESPN UK

After a name change to 'Copa America' in 1975 and the inclusion of all ten CONMEBOL nations, football's oldest continental tournament is now in its 43rd year and returns to Argentina this year with Brazil looking to lift the trophy for the third time in succession - a feat only ever achieved by Argentina themselves between 1945 and 1947.

Here, ESPNsoccernet takes a look at each of the teams as they prepare for the start of the competition on July 1.

  • GROUP A

    Argentina

    Coach: Sergio Batista
    Captain: Javier Mascherano
    Copa America best: Winners (14)

    It has been a long time since Argentina last lifted a major title - 18 years to be precise. Now given the chance to break their duck on home soil, La Albiceleste would become the outright leaders in Copa America history if they were to pick up the title again. With Maradona's efforts at the World Cup behind them, Batista intends to get his side to play like Barcelona to get the best out of World Player of the Year Lionel Messi and he has one of the competition's most talented squads at his disposal.

    One to Watch: Sergio Aguero. With Messi hogging the limelight, Aguero may not get much of a chance to shine, however as he is currently seeking a move away from Atletico Madrid, he will be keen to impress.
    Prediction: Winners.


    Bolivia

    Coach: Gustavo Quinteros
    Captain: Ronald Raldes
    Copa America best: Winners (1)

    Their ultimately unsuccessful 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign saw Bolivia dominate at home, but when outside the heights of La Paz, the team struggle. They have only advanced from the group stage twice in the past 30 years although there are hopes that Quinteros' flexible 4-2-3-1 formation will provide them with an edge when they take on Costa Rica in what will surely be the battle to avoid last place in Group A.

    One to Watch: Marcelo Martins: A tireless work ethic, coupled with a good eye for goal, has endeared the Shakhtar striker to the fans and he is seen as a replacement for the recently retired Joaquin Botero.
    Prediction: Group Stage


    Colombia

    Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez
    Captain: Mario Yepes
    Copa America best: Winners (1)

    While FC Porto's pair of Falcao and Freddy Guarin provide hope, Colombia are the not the force of old and did not impress in the 2007 version of the Copa, when they went out in the group stage. A 4-1-4-1 formation hints that defence will be the priority and that will limit their ability to win games, especially as they are still searching for a creative midfielder in the mould of Carlos Valderrama to help unlock an opposition backline.

    One to Watch: Cristian Zapata: While Falcao takes the headlines up front, the powerful Zapata keeps things tight at the back and is reportedly close to a move to Liverpool.
    Prediction: Quarter-finals


    Costa Rica

    Coach: Ricardo La Volpe
    Captain: Randall Brenes
    Copa America best: Quarter-finals (2)

    Replacing Japan at the last minute as special guests for the tournament, Costa Rica are keen to banish the memory of their disappointing Gold Cup campaign last month. The side lost to Uruguay over a two-legged play-off for the final spot at the 2010 World Cup, but have had little to shout about on the international scene and will be under pressure as they have brought what is in essentially an Under-23 team to Argentina. In need of a lift, La Volpe's skills as a man-manager will be tested to the limit.

    One to Watch: Cesar Elizondo: Bryan Ruiz's absence means a lot of the focus has shifted on to the young Elizondo, who needs to improve his decision making, but provided a glimpse of his talent with a loan spell at Perez Zeledon last season.
    Prediction: Group Stage


  • GROUP B

    Brazil

    Coach: Mano Menezes
    Captain: Lucio
    Copa America best: Winners (8)

    With the chance to win their fifth Copa America in six editions, Brazil are keen to tighten their stranglehold on the competition, but have never won it on Argentine soil. With defensive football proving unpopular under Dunga, Menezes promised to attack when put in charge after the World Cup but the counter-attacking style has failed to win over the fans thus far. In Neymar, they have potentially the best player in the competition, but Brazil may suffer from the enormous expectation that is (and always has been) upon them.

    One to Watch: Ganso: The Santos midfielder has been likened to fellow countryman Kaka and is set to move to Italy this summer, but his price may rise with a commanding performance in the tournament if he can step out from the shadow of club team-mate Neymar.
    Prediction: Finalists


    Ecuador

    Coach: Reinaldo Rueda
    Captain: Walter Ayoví
    Copa America best: Semi-finals (1)

    Impressive performances in getting to both the 2002 and 2006 World Cups have ensured Ecuador are back in the spotlight, however, their inability to get past the group stage of the Copa America in their previous four attempts proves they have a lot left to do. Rueda's 4-4-2 formation is solid, but the fans in Ecuador have labelled him the 'King of Draws' and he was booed after the friendly match with Mexico. The Venezuela match may be the key to progression for them.

    One to Watch: Antonio Valencia: The only Ecuadorian to win the Premier League and play in a Champions League final, Valencia has been on top of his game since returning from a bad leg break against Rangers and will be key down the wings with his pace and trickery.
    Prediction: Quarter-finals


    Paraguay

    Coach: Gerardo Martino
    Captain: Justo Villar
    Copa America best: Winners (2)

    A nation on the rise after an impressive showing at the 2010 World Cup finals, it has still been 20 years since they featured in the semi-finals of the Copa America. Coach Martino will leave his role after the competition, but will detail his players with bringing a high-tempo, aggressive game to their opponents, while the generation of players nearing the end of their international careers are motivated by the prospect of building on their recent successes in Argentina.

    One to Watch: Roque Santa Cruz: The striker, who has not impressed either at Man City or on loan at Blackburn of late, still finds himself in a central role for his country and he is just one short of Paraguay's all-time leading scorer Jose Cardozo.
    Prediction: Quarter-finals


    Venezuela

    Coach: Cesar Farias
    Captain: Juan Arango
    Copa America best: Quarter-finals (2)

    The side have only ever won two games at the Copa America, but there has been a recent upturn in their fortunes on the continent as they were within touching distance of the World Cup after a decent qualifying campaign. No longer the whipping boys, Venezuela have something to prove and on the back of Farías' combination of open passing and tireless work ethic - with Borussia Mönchengladbach's Arango as the creative hub - there is a lot of optimism in the country that the young squad could impress.

    One to Watch: Yohandry Orozco: The Wolfsburg midfielder was one of the best players at the South American Under-20 Championships earlier this year and is a born leader who looks comfortable in the spotlight; more is expected from him.
    Prediction: Group Stage


  • GROUP C

    Chile

    Coach: Claudio Borghi
    Captain: Claudio Bravo
    Copa America best: Finalists (4)

    Despite Marcelo Bielsa's resignation, Chile's fortunes are on the up after a World Cup campaign that saw them win over a lot of neutral supporters. Playing attractive, attacking football with the pace and skills of Alexis Sanchez and Matias Fernandez on show in a high-tempo approach, Borghi could bring something different with a 3-4-1-2 or 3-5-2. He will also have to do something about the defensive issues surrounding the side if they are to repeat their successes in South Africa.

    One to Watch: Alexis Sanchez: The man at the centre of a bidding war between Europe's elite clubs must justify the enormous price tag placed upon him, but with pace, dribbling skills and a good finishing touch, he may well do so.
    Prediction: Semi-finals.


    Mexico

    Coach: Jose Manuel de la Torre
    Captain: Giovani dos Santos
    Copa America best: Finalists (2)

    Much like their Gold Cup campaign was disrupted after five players were sent home for failing drugs tests, Mexico's Copa could not have started worse as eight players were withdrawn from the squad after an alleged sex scandal three days before the competition started. The Mexican fans can take heart that their side overcame the odds to beat the USA in the Gold Cup final, but without some of their big named stars such as Javier Hernandez and Rafael Marquez, De la Torre's side could struggle.

    One to Watch: Giovani dos Santos. With the rest of his senior team-mates suspended, the Tottenham winger will take centre-stage in the Copa after a starring role in the Gold Cup; perhaps to earn himself a move elsewhere.
    Prediction: Quarter-finals.


    Peru

    Coach: Sergio Markarian
    Captain: Walter Vilchez
    Copa America best: Winners (2)

    The worst team on the continent in 2010 World Cup qualifying, Peru's fall has not been graceful as a host of internal problems have provided the side with an unwelcome distraction from their on-pitch focus. To make matters worse ahead of their Copa campaign, injuries have robbed the squad of key strike duo captain Claudio Pizarro and Jefferson Farfan. New coach Markarian has made them hard to beat - as they have conceded just three goals in the nine games of his reign - but there are still some demons to lay to rest.

    One to Watch: Paolo Guerrero: With some of the star players watching from the stands, Guerrero must step into the breach and, after a six-match ban in 2008, he has a lot to prove.
    Prediction: Group Stage.


    Uruguay

    Coach: Oscar Tabarez
    Captain: Diego Lugano
    Copa America best: Winners (14)

    Four years ago in the opening game of the last Copa America, Uruguay lost 3-0 to Peru, although they regrouped to make it to the semi-finals. After sealing their progress to the 2010 World Cup via a play-off, Tabárez's underdogs went on to become one of the most memorable teams in South Africa as they went all the way to the last four - albeit with the help of Luis Suarez's hand against Ghana. They have not won the Copa since 1995 but, with players like Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez and Diego Godin, are now in a position to challenge at the very top again and bring back memories of a time when they were champions in six of the first nine editions.

    One to Watch: Edison Cavani: Valued by his club, Napoli, at €100 million, the striker is one of the Europe's most in-form players. Tall and strong, he has a commanding presence and defenders will need to pay him a lot of respect.
    Prediction: Semi-finals.

    • You can follow me on Twitter @joncarterESPN • To celebrate ESPN's coverage of the Copa America 2011, we're giving you the chance to win tickets for you and three friends to see Arsenal battle the New York Red Bulls and Paris Saint-Germain in the Emirates Cup.


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