Chile vs Ecuador | Friday 12 June | Estadio Nacional, Santiago | 01:30
The 2015 Copa America gets underway this weekend with hosts Chile facing Ecuador in the opening match of the tournament.
To Win (90mins)
The host nation were dealt a favourable draw that sees them avoid big guns Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia. This will probably be their toughest test in the group stages as an under-strength Mexico and minnows Bolivia complete Group A. Chile lined-up just one warm-up match ahead of the tournament last weekend. They played El Salvador, winning 1-0 in what was a dominant display by La Roja. Jorge Valdivia's fourteenth-minute goal was the match winner at the Estadio Sausalito, where the home side created most of the chances but failed to capitalise. Coach Jorge Sampaoli started a strong team with Alexis Sanchez, Mauricio Isla, Gary Medel and Eduardo Vargas highlighting the eleven. Juventus' Arturo Vidal and Barcelona's Claudio Bravo were the biggest names missing as they had a UEFA Champions League final to contest. If hosts Chile are to win the Copa America for the first time, they will have to get the best out of star forward Sanchez. The 26-year-old was an instant hit in the Premier League last season after joining Arsenal from Barcelona for £30million. Sanchez scored 25 goals for the Gunners in all competitions and has notched 26 for his country since making his debut against New Zealand in 2006.
Ecuador will have to compete at the Copa America without their captain Antonio Valencia. The Manchester United player was ruled out of the tournament after suffering an ankle injury. Striker Felipe Caicedo was also a notable absentee but coach Gustavo Quinteros believes he still has a lethal enough team to go far in the tournament. Quinteros has only been in charge of Ecuador’s national side since January, with narrow defeats to Mexico and Argentina following shortly after. However, La Tricolor are coming off an important confidence boosting 4-0 victory over Panama last weekend. Fidel Martinez bagged a first-half double after Miller Bolanos opened the scoring, while Jefferson Montero got in on the action in the second half. The sides played out a 1-1 draw three days earlier but Ecuador stepped it up a gear in a rampant display on home soil. The new boss has named three uncapped players in his Copa America squad, including two goalkeepers, and a total of nine of his 23 have three caps or less each, hinting at a new age for Ecuadorian football. With no Valencia in the squad, the threat and thrust of this Ecuador team must come from wide attacker Montero. Blistering pace, great footwork and a good cross are the Swansea City winger’s three most notable traits. When he’s on his game he can be unstoppable in spells, providing plenty of ammunition for the forward line, which will be led by the aerially proficient Enner Valencia of West Ham. The two should link up effectively and give Ecuador a big counter-attacking threat.
VERDICT: Draw 3/1
Chile will have the all-important home ground advantage but they will come up against a physical Ecuadorian team that won’t go down without a fight. I’m backing Ecuador to upset the apple-cart and hold the hosts to a draw.