The first set of Copa America 2016 matches are set to get underway on Saturday 16 June in the USA.
South American football's showpiece event is heading north in 2016 to the USA! Chile come into the tournament as defending champions, however, they've seen their stock fall quite a bit since they clinched the title in 2016.
The the competition enters its 100th year in 2016, and strangely enough, will be hosted by the Americans. Can the USA claim their maiden Copa title on home soil, or will one of the South American juggernauts claim honours this year? Let's take a look at a few of the first matches!
Saturday 6 June
16/10 USA | Draw 21/10 | Colombia 7/4
The opening match of the 2016 Copa America sees hosts USA take on Colombia in what should be a cracking encounter. A poor performance in last summer’s Gold Cup and an uneven start in World Cup qualifying leaves coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s team needing a big performance in this tournament to get back on track. For Klinsmann, that means nothing less than advancing to the semi-finals — which won’t be easy given that the U.S. was drawn into a group that includes two 2014 World Cup quarter-finalists in Colombia and Costa Rica. The Yanks come into the tournament with four wins on the spin, keeping three clean sheets. They thrashed Guatemala 4-0 in their World Cup Qualifier in March, and beat Puerto Rico (3-1), Ecuador (1-0) and Bolivia (4-0) in friendlies.
Colombia has quietly carved out a place among the world’s elite under coach Jose Pekerman. Los Cafeteros reached the quarter-finals in the last World Cup and 2015 Copa America, and they will look to go further in this tournament. Victory over the hosts in the opening match will show their credentials. Colombia are a quality team with star players such as David Ospina, James Rodriguez, Carlos Bacca and Juan Cuadrado. They’re on a three-game winning streak and I’m tipping them to oust their opponents at 7/4.
17/10 Costa Rica | 19/10 | Paraguay 7/4
It’s been a turbulent but successful two years for Costa Rica, which made it to the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup under coach Jorge Luis Pinto, reached the quarter-finals of last year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup under coach Paulo Wanchope and is now starting over again with another coach, Oscar Ramirez. Ramirez got off to a fast start, with Costa Rica defeating USA in a friendly, then going unbeaten through the first four World Cup qualifiers. The Ticos have done that with a stingy defence anchored by Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas. Costa Rica have lost just once under Ramirez, winning six from eight games.
After making the semi-final last year and final of the Copa America in 2011, Paraguay is not to be taken lightly. Coached by Ramon Diaz since 2014, Los Guaranies has not made quite such an impressive start to World Cup qualifying. Yet, despite winning just two of their first six matches to lie seventh in the 10-team table, they have held both Argentina and Brazil to draws. Dealing a blow to their hopes, Paraguay will have to go into the Copa America without Malaga striker Roque Santa Cruz. The 34-year-old is out with a knee injury so Diaz has called up 20-year-old Tony Sanabria, who spent this season on loan at Sporting Gijon from Italian giants Roma. I’m backing Costa Rica to win at 17/10.
Sunday 5 June
15/2 Haiti | 32/10 | Peru 4/10 (01:30)
Haiti advanced out of group play in the CONCACAF Gold Cup last year for only the second time in a dozen years, but this will be a big step up in class here. After beating Trinidad and Tobago to make this tournament, Haiti are odds-on not to qualify from their group which contains Brazil, Ecuador, and opening match opponents Peru. It will be a severe test for a team that is both winless and scoreless four games into the World Cup qualifying. Haiti are winless in three matches with consecutive losses against Panama (1-0, World Cup Qualifier) and Colombia (3-1, Friendly).
Given Peru’s rugged play in World Cup qualifying — one win and four losses in six games and a goal differential of minus-6 — it’s probably accurate to call the team’s third-place finish in last summer’s Copa America a surprise. Coach Ricardo Gareca will be hoping for a fresh start and victory over Haiti and a strong effort against either Brazil or Ecuador could give Gareca's young team a huge boost of confidence. They have started to find their rhythm at the right time, winning their last two friendlies comfortably, beating Trinidad and Tobago 4-0 and El Salvador 3-1. Peru will be without experienced attackers Claudio Pizarro and Jefferson Farfan, but Haiti will have to be careful with forward Paolo Guerrero, who tied for top-scorer honours in last year’s Copa with four goals. Peru are tipped confidently at 4/10.
2/1 Jamaica | 2/1 | Venezuela 29/20
Jamaica was the surprise team of last year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, getting three shutouts and a semi-final win over USA to arrive undefeated in the final, where they lost to Mexico. Since the Gold Cup, Jamaica have lost four of their last eight games with three wins. Two of those victories came against weak opposition, Nicaragua and Haiti. But they did impress in last weekend’s 2-1 victory over Copa America champions Chile.
Venezuela have dropped 38 spots in the world rankings since 2013 and they’re doing even worse in World Cup qualifying, where they are the only South American country to go through the first six games winless, giving up an average of nearly three goals a game. Things won’t get any better here, where Venezuela has been drawn into a group with Mexico, a team they have never beaten, and Uruguay, which they have beaten only four times in 28 tries. La Vinotinto are winless in five matches heading into the tournament. Back Jamaica on the Win/Draw Double at 5/10.
Monday 6 June
31/20 Mexico | 2/1 | Uruguay 17/10
Mexico will aim to continue the positive momentum they have built up since Juan Carlos Osorio took the reins last November. El Tri have won all five matches under the Colombian, all achieved without conceding a single goal. Already a place in the final round Hexagonal of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2018 World Cup has been achieved. Now the focus is on making a real mark against some of the world’s very best in the centenary celebration of South America’s championship. Osorio has already made some tough decisions regarding the makeup of his squad, with Carlos Vela and Jonathan dos Santos left out and Giovani dos Santos declining a call-up. Still, some notable questions remain about his first-choice lineup when the tournament gets underway.
Uruguay are the most successful nation in the history of the Copa America having won the tournament a record 15 times. La Celeste has finished in the top four every year except two (1993 and 2015). Uruguay were seen as the runaway favourite in their group and possibly the entire tournament with the attacking duo of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez. The Barcelona forward pulled a hamstring in the Copa del Rey final, but he has made the trip to the U.S. for the tournament. He should make a return at some point, but Cavani is more than capable of firing Uruguay to glory. La Celeste are unbeaten in four matches with three wins, including last weekend’s 3-1 friendly win over Trinidad and Tobago – which Cavani scored a brace. Uruguay have enough talent in their squad, along with the rock-solid partnership of Atletico Madrid duo Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez. Uruguay are tipped for victory at 17/10.
Tuesday 7 June
13/10 Panama | 2/1 | Bolivia 9/4
Although Panama have never qualified for a World Cup, they have a respectable record in regional competitions such as the CONCACAF Gold Cup, having made it to the semi-finals of the last three tournaments. This match will mark Panama's debut in Copa America, making them the third Central American team to appear at the tournament, after Costa Rica and Honduras. Los Canaleros face a daunting test as they will be in a group with two of the world’s top three teams, Argentina and Chile. Plus Panama could start as many as eight players over 30, making them one of the oldest teams in the tournament. Los Canaleros have won just once in their last five matches with two defeats.
Bolivia, the lowest-rated team in the tournament, will face two of the world’s top three teams in group play, so there’s probably little reason to bother unpacking. Bolivia surprised in last year’s Copa America, advancing out of group play for the first time in 18 years. That won’t happen again this year. Marcelo Martins, the team’s leading scorer in last year’s Copa, quit the team along with captain Ronald Raldes in September, citing differences with Coach Julio Cesar Baldivieso. That left much of the offensive load at the feet of Juan Carlos Arce, whose eight international goals make him Bolivia’s leading scorer. La Verde have lost four matches in a row leading up to the tournament, failing to score a goal in their last two games. Panama are well worth a punt at 13/10.