Uruguay v Ecuador: Gomez's men first up for 15-time champion

Fifteen-time champion Uruguay begins its latest bid for Copa America glory with a showdown against out-of-form Ecuador in Belo Horizonte.

Uruguay players train on the eve of their opening Copa America match against Ecuador.   -  Reuters

Uruguay will be aiming to improve on its disappointing group-stage exit from three years ago when it kicks off its 2019 Copa America campaign against Ecuador on Sunday.

Oscar Tabarez's side has won the competition a record 15 times, most recently in 2011, but it fell short at the first hurdle in 2016 and far more is expected this time around.

Boasting a squad including the likes of Diego Godin, Edinson Cavani, Fernando Muslera and Luis Suarez - on course to play a full part in this opener after recovering from knee surgery - Uruguay is considered third favourite behind Brazil and Argentina.

It begins its latest bid for glory in Belo Horizonte against 2024 host Ecuador, which enters the tournament on the back of a poor run of form.

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Hernan Dario Gomez's men have lost two and drawn two of their last four matches and face a tough task to advance from a group that also contains defending champion Chile and Japan which, along with Qatar, have been invited to the tournament by CONMEBOL to bring the number of teams to 12.

That bad run of results is in stark contrast to Uruguay, which has won all three of its matches in 2019, scoring 10 goals and conceding none – albeit against moderate opposition in Uzbekistan, Thailand and Panama.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Uruguay - Luis Suarez

No current Uruguay player has scored more Copa America goals than Suarez's four, despite the Barcelona striker only appearing in one tournament - all six of his appearances came in their successful 2011 campaign. After his 2018-19 was cut short by a knee injury, the 32-year-old will be keen to hit the ground running.

Ecuador - Enner Valencia

Captain Antonio Valencia boasts plenty of experience after spending the past decade at Manchester United, but namesake Enner - another player with Premier League pedigree - is the man Ecuador often rely on. Now plying his trade for Mexican side Tigres, his goal against Venezuela earlier this month saw him net in a sixth straight game for his country.

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Uruguay and Ecuador have met 45 times in all competitions, with 29 wins for La Celeste compared to just six for their opponents.
- Both Uruguay and Ecuador have won three of the last seven Copa America meetings between the two sides (D1); Uruguay had won each of the previous 10 contests prior to this.
- Uruguay has won the Copa America a record 15 times, while Ecuador has never won the competition in its 27 previous attempts – in fact, Ecuador has appeared in more Copa America tournaments than any other side yet to win the competition.
- Ecuador has conceded 311 goals at Copa America tournaments, more than any other side in the competition's history.
- In the last Copa America tournament in 2016, Uruguay was eliminated at the group stages; under the competition's current format (since 1975), it has never failed to progress from the group stages in consecutive editions.
- Ecuador reached the quarterfinals in 2016, its best finish since reaching the same stage in 1997; it advanced from its group alongside Peru, at the expense of Brazil and Haiti, but was ultimately knocked out by the host, USA.

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