Copa America: A first for the USA

The United States of America will play host to the first Copa America to be held outside South America. It will see 16 teams taking part, rather than the usual 12. The 10 countries from the CONMEBOL (South American) will be joined by six countries from the CONCACAF (North American and the Caribbean).

Chile's players celebrate withe the Copa America in 2015. Chile became the Copa champion for the first time after defeating Argentina in a penalty shootout.   -  AP

South America’s biggest international football fiesta turns 100 this year and all of us can expect one big party. Over the years, the Copa America has given us a plethora of memories with its flamboyant mixture of flair, grit and unrivalled passion. Yet, for a continent whose heart beats football, the occasion to commemorate the 100th anniversary of its most prestigious international tournament is being taken away from it to a place where the beautiful game came less than three decades ago.

The United States of America will play host to the first Copa America to be held outside South America. It will see 16 teams taking part, rather than the usual 12. The 10 countries from the CONMEBOL (South American) will be joined by six countries from the CONCACAF (North American and the Caribbean).

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The decision to have the tournament in the USA on such a special occasion has caused quite a bit of controversy and also some confusion. The first thing that springs to an American’s mind when you say ‘football’ is an oval shaped brown ball and the NFL. Why would a competition like this be held in a country that calls football ‘soccer’?

The United States is a huge country and travelling is going to come at a cost, whether that is to the country itself or in the interior. The matches are scheduled to take place across the country, from Seattle at the north-western tip to Orlando in Florida on the Atlantic coast.

On a positive note, though, football is picking up at a very fast pace in the country. Major League Soccer (MLS) is one of the top four professional sporting leagues in the U.S. and can boast of some iconic football names in its ranks. Ever since David Beckham’s arrival, more and more European football stars are making their way across the Atlantic to ply their trade in the MLS.

With an increasing fan base and no shortage of funds, the Copa America Centenario can be a big financial success at the very least. Neymar aside, there is no scarcity of star power with Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, James Rodriguez and Arturo Vidal likely to take the field.

The United States will want to prove a point that it can mix with the big guns with a strong showing on home soil. Colombia wowed the world at the 2014 FIFA World Cup and will be considered a dark horse for the title. As will Mexico, which has put together an eight-match unbeaten run and is riding on the back of last year’s Gold Cup success.

Costa Rica, Jamaica and Peru have the ability to spring a surprise as they have demonstrated over the past couple of years. The Jamaicans shocked the U.S. in the semi-finals of the Gold Cup last year and, led by Leicester City captain Wes Morgan, they will be hoping for another shock run.

Costa Rica was the surprise package of the 2014 FIFA World Cup after finishing ahead of England, Italy and Uruguay in its group and it will look to do the same against Colombia and the USA.

After last year’s Copa triumph, Chile has gone slightly under the boil with new coach Juan Antonio Pizzi replacing Jorge Sampaoli. But La Roja still retains the same victorious team and will look to Vidal and Alexis Sanchez to lead it to glory.

Brazil and Argentina will head into the tournament as favourites but the gap in quality has decreased so much now that their opponents will believe an upset is possible every time they take to the field.

South American football fans have every right to be disappointed about the tournament happening in their neighbouring continent. However, we are very likely to see them in the U.S., with faces painted in their country’s colours and singing songs to drive their team on its way to Copa glory and immortality.

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