Thursday, 26 May 2016

Crazy Copa América

It's fair enough to assume that most of us like at least a little stability in our lives. The comfort of knowing, barring absolute disasters, that you can rely on certain things.

The stars expected to light up Copa América Centenario USA 2016 ...
Copa América: Embracing its unpredictability. (Image from Facebook.)
Even in the world of sport where stability, nay predictability, might not be what we always want, we do have certain bankers. You know, like in rugby where the All Blacks always win and in football where you can never write off the Germans. Sticking with the round-ball game — but something that is pretty much true of most sport — you also have the regularity of its main tournaments. The World Cup comes every four years, the same with the European Championships, on the even-numbered years between the global contest, as in this year.

Yet, as tends to be the wont in South America for many things, the Copa América arrives at any old time. It doesn't appear, or at least hasn't heretofore, to follow any plan. Well, if it does, it's not a straightforward one. (Maybe they're right on this one?)

Fair enough, this year's renewal, hot on the heels of Chile 2015, is marking the competition's centenary. Yet, it's not even being played on South American soil. No, it's taking place in the grand old US of A. At least it means that none of the Conmebol teams will have home advantage; but the USA will. It wouldn't exactly be the best of etiquette to throw a party in somebody else's gaff without inviting them, now would it?

Indeed, the venue choice has raised eyebrows among some of the participants, with Uruguay manager Óscar Washington Tabárez questioning the United States' suitability on this occasion, especially as games are going to be played all over the vast nation. His side, for example, will be travelling from west (Glendale) to east (Philadelphia) and back west (Santa Clara) again for their three group matches.

Whatever about the merits of this edition — the inclusion of six invitees, namely Costa Rica, Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama and hosts US, could be seen as weakening its credibility further — there is still a 'copa' to be won.

Looking at it from adopted-Colombian eyes, the competition gives José Pékerman's selection the opportunity to continue their unbeaten ways in competitive matches, having won two on the bounce in the World Cup qualifiers. It also represents a chance to erase the memories of a rather mediocre showing 12 months ago.

La Selección Colombia: How far can they go at Copa América Centenario USA 2016?
How far can Colombia go in the Copa this year? (Picture from Facebook.)
Their game with the United States on June 3rd gets the tournament under way. Home advantage is usually a big help in the Copa América, but considering it is not the States' 'baby' so to speak, Colombia might be just that little more up for it (although the bookmakers, perhaps tellingly, see it differently).

A result in that one could set them up for a bit of a run, as Paraguay should be dispatched and Costa Rica, as one of the invited nations, mightn't be overly pushed. Yet making positive predictions about Colombia, as last year showed, is risky business.

That aside, it's likely the winner will come from one of South America's heavyweights. Take your pick from Argentina, Brazil, Chile or Uruguay (yep, we're going all out there). We'll be, um, 'patriotic' and include Colombia as well, but with a semi-final against Argentina, Chile or Uruguay on the cards should they get that far, making the decider might be just beyond them.

But hey, whatever the outcome, at least the Colombian team will have a few weeks in what is a second home for most of their fellow countrymen. Plus, there's always another Copa not too far away.
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