The 'Who Cares?' Copa: How each CONMEBOL country views the Centenario
International tournaments which are not the World Cup or the Euros are fickle, whimsical creatures. Sometimes, they can be a joyous ode to attacking soccer. Other times, key players are injured, or in a dispute with a club, and the quality sucks. The smaller teams pack bodies behind the ball for 90 minutes, clasp vainly for a single glorious point from a draw, and you’d be better off watching paint dry or, even better, reading a good novel.
What sets apart the Copa America Centenario this year is just how much the U.S. and Mexico care about this tournament, and just how little the South American nations do. Or some of them, anyway.
COPA AMERICA PREVIEW
As host, we Americans desperately want to do well on home soil and see how our boys stack up against the best CONMEBOL has to offer. We are prepared to blame all failings not on a dip in development and gaps in the player pool, but rather our dual-national coach who lives in California but still speaks English with a slight accent and recruits foreigners.
Mexico and El Tri aficionados (myself included) are also gloriously delusional, but in a unique way: a handful of players have had decent seasons in the second-tier leagues of Europe, so, of course, it’s time to win the Copa or go home. Chicharito has regularly scored goals against the cellar-dwellers of the Bundesliga, ergo Leo Messi and Argentina should tremble with fear.
In sum, when the U.S. and Mexico don’t meet in the Copa Centenario final, remember these words and the unscientific ranking of how little CONMEBOL nations care about this tournament:
Brazil - Does Not Care
Losing to Germany by six goals at home in the World Cup is one thing, but Brazil has lost big games at home before, such as the Maracanazo. What really spooked Brazilians about 2014 was how close arch-rival Argentina came to winning a World Cup on Brazilian soil. They still have nightmares about it. Thus, Neymar has been called to the Olympic team, who hopefully can snag a gold medal at the Rio Games.
Brazil without Neymar will probably look a lot like the team demolished by Germany: slow-passing out of the back, little creativity in the attacking third, and poor finishing may hinder a deep run. However, by not sending Neymar to the Copa America Centenario, they’ve basically said: “We don’t care, but we’ll field 11 players as a professional courtesy.” Dunga is very professional, almost to a fault.
Argentina - Cares, But So What?
Argentina is taking the tournament seriously because those Argies are a fiercely competitive bunch, so that means nothing really. The Albiceleste will field a strong side and Lionel Messi is not happy with his Olympic gold medal from yesteryear. However, Tatta Martino is still their coach, which means he will field that lopsided 4-4-2 that is neither counter-attacking nor retains possession. More worrisome, Ever Banega disappears at this level and Ezequiel Lavezzi left to China for riches, but still kept his place in midfield. Once Angel Di Maria picks up a knock, midfield creativity will disappear. Wave to Messi when you see him standing all alone. He will need the company. (This all assuming Argentina doesn’t pull out of the tournament, of course.)
Chile - Cares, But They are Chile
Chile won the last Copa America on home soil, so of course they’re taking this tournament and the defense of their crown seriously. However, Alexis Sanchez had an awful spring at Arsenal and Arturo Vidal played decently for Bayern Munich near the end, but Charles Aranguiz is just coming back from injury and Jorge Valdivia - Chile’s creative midfield talent - was not picked based on form. If the stars aligned last summer on home soil, Chile’s team has the horses to do good things, but not the wind at their back.
Colombia - Kinda Cares
Jackson Martinez left La Liga for China and was dropped. Falcao was finally dropped, probably two tournaments too late. James Rodriguez has had a rough season at Madrid, but Jose Pekerman will hope he and Carlos Bacca can combine to spark the attack. Juan Cuadrado’s stop-start form for Juventus, may be worrisome, but that’s also kinda his modus operandi. Ultimately, Colombia cares enough about this tournament to drop once-key players, but that’s more of a backhanded compliment than a statement of intent.
Uruguay - Most Likely Cares
Oscar Tabarez, the longstanding Uruguayan coach and director whose dual role probably inspired Jurgen Klinsmann, faces a bit of a dilemma: FC Barcelona has rode on the back of Luis Suarez, so it’s a classic case of a goalscoring moment vs. the risk of overuse. Meanwhile, Edinson Cavani has basically not played a meaningful game since March (sorry, Ligue 1). The Charruas won a Copa America in Argentina in 2011, though, so they are as dangerous (and adorable) as a cornered wolverine.
Ecuador - Probably Cares
Ecuador has an amazing home record in World Cup qualifiers, but really struggles when not playing soccer at preposterously high altitudes. Something about players for other teams being able to breathe regularly really undoes all their hard work in training, and the Centenario sadly does not take place atop Mount McKinley. Ecuador will huff and puff, but not blow down any houses. Or, rather, any important houses (the CONMEBOL ones).
Bolivia - Does Not Care
Like Ecuador, Bolivia also has trouble when not playing games at (possibly) dangerously high altitudes. Unlike Ecuador, they have given up on qualifying for a World Cup and/or making a deep run at a tournament ages ago. I always root for them out of pity, and so should you. They are only 10 great players away from greatness on any given Sunday.
Paraguay - Does Not Dare to Care
For years, Roque Santa Cruz was the foundation stone upon which Paraguay launched their counter attacks. As one pretty good generation of strikers has aged, though, Dario Lezcano has started to shine at the right time. Still, the problem with Paraguay is not talent, but a “daddy complex.” Ever since the War of the Triple Alliance (or, rather, “The Triple Betrayal”), Paraguay has suffered an inferiority complex. Until “Kiko” Solano Lopez rises from the grave to reclaim the Chaco and blaze a trail of land to the coast, expect Paraguay to do well, but never great. Could they pull off a run off dull draws and penalty shootout wins like in Copa America 2011? Maybe. But they will stumble at the last hurdle.
Peru - Too Afraid to Care
Peru’s run at the Copa America last summer surprised many, unless, like me, most of your indoor team is Peruvian. Then you’ve heard the name “Guerrero” more times than you care to remember. Yes, Paolo Guerrero is a shimmering talent of midfield adventuresomeness, but Claudio Pizarro was finally dropped and Jefferson Farfan is injured. Peru is trying to blood a new generation of talent, not build on the results of last summer. It sounds like a decent idea in theory, but it will end poorly. This is Peru after all. Condolences.
Venezuela - Does Not Care and for Good Reason
La Vinotinto have grown by leaps and bounds football-wise, but there are some seriously dark things happening off the field in that country. If the players could focus on football and put together a run, would that bring needed joy to many or be an opiate of the masses manipulated by a faux-democratic dictatorial military state? Because this question presumes they will do well, we don't have to answer it at this time. Or probably anytime soon.