Copa America Preview : Group A


Ninety-nine years ago the birth of the Copa America, the sport’s oldest continental competition, brought about a rapid change to the game of football.

Held almost annually in the early years, the tournament fostered a dramatic rise in the standards of South American sides – made evident when Uruguay arrived unheralded at the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris and walked off with the gold medal. They enchanted observers with the beauty of their play and led to a question being asked: how can we find out which really is the best team around, given that professionals cannot enter the Olympics?

The answer, of course, was the creation of the World Cup – first staged, and won, by Uruguay, just 14 years after they had claimed the inaugural Copa.

Since then, the Copa has been through a number of phases, at times playing host to the best football in the world, at others neglected. It was brought back in 1987, and taken round all of South America’s

10 footballing nations, but it found itself overshadowed by another significant development in South American football – the introduction, in 1996, of the marathon format of World Cup qualification, where all 10 nations play each other home and away, a change which has done wonders for the standard of the less traditional nations.

For a few years the Copa seemed superfluous, and between 1997 and 2004 four versions were played, all with plenty of understrength teams. Since then, though, the Copa has found its place in the calendar.

The 2015 edition begins today. [See Group B and Group C ]

Chile
Copa America titles : 0
Last Copa title : Never
Coach : Jorge Sampaoli
Finish in the most recent Copa : Quarterfinals
Player to watch : Alexis Sanchez is coming off his best professional season, scoring 25 goals and recording 12 assists in all competitions for Arsenal in 2014-15. His offense will be vital if Chile are to lift their first Copa America title.

Greatest player : Elias Figueroa — Figueroa was an elegant central defender whom Brazil legend Pele called “probably the finest central defender in the history of football in the Americas.”

Greatest achievement : Hosts of the 1962 World Cup, Chile finished third, missing the final at the hands of a rampant Garrincha-led Brazil in the semis.

Mexico
Number of Copa America titles : 0
Last Copa title : Never
Coach : Miguel Herrera
Finish in the most recent Copa : Group stage
Player to watch : Jesus ‘Tecatito’ Corona has been one of few bright spots in Mexico’s lead-up to Copa America, often playing on a different level than his Chile-bound El Tri teammates.

Greatest player : Hugo Sanchez — Top scorer on five different occasions in La Liga and once in Mexico, the acrobatic ‘Hugol’ is unquestionably Mexico’s greatest ever football export.

Greatest achievement : Mexico’s 1999 Confederations Cup victory was the country’s first major inter-federational trophy. El Tri’s gold medal over Neymar’s Brazil at Wembley in 2012 was one to cherish as well — albeit at ‘amateur’ level.

Ecuador
Coach : Gustavo Quinteros
Number of Copa America titles : 0
Last title : Never
Finish in the most recent Copa : Group stage
Player to watch : Miller Bolanos — A star for Guayaquil giants Emelec, the quick striker will look to open the eyes of an international audience in Chile.

Greatest player : Alberto Spencer — Spencer, known as ‘The Magic Head,’ was a prolific forward for legendary Uruguayan club Penarol who carved his name in South American history as the Copa Libertadores’ all-time top goal scorer.

Greatest achievement : The 2006 World Cup quarterfinals. La Tri earned qualification to a World Cup knockout stage for the first time in 2006, advancing with hosts Germany out of Group A.

Bolivia
Number of Copa America titles : 1
Last Copa title : 1963
Coach : Mauricio Soria
Finish in the most recent Copa : Group stage
Player to watch: Marcelo Moreno — Big, physical and acrobatic in the air, Moreno will be Bolivia’s main reference up front in Chile.

Greatest player : Marco Etcheverry — A skillful and clever playmaker, El Diablo scored 13 goals in 71 appearances for El Verde between 1989 and 2003, while guiding Bolivia to the World Cup finals in 1994.

Greatest achievement : The 1963 South American title. Taking advantage of the country’s extreme altitudes, Bolivia lifted its only South American championship title on home soil in 1963.

See also: Group B preview and Group C preview


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