Copa America preview: Will Lionel Messi end his tournament hoodoo?
Brazil host 2019 Copa America and go into tournaments as favourites
Last Updated: 15/06/19 2:22pm
Will Lionel Messi end his tournament hoodoo? Who will replace Neymar for Brazil? Here, we take an in-depth look at the upcoming Copa America.
The tournament - hosted by Brazil - kicked off on Saturday when the Selecao beat Bolivia 3-0, while later that day there is a mouth-watering clash between Argentina and Colombia.
Here, we run through the format, the favourites, and biggest talking points...
Three groups of four sides, with the best two third-place finishers reaching the quarter-finals. The final will take place at the Maracana in Rio on July 7.
2022 World Cup hosts Qatar were invited to take part in their first tournament, and go in as 100/1 outsiders to win it, in a group with Argentina, Colombia, and Paraguay.
Japan will be making their second appearance in a Copa America, and the first since 1999, while this will be the first Copa America where no CONCACAF team has been invited - most notably Mexico, who have competed in the last 10 editions.
Messi has a helping hand
After Ronaldo's heroics with Portugal in the Nations League, Lionel Messi will look to step up for Argentina and end a major tournament hoodoo.
The only blotch on Messi's career, his major tournament record reads played in eight, runner-up in four.
Messi has long craved a suitable strike partner, and the return of his friend Sergio Aguero has given the nation renewed hope of success.
With Gonzalo Higuain retired, Aguero is set to play a central role in Brazil. The Man City striker is desperate to win a major international trophy, above all for Messi.
"I'm more excited about winning for Leo than for myself because he has played for so long and he has suffered so much," Aguero told Fox Sports. "Whenever I talk with Leo, we always say 'Pray that one day it happens for us'. It's what he wants and it's what we all want. I put myself in his shoes and I want to do the best."
Messi has admitted that unlike previous Copa America tournaments, his side are no longer the favourites, but that should not impact their ambition.
"We go there with the same excitement and hope as always, but the reality is we are in a period of transition and are not candidates," Messi said. "There are many new players with few games, but we're going to try and win it as we always have done. A Copa America is so important, whether it's in Brazil or anywhere else. It's been a long time since Argentina won it."
Argentina keeping it real
Whether they're just being realistic or trying to heap more pressure on their biggest rival, the narrative coming out of the Argentina camp is that Brazil should be viewed as firm favourites.
Argentina's first match in the tournament will be on Saturday against Colombia in one of the most highly anticipated matches of the group stage, a day after host Brazil kicks off the tournament in Sao Paulo against Bolivia.
"The favourite, for being host and for the players they have, is Brazil," said midfielder Rodrigo De Paul.
Messi said the same last week, arguing that Argentina, led by interim coach Lionel Scaloni, have several young players playing in their first international tournament.
Still, Argentina have other recognisable players in Aguero, Juventus' Paulo Dybala, and PSG's Angel Di Maria.
"Not being favourites doesn't stop us from giving it all in every match, we have dreams from the first moment," defender German Pezzella said.
De Paul added: "We have the best player in the world, we will try to help him so he feels comfortable. But we are aware that Brazil is the favourite."
Argentina have not won an international tournament since the 1993 Copa America.
No Neymar: Pray to Jesus?
Brazil expect to win every tournament they play, especially at home, but they go into the Copa America without their talisman Neymar, and lacking some of the sparkle that has long been their stock in trade.
They have not lost since Belgium dumped them out of the 2018 World Cup in the last eight, but their 10-game unbeaten run - with the exception of last week's 7-0 drubbing of Honduras - has come largely without the usual flair.
Brazil's preparations for the Copa have been overshadowed by Neymar's ankle injury, which ruled him out the tournament last week.
But they have three options to replace him - Gabriel Jesus, Roberto Firmino, and David Neres. The last 10 line-ups don't give much of a clue as to who will be preferred - Jesus has started four and Firmino six - but the talk in Brazil is that the Liverpool man will be Tite's first choice.
Meanwhile Neres, the 22-year-old who played a key role in helping Ajax reach the Champions League semi-finals, scored his first goal for Brazil on Sunday in the win over Honduras.
Tite's squad is as good as any in the tournament, but the coach is trying to manage a generational change, saying that choosing his squad of 23 players was the "most difficult" task he had faced since taking over three years ago.
Brazil have included only 14 of the squad that went to the World Cup in Russia a year ago, with Everton's Richarlison, Neres of Ajax, and midfielders Arthur of Barcelona and Lucas Paqueta of AC Milan among the young recruits.
Apart from home advantage, they are fortunate to be in one of the easier groups with Bolivia, Peru, and Venezuela.
The big question will be how they cope without Neymar, but his absence could be a blessing in disguise. With the PSG forward gone, there will be less of a circus atmosphere around the squad and the focus will be firmly on the pitch.
Best of the rest
World Cup quarter-finalists Uruguay have some exciting young talent - Lucas Torreira and Rodrigo Bentancur were impressive in Russia - plus a water-tight central defence in Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez.
And of course, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani provide the firepower, so if Brazil or Argentina slip up, expect Oscar Tabarez's side to be there or thereabouts.
Chile, back-to-back reigning champions, failed to qualify for the World Cup, and have had a mixed record in friendlies since, losing against Mexico, Costa Rica, and Peru. Alexis Sanchez is out of form, and their squad is either experienced or old, depending on how you look at it.
Colombia are an interesting outsider, with Carlos Queiroz taking over in February and losing only once since the World Cup. Familiar Premier League names Yerry Mina and Davinson Sanchez make up central defence, and in-form Atalanta striker Duvan Zapata joins James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao in a dangerous front line.
- Brazil 11/10
- Argentina 7/2
- Uruguay 13/2
- Colombia 9/1
- Chile 12/1
- Peru 20/1
- Japan 33/1
- Paraguay 33/1
- Venezuela 33/1
- Bolivia 40/1
- Ecuador 40/1
- Qatar 100/1