As I write this on a cold January, the 2021 Copa America may seem an eternity away – nearly five months in fact.
Yet the tournament, jointly hosted by Colombia and Argentina, will certainly come round quickly and is one to look forward to.
From June 12-July 11, the competition will be played at exactly the same time as the delayed Euro 2020 and that means football fans could be in for a summer to savour.
Some of the match-ups at the group stage certainly capture the eye and could go a long way to determining who, in theory, has the clearer passage in the knockout stages.
Group B Argentina v Chile – June 12 – Estadio Monumental
This is the opening match of the tournament and the one that excites me the most.
After back-to-back Copa America successes in 2015 and 2016, Chile relinquished their title in 2019 and will be keen to get their hands on another.
With the likes of Inter Milan duo Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez leading their charge, La Roja still possess top class talent but I’m not sure if the current crop – dubbed the nation’s ‘golden generation’ – has another title in them.
How they open up against the joint hosts should give us a much clearer indication.
It’s a rematch of the 2019 third-place play-off which Argentina won as Lionel Messi and Gary Medel were sent off.
Group B Argentina v Uruguay – June 15 – Estadio Mario Alberto Kempes
Three days later comes a South American classic. Two nations who have won four World Cups between them and have contested many a memorable individual battle.
Indeed, they are the most successful countries in this tournament too.
It is not unreasonable to expect Copa America highlights in such a tie.
You have to go back to 1993 for when Argentina were last crowned kings of South America – how fitting it would be if they could end a near 30 year wait in tribute to their greatest ever son Diego Maradona.
They also know they are one success short of joining 15-time winners Uruguay as the competition’s most successful nation.
Group B Australia v Paraguay – June 16 – Estadio Único Diego Armando Maradona
The Copa America is the world’s oldest international football competition but many of you will be wondering why Australia are joining the South American carnival.
That’s because, for the first time ever, the Socceroos have accepted an invitation to take part alongside FIFA World Cup 2022 hosts, Qatar.
The Socceroos have won twice against Paraguay but have never defeated one of their other group opponents, Chile, while their fixture with Bolivia will be the first between the two nations.
Their best known players could well be Brighton duo Mat Ryan – on loan at Arsenal – and Aaron Mooy, while their assistant coach is former Man Utd number two Rene Meulensteen.
Group A Brazil v Colombia – June 25 – Estadio Metropolitano
A re-run of the 2014 World Cup Final which Brazil won 2-1.
Copa America holders Brazil ended an unhappy recent run in the competition with their triumph 18 months ago and would love nothing more than to return to this stadium to contest the final on July 11.
The victors in this clash will no doubt be favourites to progress as group winners and, potentially, an easier route in the quarter-finals.
With the likes of Neymar, Philippe Coutinho, Thiago Silva and Casemiro among their ranks, the Sbotop Copa America betting odds will always strongly favour the record five-time World Champions.
Neymar will not need reminding that he was absent through injury when they lifted the trophy in 2019 and he is also yet to taste success at the highest level on the highest stage with his country or club, Paris St Germain.
An extra incentive for Brazilian glory in 2021 perhaps?
Group A Venezuela v Peru – June 29 – Atanasio Girardot Stadium
Undoubtedly, Peru were the team of the tournament last time, knocking out Uruguay and then holders Chile en route to the showpiece.
They are due to meet Venezuela on the final group matchday – I wonder if we will have fans back by then – and with four sides from each group progressing, and the big hitters expected to qualify with something to spare, this tie could be crucial.
They may lack true star names but that didn’t inhibit them last time out and once again will have nothing to lose.
Delayed a year because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Copa America will be worth the wait.
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