South American football followers are set to welcome home their heroes who ply their trade in Europe as the 46th Copa America gets under way in Brazil. It’s a chance for the likes of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho to strut their stuff in front of their adoring public. Despite being the pinnacle tournament in South American football, invitations were extended to Japan and Qatar to make it a 12-team competition. Charlie Mullan casts his eye over the countries expected to challenge for honours this summer.
Brazil were dealt a major blow on the eve of the tournament when Neymar was ruled out with an ankle injury. Neymar’s absence opens the door for others to shine and the onus will now be on Manchester City striker Gabriel Jesus to score the goals that takes the host nation to the final at the Maracana on July 7. Jesus is 6/1 with SportPesa to finish the tournament’s leading goalscorer and as he showed for his club side last season, Brazil’s attack is in good hand with 21 goals scored including two in the FA Cup final thrashing of Watford.
If Neymar had been fit, Brazil could have fallen into the trap of relying on him too much. Now, manager Tite can devise a game plan that doesn’t revolve around the Paris St Germain forward. Everton’s Richarlison could benefit most from Neymar’s absence and with two goals in his country’s two warm-up fixtures, he looks set to light up the tournament.
Organisers and football fans worldwide will hope to see another competitive meeting between Brazil and their arch rivals, Argentina, who will be led once again by Lionel Messi. International tournaments have not been kind to the mercurial Messi whose legacy is in danger of always including the phrase ‘but he never won a major tournament’. Diego Maradona single-handedly won the 1986 World Cup and the fans who adored Maradona expect the latest incumbent of the famed number 10 shirt to carry his side to glory.
Time is running out for the Barcelona star and while the Copa America is not valued as highly as the World Cup, success in Brazil this summer will be their first tournament success since winning the 1993 Copa America. Messi is one of eight 30 somethings named by Lionel Scaloni and another of the ageing brigade is Sergio Aguero who is 9/1 with SportPesa to win the Golden Boot after missing out on the Premier League accolade by a single goal. Argentina have been runners-up in the last two tournaments and will hope it’s third time lucky this year.
Like Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay should finish top of their group without any fuss ahead of Ecuador, Japan and defending champions Chile. Uruguay, who have won the Copa America a record 15 times, have nine players aged 30 or over including 32-year-old strikers Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. The pair have over 100 goals for their country and if they are to go far in this competition, a lot will rest on their ageing shoulders. Ranked sixth in the world, Uruguay, who reached the quarter-finals of last summer’s World Cup in Russia, are third favourites with SportPesa to lift the famous trophy. Led by Diego Godin, their rock at the heart of their defence, Uruguay will prove hard to beat.
After an impressive World Cup 12 months ago which was ended by England after a penalty shoot-out in the round of 16, Columbia are attracting a lot of attention ahead of this year’s Copa America. Striker Radamel Falcao leads the line for Carlos Quieroz’s side and with a possible move to Atletico Madrid waiting for the 33-year-old, Falcao will not need any extra motivation to do well in the group games against Argentina, Paraguay and Qatar. James Rodriguez is currently eyeing up his next move after his loan spell at Bayern Munich from Real Madrid came to an end recently. The Spaniards are looking to sell the forward and a good tournament could entice future suitors to chase his signature.
Of the remaining sides, defending champions Chile are looking for their third successive Copa America title despite failing to score a goal in the finals in 2015 and 2017 and relying on penalties to lift the trophy against Argentina on both occasions. However, with 11 players aged 30 or over in their 23-man squad – the most of any of the nations taking part – age might begin to creep up on them.
Alexis Sanchez, who struggled for form last season with Manchester United, is 19/1 to be the tournament’s leading scorer. Brazil’s Lucas Moura whose last six goals for Tottenham have come in hat-tricks against Huddersfield in the Premier League and against Ajax in the semi-finals of the Champions League, is 32/1 to win the Golden Boot award. Venezuela’s Salomon Rondon is 35/1 to be the leading scorer after netting four goals in his last four games for Newcastle on loan from West Brom. Japan, ranked 26th in the world rankings, are 70/1 to win the tournament while rank outsiders Qatar are 90/1 despite being ranked 55th which is higher than Ecuador (59th) and Bolivia (63rd) who are 40/1 and 66/1 respectively.
Odds to win the 2019 Copa America: 11/10 Brazil, 33/10 Argentina, 25/4 Uruguay, 17/2 Columbia, 11/1 Chile, 25/1 Peru, 33/1 Paraguay
Odds to be Copa America’s Golden Boot winner: 29/10 Messi, 6/1 Jesus, 31/4 Suarez, 8/1 Cavani, 9/1 Aguero, Firmino