Copa América 2021 Preview: Odds, picks and must-watch matches

2021’s summer of soccer keeps on rolling. EURO 2020 kicked off yesterday, and Copa América 2021 is next, with host nation Brazil getting the tournament started on Sunday.

Like the Euros, Copa América was initially scheduled to be played last summer and postponed due to Covid-19. Unlike the Euros, Copa América changed their name to reflect the actual year in which the tournament is being played.

Despite the rescheduling, it hasn’t been smooth sailing for CONMEBOL. Colombia was initially slated to co-host, but was withdrawn on May 20 due to ongoing political unrest and protests against president Iván Márquez. On May 22, Argentina went under a nine-day lockdown as Covid cases soared, and was removed as the host eight days later. After looking at bids from other potential hosts, including the United States, Brazil was confirmed as the host on May 30.

Per Worldmeters.info, retrieved June 11, 2021

Hosting in Brazil comes with its own set of issues. Brazil currently has 1.1 million active cases of Covid, with the rate of new infections rising to an all-time high. They’re averaging 28 cases per 100,000 people per day, the 13th highest total in the world.

The Brazilian supreme court held an emergency session to approve the plans to host the tournament on June 10, and approved by an incredibly narrow margin of six votes out of eleven.

The tournament will be held in closed-door stadiums, a stark contrast to the Euros, which in many cities are the first matches where fans are allowed back into stadiums. In addition, traveling delegations are limited to 65 members, who (along with referees) will be fully vaccinated. 28 matches will be hosted at five stadiums in four cities, with the winner to be crowned on July 10.

Unfortunately, the chaos surrounding the tournament has been a major distraction from the on-field product, and with continuing concerns about the impact of Covid-19, there’s no guarantee that the tournament will be played all the way through. Hopefully the security measures put in place and increased access to vaccines for players will work, and the issues will be kept to a minimum.

Format

The 10 participating nations have been drawn into two groups of five teams. They’ll play a round robin-style group stage following the usual format; three points for a win, one point for a drawn, none for a loss. Only one side in each group will be eliminated in the group stage, with the top eight teams advancing to the knockout round.

Similarly to the Euros, squad limits have been increased for this competition. Each side can call up 28 players, three of whom are goalkeepers. Matchday squad will still consist of the traditional 23 players.

Group A

Argentina 🇦🇷 (FIFA Ranking: 8)

The outlook: Lionel Messi turns 34 this month, and while the pipeline continues to produce world-class talent (25 of their 28 players are based in Europe), this tournament likely represents the last chance to win the Copa América trophy with the greatest player of all time. They haven’t won the Copa since 1993, and have struggled to impress under manager Luis Scaloni. As is often the case for Argentina, the margin for error is quite thin, and anything less than a trophy will be seen as a failure.

Key players: Forward Lionel Messi (Barcelona), midfielder Ángel Di María (PSG), midfielder Giovani Lo Celso (Tottenham), defender Nicolás Otamendi (Benfica), forward Lautaro Martínez (PSG),

Predicted XI (4-3-3): Martínez; Montiel, Romero, Otamendi, Tagliafico; De Paul, Paredes, Lo Celso; Messi, Martínez, Di María

Predicted group finish: 1st

Odds to win: +270

Uruguay 🇺🇾 (FIFA Ranking: 9)

The outlook: Like Argentina, it’s been a while since Uruguay won this competition. La Celeste last claimed the trophy in 1995, and while they should progress from to the knockout stage without breaking a sweat, it will take an exceptional performance to unseat Brazil.

Manager Óscar Tabárez has been at the helm since 2006, managing over 200 matches in his second stint in charge. He’s implemented an old-school 4-4-2 that relies more on work rate and discipline than flair and creativity. After crashing out in the quarterfinals in 2019, Uruguay needs a deep run to bounce back.

Key players: Defender José María Giménez (Atlético Madrid), defender Diego Godín (Cagliari), midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur (Juventus), forward Edinson Cavani (Manchester United), forward Luis Suarez (Atlético Madrid)

Predicted XI (4-4-2): Muslera; Cáceres, Giménez, Godín, Viña; Nández, Torreira, Bentancur, De Arrascata; Suárez, Cavani

Predicted group finish: 2nd

Odds to win: +800

Chile 🇨🇱 (FIFA Ranking: 19)

The outlook: Similarly to Uruguay, Chile have been known for their tenacity and being difficult to play against. Manager Martín Lasarte has his side set up in a well-drilled 4-3-3, with a midfield pivot that covers a lot of ground and Alexis Sánchez tasked with the bulk of creation.

Chile come into this tournament in patchy form, winning just one of their last four World Cup qualifiers. With the generous group set up, they should advance with relative ease, but a deep run seems optimistic.

Key players: Forward Alexis Sánchez (Inter Milan), goalkeeper Claudio Bravo (Real Betis), midfielder César Pinares (Gremio), midfielder Tomás Alarcón (O’Higgins), midfielder Arturo Vidal (Inter Milan)

Predicted XI (4-3-3): Bravo; Isla, Medel, Maripán, Mena; Vidal, Pinares, Alarcón; Menses, Vargas, Sánchez

Predicted group finish: 3rd

Odds to win: +1200

Paraguay 🇵🇾 (FIFA Ranking: 35)

The outlook: This Paraguay team is built on defending. Manager Eduardo Berizzo, former assistant to Marcelo Bielsa, has made the backline his focal point. Which is a concern, given that they’ve conceded two goals in three of their last six World Cup qualifiers. Expectations are rather low for this side, but advancing from the group stage and putting in a convincing performance in a knockout round match is a the mark to beat.

Key players: Midfielder Miguel Almirón (Newcastle United), midfielder Gastón Giménez (Chicago Fire), defender Fabian Balbuena (West Ham United), forward Ángel Romero (San Lorrenzo)

Predicted XI (4-3-3): Silva; Rojas, Balbuena, Gómez, Alonso; Villasanti, Giménez, Sánchez; Ó. Romero, Á. Romero, Almirón

Predicted group finish: 4th

Odds to win: +4000

Bolivia 🇧🇴 (FIFA Ranking: 81)

The outlook: Bolivia are the weakest team in the tournament in the FIFA rankings, and probably on the field as well. They failed to win a match in the 2016 and 2019 editions, and getting a result in any of their group matches would be a relative success. 21 of their 27 players come from their domestic league, and they realistically lack the top-end talent to compete.

Key players: Defender Luis Haguin (Melipilla), defender Adrían Jusino (AEL), midfielder Erwin Sánchez (Blooming), forward Marcelo Moreno (Cruzeiro)

Predicted XI (4-4-2): Lampe; Ribera, Haquin, Jusino, Sagredo; Vaca, Justiniano, Saavedra, Sánchez; Alvarez, Moreno

Predicted group finish: 5th

Odds to win: +12500

Group B

Brazil 🇧🇷 (FIFA Ranking: 3)

The outlook: Brazil have won this competition nine times before, and anything other than victory on home soil is unacceptable in their eyes. They come into the tournament in great form, too; their last defeat was back in November 2019, falling to Argentina in a friendly.

Manager Tite has this side firing on all cylinders, but the drama surrounding the tournament has been a distraction. Several players, including Neymar, have publicly wondered whether the tournament should proceed, and for a while it seemed like most of their European-based contingent could boycott the tournament. Ultimately they agreed to play, and this full-strength squad is one of the most talented in the world. It’s seemingly their tournament to lose.

Key players: Forward Neymard (PSG), forward Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City), midfielder Casemiro (Real Madrid), midfielder Fabinho (Liverpool), defender Marquinhos (PSG), goalkeeper Allison (Liverpool)

Predicted XI (4-3-3): Allison; Danilo, Marquinhos, Thiago Silva, Renan Lodi; Douglas Luiz, Casemiro, Fred; Everton S., Roberto Firmino, Neymar

Predicted group finish: 1st

Odds to win: +110

Colombia 🇨🇴 (FIFA Ranking: 15)

The outlook: Supposed to host the tournament until two weeks ago, Colombia now have the difficult task of challenging Brazil on their home turf. They haven’t won a major trophy since 2001, and lost to Chile in the 2019 quarterfinals. They’re also without star man James Rodríguez, who was controversially deemed not fit enough to play by manager Reinaldo Rueda.

Key players: Defender Yerry Mina (Everton), defender Davinson Sánchez (Tottenham), midfielder Mateus Uribe (Porto), midfielder Juan Cuadrado (Juventus), forward Duván Zapata (Atalana)

Predicted XI (4-3-3): Ospina; Medina, Mina, Sánchez, Tesillo; Uribe, Cuéllar, Cardona; Cuadrado, Zapata, Díaz

Predicted group finish: 2nd

Odds to win: +600

Peru 🇵🇪 (FIFA Ranking: 27)

The outlook: Runners up in the last edition, Peru come into the tournament dead last in qualifying. Manager Ricardo Gareca has moved away from many veterans and gone with a younger, unproven squad. While a gamble, it’s one that could pay off; Gareca has had an exceptional record in tournament play. With a mostly domestic and unproven roster, Peru will be hoping the sum is greater than the whole of the parts.

Key players: Midfielder Yoshi Yontún (Cruz Azul), goalkeeper Pedro Gallese (Orlando City), midfielder Renato Tapia (Celta Vigo), defender Christian Ramos (Universidad César Vallejo), forward Gianluca Lapadula (Benvento)

Predicted XI (4-3-3): Gallese; Corzo, Ramos, Abram, López; Tapia, Peña, Yotún; Carillo, Lapadula, Cueva

Predicted group finish: 3rd

Odds to win: +3300

Ecuador 🇪🇨 (FIFA Ranking: 53)

The outlook: Ecuador come into the Copa América surprisingly in third place in World Cup qualifying, and have found themselves in a solid run of form. They’ve won four of their last six matches, including a 6-1 win over Colombia back in November. While they don’t have nearly as many players at the top levels in Europe as some of their Conmebol counterparts, manager Gustavo Alfaro has assembled a solid squad that many have picked as a potential dark horse candidate.

Key players: Defender Xavier Arreaga (Seattle Sounders), midfielder Moisés Caicedo (Brighton & Hove Albion), midfielder Ángel Mena (Léon), forward Énner Valencia (Fenerbahçe), defender Pervis Estupiñán (Villareal)

Predicted XI (4-4-2): Domínguez; Á. Preciado, Arboleda, Arreaga, Estupiñán; Mena, Méndez, M. Caicedo, A. Preciado; J. Caicedo, Valencia

Predicted group finish: 4th

Odds to win: +3300

Venezuela 🇻🇪 (FIFA Ranking: 30)

The outlook: Venezuela are a tricky side to predict. While they do have some intriguing talent, they’ve been relatively disappointing under manager José Peseiro. After six World Cup qualifiers, they’re in ninth place with just one win. On top of that, they’re dealing with a reported Covid outbreak, including five players testing positive.

Venezuela have relied heavily on MLS, much more so than any other side in the competition. They’ve called up seven players from the United States and Canada, including Nashville SC’s Jhonder Cádiz. They’re coming off a 0-0 draw with Uruguay in their last qualifier, which at this point counts as a positive result for them. While qualifying should be the minimum expectation for their Copa campaign, it’s not a sure thing by any means.

Key players: Forward Josef Martínez (Atlanta United), goalkeeper Wuilker Faríñez (Lens), midfielder Yangel Herrera (Granada), midfielder Jefferson Savarino (Corinthians), defender Jhon Chancellor (Brescia)

Predicted XI (4-3-3): Faríñez; Gonzalez, Ferraresi, Chancellor, Rosales; Moreno, Herrera, Cásseres Jr; Savarino, Martínez, Soteldo

Predicted group finish: 5th

Odds to win: +4000

Matches to watch

Brazil vs Venezuela – Sunday, June 13 – 4:00 PM central – FOX/Univision/TUDN
Opening matches are generally fun. Venezuela will be desperate not to get stomped. Brazil will want to start their campaign off on a positive start on their home turf.

Argentina vs Chile – Monday, June 14 – 4:00 PM central – FS1/Univision/TUDN
Argentina have plenty of elite players, and Chile have excelled at shutting down elite players for the last several years. Can Argentina break them down?

Brazil vs Peru – Thursday, June 17 – 7:00 PM central – FS1/UniMás/TUDN
A rematch of the 2019 final features an improved Brazil side against a transitioning Peru.

Uruguay vs Chile – Monday, June 21 – 4:00 PM central – FS1/UniMás/TUDN
The two grittiest teams in CONMEBOL go head to head, but both have the quality in the final third to make this an interesting match.

Venezuela vs Peru – Sunday, June 27 – 7:00 PM central – FS2/Galavisión
These two hold up the bottom of CONMEBOL qualifying, and this match will likely determine who advances and who goes home.

Pod picks

Ben Wright

Semifinalists: Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, Brazil
Dark horse: Peru
Winner: Brazil
Golden Boot: Edison Cavani

Lucas Panzica

Semifinalists: Brazil, Ecuador, Argentina, Uruguay
Dark horse: Ecuador
Winner: Brazil
Golden Boot: Neymar

Andy Simmons

Semifinalists: Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Chile
Dark horse: Venezuela
Winner: Brazil
Golden Boot: Gabriel Jesus

Chris Ivey

Semifinalists: Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, Brazil
Dark horse: Ecuador
Winner: Brazil
Golden Boot: Neymar

Bracket challenge

Join our FotMob predictor challenge via this link, or use the code “ESHRCTF” in the app.

How to watch

All 28 matches will be shown on either FOX, FS1 or FS2. Spanish language broadcasts can be found on Univision and TUDN.

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