With the 46th edition of South America’s premiere confederation tournament kicking off in Brazil this week, we take a look at the prospects of those taking part, starting with Group A.
Manager: Eduardo Villegas
Captain: Juan Arce
Key player: Marcelo Martins
One to watch: Erwin Saavedra
It is hard to feel optimistic for Bolivia heading in to this years Copa América.
Historically one of the smallest CONMEBOL nations, they have only ever qualified for the FIFA World cup three times, never advancing past the group stage, and have only won this competition once in their history, the 1963 edition, which they hosted.
The number of quality players available to head coach Eduardo Villegas is limited, and their only hope of advancing beyond Group A here is an abysmal tournament from the fellow nations, which seems extremely unlikely.
Villegas prefers a flat 4-4-2 formation, where the obvious aim will be to keep games against the big sides scoreless for as long as possible and hope that centre-forward Marcelo Martins, who has 17 goals in 73 internationals, and exciting young winger Erwin Saavedra can propel them beyond the group.
However, they have only won one of their last nine games, losing four, and expect them to be trounced by an excellent Brazil and Peru and be soundly beaten by a strong Venezuela side, as they get sent home from the tournament in the first round.
Manager: Adenor Leonardo ‘Tite’ Bacchi
Captain: Dani Alves
Key player: Philippe Coutinho
One to watch: Richarlison
Many people’s favourite to win the tournament, Brazil’s preparation for the tournament they are hosting was going perfectly, until their best player picked up a nasty ankle injury that has ultimately ruled him out of competing, and now head coach Tite has a big decision to make.
Initial reports had him lining up in a 4-3-3 with Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Richarlison leading the line and Philippe Coutinho playing deeper.
Now, he must decide whether to play Richarlison on the left to introduce Willian on the right, or push Coutinho up higher to play as a winger, a position he is not comfortable in, as evident with his hit and miss season with Barcelona.
Further back, Brazil are spoiled for choice in goal with Ederson and Alisson between the sticks, but their choice of defenders does not fill one with encouragement.
Tite has stuck with his trusted pair of the slow and ageing combination of Thiago Silva and Miranda, while either Filipe Luís or Alex Sandro will start at left-back, who are 33 and 28 respectively.
This will limit the playing time of Marquinhos, who is entering the prime of his career, and the highly promising Éder Militão, who is on his way to Real Madrid on July 1st.
However, what is most baffling is the awarding of the captain’s armband to Dani Alves, who is 36 years-old.
This means that ¾ of Brazil’s back four will likely be over 33 years of age, with all four members if Filipe Luís starts.
In midfield, the inclusion of younger faces such as Barcelona’s Arthur Melo and AC Milan’s Lucas Paquetá is encouraging, but only if they are given minutes.
This seems unlikely for Arthur, following the knee injury he picked up in Brazil’s 7-0 thrashing of Honduras on Sunday night.
As they are hosting the tournament, Brazil are rightly favourites, but you still find this squad to be massively overrated, and do not think they are that much better than the other South American heavyweights.
I am not sure that the nation has recovered from the 7-1 drubbing at the hands of Germany, and after their poor showings at the 2015 and 2016 editions of this tournament, in particular the latter where they failed to progress past the group, I would not be surprised to see them struggle heavily in the latter stages of the tournament.
Manager: Ricardo Gareca
Captain: Paolo Guerrero
Key player: Paolo Guerrero
One to watch: Christian Cueva
Although not one of the most recognisable or prestigious of the CONMEBOL nations, this Peruvian side is definitely exciting and bring their own attributes and abilities to Brazil, and on their day, they can challenge the very best nations on the continent.
Many expected Gareca to step down from the role following the 2018 FIFA World Cup, but he has stayed on, and comes in to the tournament with the same core group of players and in relatively decent form, having won two of the last three games.
In this Peruvian setup, Paolo Guerrero is undoubtedly their most important player.
He has scored 35 goals in 90 internationals as the nation’s top goalscorer, and if they are to qualify from the group automatically, his exploits in front of goal will be extremely important.
However, despite what some would have you believe, this Peruvian team is not a one man army.
Gareca has been building a long-term project since he took over, and he is reaping the rewards now.
In between the sticks stands the reliable Pedro Gallese, while in front of him the centre-half partnership of Miguel Araujo and Luis Abram form a formidable obstacle towards goal.
Also, further up the pitch, the trio of André Carrillo, Christian Cueva and Edison Flores playing behind the fearsome Guerrero provide the side with pace and dynamic attacking flair.
While not one of South America’s most successful or notorious teams, this exciting Peruvian side is flying under the radar.
They will beat Bolivia and should just edge out Venezuela, leaving the game opposite Brazil effectively meaningless, as they should have already confirmed their progression to the quarter-finals.
Manager: Rafael Dudamel
Captain: Tomás Rincón
Key player: Salomón Rondón
One to watch: Jhon Murillo
While Brazil and Peru have much stronger teams on paper and will likely contest first and second spot in the group, there is hope for Venezuela.
The fact that two of the third-placed teams in the groups advance to the quarter-finals should fill them with encouragement heading to Brazil.
The two best third-placed teams from the three groups advance to the knockouts, which means that Venezuela can lose to Brazil and Peru, but providing they put enough goals past this weak Bolivia side, they will progress through the group providing results in Groups B and C go their way.
While the Venezuelans do not have the most recognisable of teams, there are a few names that catch the eye, and they also come in to the tournament with perhaps the best form in their group, winning two and drawing one of their last four games, including impressive wins over Lionel Messi’s Argentina and the United States of America.
With Newcastle United’s Salomón Rondón leading the line, and the likes of Jhon Murillo and Jefferson Savarino behind him, this side under the tutelage of former player Rafael Dudamel has proven that they do have goals in them.
The only question is can they hold the score lines against Brazil and Peru low enough to ensure that they make it out at one of the best third-placed teams?
Or could they take it to the opposition like they did in 2016 under this coach, where they were finally eliminated by Argentina in the quarter-finals?
Although the latter does seem unlikely, this Venezuelan team has sprung surprises before, and this group is shaping up to be incredibly competitive between three top nations.