For the first time since 2004, football fans around the world will be spoiled for choice during the month of June with arguably the two biggest and most popular continental competitions running side-by-side. While we’ve still got another week until Euro 2016 kicks off, the Copa América Centenario is already underway. As the name suggests, it’s a landmark tournament and something of a standalone competition given that the latest edition was just last year. Much more than that, however, is the fact that the European Championships won’t be the only tournament this summer with fundamental changes to their format.
Indeed, this special edition of the Copa América is being held in accordance with both CONMEBOL, the South American football confederation responsible for the main tournament, and CONCACAF, the federation overseeing North and Central America as well as the Caribbean. This change is underlined by the fact that there will be 16 teams, as opposed to the usual 12, with 10 from the former and 6 from the latter. Fundamentally, however, this is a celebration of a footballing culture spanning 100 years, still as vibrant and distinctive as ever.
And this landmark occasion is also breaking new ground in terms of the location, as for the first time ever the Copa América leaves its South Américan continental roots and head beyond the New Mexico border. Ten stadiums will be used across the United States, a country with an exceptional soccer infrastructure evidenced by the fact that each venue has a capacity of at least 60,000. Football fans residing in the more central states such as Colorado, Nebraska or Kansas may feel rather hard done by as the chosen grounds hug the east and west coasts as well as the north and south borders, with the state of California boasting two of the ten. There should, however, be a vast range of local experiences to soak in for those lucky enough to be in attendance and with this just the second major international tournament held in the country, it will be interesting to see how much the appetite has changed since World Cup ‘94.
As a matter of fact, it will be a fantastic opportunity for football fans in the USA to see a raft of exceptionally talented players while they’re still in their prime, having been starved of such a luxury by the MLS. The aforementioned 10 CONMEBOL teams include the likes of 2015 Copa América winners Chile, defeated 2015 finalists and World Cup runners-up Argentina and five-time world champions Brazil. Amongst the CONCACAF teams are, of course, hosts USA as well as Mexico and the Centenario play-off winners Haiti and Panama. Luckily enough for the spectators, most of the teams are not treating this as the novelty competition it could be perceived to be. Argentina have included Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero, Chile have Alexis Sánchez and Arturo Vidal in their ranks and Uruguay have Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani at their disposal.
Curiously, however, Brazil have not followed this trend. First and foremost, Neymar will play no part in the tournament, nor will Paris Saint-Germain duo Thiago Silva and David Luiz. In fact of their 23-man squad, only two have more than 40 international caps, with another 15 having played fewer than ten times for their country. The suspicion is that this purposeful exclusion of quality is to preserve the fitness of their major stars as in order for them to perform at the Rio Olympics later in the summer, however to get to the point of non-inclusion appears mightily disrespectful to this special competition.