Messi, Neymar headline Copa America

2015-06-09 11:02
Lionel Messi (Supplied)
Lionel Messi (Supplied)

Buenos Aires - Lionel Messi and Neymar will both seek to top off from Thursday, at the Copa America in Chile, a fantastic season in which they have won La Liga, the King's Cup and the Champions League with Barcelona.

This time, however, they will be rivals, as Messi attempts to lead Argentina past the disappointment of last year's lost World Cup final, and Neymar commands the new Brazil that emerged from the ashes of their 7-1 home humiliation by Germany in the World Cup semi-finals.

The third element of Barcelona's lethal attacking line, Luis Suarez, will need to deal with the consequences of Brazil 2014 on a different level: he will not be allowed to play the tournament at all for defending champions Uruguay, since he continues to serve an eight-match suspension for biting Italy's Giorgio Chiellini.

And yet there will clearly be no shortage of world-class players in Chile.

Carlos Tevez will be back in the Argentina squad for a major competition, after being ostracized from the team in the wake of the 2011 Copa America, not being called for the 2015 World Cup and only returning in recent months under new coach Gerardo Martino.

Tevez, who has had a great season and won the Serie A and the Italian Cup with Champions League runners-up Juventus, will compete for a place in the starting 11 with the likes of Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain.

"Most of the players have had a good season individually, and they improved their situation after the World Cup. In many cases they have been brilliant," Martino said. "This is a great time for the national team."

"We are going [to the Copa America] eager and with the best expectations," he admitted.

Brazil feature a renovated team under coach Dunga, but stars like Neymar and PSG's David Luiz, with the help of veteran playmaker Robinho among others, will strengthen the backbone of a side intent on leaving behind its recent World Cup nightmare.

"Even if we win the Copa America, that will not erase the World Cup we played, but we focus on doing better," Thiago Silva, Brazil's World Cup captain who missed the semi-final due to a suspension and is now a substitute with the national team, said in recent days.

Colombia, now led by the talented James Rodriguez but with Radamel Falcao back on the pitch though not in top form, and Arturo Vidal's Chile will in all probability add excitement to the 12-team regional tournament.

The Copa America is organized by Conmebol, one of the two confederations hardest hit by the recent corruption scandal that led FIFA president Joseph Blatter to announce his exit for the coming months.

The tournament that is set to start Thursday with the Chile-Ecuador match and end on July 4 in Santiago's National Stadium will feature Conmebol's 10 teams and two invited guests from further north, Jamaica and Mexico.

Group A will feature hosts Chile, Ecuador, Bolivia and Mexico, who will be fielding an alternative side because the tournament clashes with preparations for the North American Copa de Oro. Group B will hold Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Jamaica, and Group C will feature Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Venezuela.

The top two sides in each group and the two best third-placed teams will advance to the quarter-finals.

Uruguay have won 15 editions of the oldest national teams tournament in the world, played since 1916 at varying time intervals. Argentina have won 14 but have not won the tournament since 1993, while Brazil are on 8 after winning four of the last six editions.

Neither Brazilian Pele nor Argentine Diego Maradona - widely regarded as the best two players in world football history - ever won the Copa America, although they both played in the prestigious tournament.

Messi, a legend of the sport although he is only 27, has already played it twice without winning it. Argentinians have long complained that he is not as good with the national team as he is with Barcelona, and he will be getting the umpteenth chance to make amends.

While he shone in the group round of last year's World Cup, he was lacklustre in the decisive stages, and Argentina eventually lost the final to Germany. A year later, Messi will try to end in Chile Argentina's shortage of major titles at the national level, which has lasted for more than two decades.


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