Copa America Group A by DamirJ
The tournament will be 45th edition of Copa America since it's inception in 1916. This time, it will be held as part of an agreement between CONMEBOL and CONCACAF as a special edition between the usual four-year cycle and will feature an expanded field of sixteen teams, with all ten teams from CONMEBOL and six teams from CONCACAF. In the first group, also known as the "death group" USA, Colombia, Costa Rica and Paraguay will be playing.
This will be fourth participation for USA in the Copa America and this edition will be more special than ever for them, since the nation is hosting the tournament and it will be the first time to be held outside of South America. USA didn't have much success for now in this tournament, reaching semi-finals in 1995 when they finished fourth in the end.
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa, ENG), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids, USA), Ethan Horvath (Molde, NOR)
Defenders: Matt Besler (Kansas City, USA), Steve Birnbaum (DC United, USA), John Brooks (Hertha, GER), Geoff Cameron (Stoke, ENG), Edgar Castillo (Monterrey, MEX), Fabian Johnson (Gladbach, GER ), Michael Orozco (Tijuana, MEX), DeAndre Yedlin (Sunderland, ENG)
Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake, USA), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes, FRA), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC, USA), Jermaine Jones (Colorado Rapids, USA), Perry Kitchen (Hearts, SCO), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers, USA), Graham Zusi (Kansas City, USA), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund, GER)
Forwards: Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes, USA), Bobby Wood (Hamburg, GER), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders, USA), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy, USA).
Important defender Timothy Chandler from Eintracht Frankfurt was a last minute cut after he suffered an injury and got replaced by Edgar Castillo. Quite a blow show also be absenteism of forward Jozy Altidore (Toronto) also missing due injury. Existing roster is a blend of young and experienced players with forward Clint Dempsey being their most influental player.
Worth mentioning is also young forward Christian Pulisic (seventeen years old player from Dortmund) who recently became the youngest scorer for USA in a 4:0 victory over Bolivia. Offensive will also be boosted with a good form of Bobby Wood in Germany, while sure goalkeeper seems to be Brad Guzan from Aston Villa. It's not sure which players manager Klinsmann will prefer in the defensive lineup, but John Brooks (Hertha) and Geoff Cameron (Stoke) look like sure part of it. Interesting, non of their defensive players exceed 30 years.
Most likely, they should be playing in 4-3-3 formation with Jermaine Jones as experienced part of the midfield, while Alejandro Bedoya should get quite a creative and free role, with Michael Bradley being sure as a team captain as well. Attack should be one of their strongest points, with the players coming from good seasons, while Wood and Zardes looked good during preparation period.
Manager Jurgen Klinsmann:
US national team become much more competitive in last five years since the German took them over. He is constantly lowering the average age of the national team, as they no longer base their performances only on players such as goalkeeper Howard (37), midfielders Beckerman (34), Jones (34), forwards Dempsey (33) and Wondolowski (33). German coach implemented 4-3-3 in recent friendly matches as he raised the bar by saying that he wants to see the USA national team reaching the semi-finals of the tournament at least.
The team will hardly have an easy pass to the knockout stage, but in case they manage to obtain that ticket, will be awaited probably by Brazil and Ecuador, since other two teams in Group B are Peru and Haiti. They looked impressive in the last rehearsal game against Bolivia 4:0, but also did well in previous two friendlies, winning over Ecuador 1:0 and Puerto Rico 3:1.
I can't agree with the fact that USA is selected as fourth favorite to win the CUp, right after Brazil, Argentina and Chile. Even more weird are odds of close to break-even for the team to reach the semi-finals, knowing that they will be intersecting with the group where Brazil plays. Odds of around 1.40 for USA to qualify to knockout-stage and around 2.35 to win the Group seem also simply too low. If there's any value, that would be a bet for USA team to be excluded during quarter-finals, since they should be playing either against Brazil, either Ecuador at odds of around 2.75.
You need to look back to 2001, when the national team of Colombia won the only Copa America competition, as a host. This will be 21st time for them to participate, being a finalist once back in 1976, also taking the third position on three occasions, back in 1987, 1993 and 1995. Last two participation they have ended being eliminated in quarter-finals.
Goalkeepers: Cristian Bonilla (Atlético Nacional, COL), David Ospina (Arsenal, ENG), Róbinson Zapata (Santa Fe, COL)
Defenders: Felipe Aguilar (Atlético Nacional, COL), Santiago Arias (PSV, NED), Farid Díaz (Atlético Nacional, COL), Frank Fabra (Boca Juniors, ARG), Stefan Medina (Pachuca, MEX), Jeison Murillo (Inter Milan , ITA), Oscar Murillo (Pachuca, MEX), Cristián Zapata (AC Milan, ITA)
Midfielders: Edwin Cardona (Monterrey, MEX), Guillermo Celis (Junior, COL), Juan Cuadrado (Juventus, ITA), Sebastián Pérez (Atlético Nacional, COL), Andrés Felipe Roa (Deportivo Cali, COL), James Rodríguez (Real Madrid , ESP), Carlos Sánchez (Aston Villa, ENG), Daniel Torres (Independiente Medellín, COL)
Forwards: Carlos Bacca (AC Milan, ITA), Roger Martínez (Racing Club, ARG), Marlos Moreno (Atlético Nacional, COL), Dayro Moreno (Club Tijuana, MEX).
Their national team will have many absent players in comparison to the World Cup in Brazil where they ended up fourth. Missing players for this competition are alikes of Radamel Falcao, Adrian Ramos, Teofilo Gutierrez, Jackson Martinez or Juan Fernando Quintero. In case they were all playing, there is no doubt that hte team would have number of players being able to give them enough quality to qualify from the group.
This time David Ospina seems to be more than safe between the posts, while central defenders should be Murillo (Inter) and Zapata (Milan), together with Arias (PSV) and Diaz (Atletico Nacional) on the flanks. Formation should be 4-2-3-1, with James Rodriguez set as their creator, with Cuadrado as a right midfielder trying to take advantage in speed. Third player to play behind the striker should be Edwin Carbona from Monterrey, coming from a great season (36 matches, 18 goals).
Carlos Sanchez is sure as defensive midfielder and should be playing together with either Sebastian Perez, either Daniel Torres. Carlos Bacca seems to be more than sure at the top of attack, since he scored eighteen goals in 38 matches for Milan in his first season for the Italian side. Dayro Moreno should be his first replacement after the player did well for Mexican Tijuana scoring twenty goals in 34 matches.
Manager Jose Pekerman:
Is leading the national team of Colombia since 2012 and probably his greatest achievement was the fourth position at the World Cup in Brazil two years later. His favorite formation is 4-2-3-1 which offers defensive security that is surely his first concern in every game. This time, he will have to give a chance to a bit younger squad after their good seasons in clubs, since many important and world known players are missing.
Many important players are missing, however Colombian side still have good ones in their roster and the team remains a powerful and respectable one, and it's not impossible for them to go long way in the tournament. However, their group is very strong one this time and certainly their main target is finishing inside the top two.
Their tournament opener against USA will probably determine a lot. However, neither next two opponents are easy, since Paraguay and Costa Rica need to be taken completely seriously, without a team who is a "boxing bag" in this group. Odds of around 2.40 for Colombia to win the first place in the group seem a bit more generous, while Carlos Bacca to be their first goalscorer at odds of around 2.50 seem to be generous too, since the player of Milan will be their target man during the tournament.
Paraguay won the Copa America competition twice in their history, back in 1953 and 1979 and is the fourth most successful team, together with Peru. They were also finalists six times, most recently back in 2011 when the team lost to Uruguay. They also did well in the most recent tournament, when the team reached semi-finals but got ouplayed by Argentina 6:1, later on losing in the small finals against Peru.
Goalkeepers: Diego Barreto (Olimpia, PAR), Antony Silva (Cerro Porteño, PAR), Justo Villar (Colo-Colo, CHI)
Defenders: Ivan Piris (Udinese, ITA), Fabian Balbuena (Corinthians, BRA), Paulo Da Silva (Toluca, MEX), Gustavo Gomez (Lanus, ARG), Miguel Samudio (Club America, MEX), Bruno Valdez (Cerro Porteno, PAR)
Midfielders: Victor Ayala (Lanus ARG), Celso Ortiz (AZ Alkmaar, NED), Robert Piris (Olimpia, PAR), Blas Riveros (Olimpia, PAR), Rodrigo Rojas (Cerro Porteno, PAR), Oscar Romero (Rácing Club, ARG )
Forwards: Miguel Almiron (Lanus, ARG), Edgar Benitez (Queretaro, MEX), Jorge Benitez (Cruz Azul, MEX), Derlis Gonzalez (Dynamo Kiev, UKR), Juan Iturbe (Bournemouth, ENG), Darío Lezcano (Ingolstadt, GER ), Antonio Sanabria (Sporting Gijon, ESP), Nelson Valdez (Seattle Sounders, USA).
They had two last-minute changes in the squad due injuries. Important midfielder Nestor Ortigoza (from San Lorenzo) and defender Pablo Aguilar (America) were written off in favor of Ivan Piris from Udinese and Victor Ayala from Lanus. Other notable absentees should be missing of offensive players such as Roque Santa Cruz, Lucas Barrios and Raul Bobadilla, as well as missing of midfielders Hernan Perez and Victor Caceres not being invited for different reasons.
The team however has three very skilfull and experienced goalkeepers, Justo Villar (38, Colo-Colo), Antony Silva (32, Cerro Porteno) and Diego Barreto (34, Olimpia), with Villar being favorite to defend the goal.
Paulo da Silva (36, Toluca) remains their captain and central defender, with Miguel Samudio being left back and the other side taking by Bruno Valdez from America. The team should be playing in 4-4-2 formation with defensive midfielders being eitehr Ivan Piris, either Oscar Romero.
Derlis Gonzalez (from Dynamo Kiev) could be their offensive midfielder and creator, with the team having plenty of quality in offensive lineup, with Jorge Benitez (Cruz Azul), Juan Iturbe (Bournemouth), Nelson Valdez (Seattle) or Antonio Sanabria (Gijon), while striker Dario Lezcano also made a big step this season signing for Ingolstadt and he could be leading the attack in some of the matches.
Manager Ramon Diaz:
Argentinian made his name with teh Rival Plate, as he sat there was eight years and managed to take one Copa Libertadord and 6 Argentinian titles during his spell. He is now trying to freshen up a bit Paraguayan national team, adding almost always some new and younger players to his list. Last year he led Paraguay to fourth position, while the team has a good presence in South American qualifiers for World Cup, having 2-3-1 record for now, being not defeated against Brazil and also taking positive results against Argentina and Ecuador.
Paraguay has never been elite in South America, but are always very stable side in the continent. Since arrival of Ramon Diaz, the team is showing constant up rise in attack especially. Unfortunately for them, they are drawn in the most difficult group so they will really need to make impressive performances in order to secure the knock-out stage. The team is set as the biggest underdog in the group, even behind Costa Ricans and I can't agree with such odds. They weren't expected to reach the knockout stage previous year as well, when the team played against Argentina and Uruguay, but still managed to reach the semifinals even excluding Brazil on penalties in quarter-finals.
National team of Costa Rica played in 1997 for the first time in Copa America and the team managed to reach the knock-out stage two times - back in 2001 and 2004. 4-2-8 is their overall record in Copa America in the matches they played. They are playing here thanks to the fact that the national team won Copa Centroamericana back in 2014.
Goalkeepers: Leonel Moreira (Herediano, CRC) Keylor Navas (Real Madrid, ESP), Patrick Pemberton (Alajuelense, CRC)
Defenders: Johnny Acosta (Alajuelense, CRC), Francisco Calvo (Saprissa, CRC), Oscar Duarte (Espanyol, ESP), Cristian Gamboa (West Bromwich Albion, ENG), Ronald Matarrita (New York City FC, USA), Bryan Oviedo (Everton, ENG), Jose Salvatierra (Alajuelense, CRC), Michael Umana (Persepolis, IRN), Kendall Waston (Vancouver Whitecaps, CAN)
Midfielders: Randall Azofeifa (Herediano, CRC), Christian Bolanos (Vancouver Whitecaps FC, CAN), Joel Campbell (Arsenal, ENG), Celso Borges (Deportivo La Coruna, ESP), Esteban Granados (Herediano, CRC), Bryan Ruiz (Sporting Lisbon, POR), Yeltsin Tejeda (Evian Thonon Gaillard, FRA), Johan Venegas (Montreal Impact, CAN)
Forwards: Ariel Rodriguez (Bangkok Glass, THA), Alvaro Saborio (D.C. United, USA), Marco Urena (Midtjylland, DEN).
It's not a usual situation when the biggest star of the team is goalkeeper. This is a case with Costa Rica, since Keylor Navas is considered to be one of the top goalkeepers in the World. He is coming from the best season in his career since he looked irreplaceable in Real Madrid which recently took the Champions League title. Remarkable statistic is that he managed to keep a clean sheet in 10/13 matches in Champions League.
Next player to look after, is surely Bryan Ruiz as the striker of Sporting Lisbon has great influence on the team's play and he isn't coming from a that poor season either (24 matches, 8 goals). Alvaro Saborio from DC United and Marco Urena from Midtjylland are also looking like in a real fine shape.
Quite sure in a midfield section should be Joel Campbell who got opportunity in Arsenal this season, while Christian Bolanos also seems sure to start, now playing in Vancouver, still being one of the most hardworking players. Celso Borges should also be sure, being also one of the hardworking players. Defensive lineup should consist of players playing abroad, Gamboa (West Brom), Oviedo (Everton) and Duarte (Espanyol).
Manager Oscar Ramirez:
Their national team manager worked only as a coach inside their own country, most recently in Alajuelense before he accepted the call from the federation in 2015. He is known for a bit more defensive approach to the game, preferring almost usually 5-4-1 formation which seems to be working for them, since the team didn't concede more than one goal in eleven matches he led the team. They are also doing well in preliminary group for World Cup qualifiers, as the team stands first with 3-1-0 record in a group with Panama, Haiti and Jamaica.
National team of Costa Rica got widely known for their progress made at the World Cup in Brazil in 2014. They were excluded by Netherlands on penalty kicks in quarter finals, winning over Greece in previous round in the same manner. In a group together with England, Italy and Uruguay, they managed to finish at the top. One way or another, they are not counted as underdogs anymore and it's a fact that they can't benefit from. Maybe one of the choices could be the bet for Costa Ricans to finish fourth at the table with odds around 2.10.