With just a few days to go until the 2015 Copa America kicks off in Chile, we will be looking at all three groups as 12 teams do battle on the west coast of South America to be crowned Champions of CONMEBOL.
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Will defending champs Uruguay defend their trophy, or can Argentina, Brazil or Colombia wrestle the crown away from Luis Suarez and Co.?
Next up, here’s a look at Group C, where the nation of Brazil looks to put back together the pieces of a broken national team when they face off against Colombia, Peru and Venezuela.
Remember the last two times the entire world watched the Selecao walk off the field? They’d just been beaten 7-1 (7-1) and 3-0 by Germany and the Netherlands, respectively, in back to back games. Not only was the national team embarrassed, but so was the nation itself. Fast forward 11 months, and Luiz Felipe Scolari is no longer in charge, as Dunga is back for his second stint as national team boss. The manager is different this summer, just as the players are, for the most part. Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho is set to make his major tournament debut, while fellow youngsters Felipe Anderson (22, Lazio), Roberto Firmino (23, Hoffenheim), Fred (22, Shakhtar Donetsk), Casemiro (23, Porto) and Douglas Costa (24, Shakhtar Donetsk) have been brought in to replace the likes of Oscar, Ramires, Paulinho and Luiz Gustavo.
Best Copa America finish: Champions – 1919, 1922, 1949, 1989, 1997, 1999, 2004, 2007
Star man: Neymar — The 23-year-old has been named Brazil captain for the summer, and it’s in no way a surprise as he’s simultaneously the side’s most reliable player (43 goals in 62 caps at the age of 23) and ever-present mainstay (of Robinho’s 96 caps, 16 have been won since the 2010 World Cup). If you thought the pressure was on Neymar last summer, just wait until you see the team he’ll be expected to carry this time around.
No side won over more neutral fans during last summer’s World Cup than did Colombia. Was it the immediately recognizable yellow jerseys? The free-flowing, attacking soccer? The outrageous fan support? The wondergoals and breakout nature of James Rodriguez’s tournament? In truth, it was probably all of the above. This summer, Los Cafeteros head into major international competition not as a dark horse, but as something of a favorite to win Copa America. With much of the same squad as last year, Colombia should once again be one of the most entertaining teams to watch, with two notable additions up front: Radamel Falcao and Carlos Bacca. Falcao’s struggles while on loan at Manchester United were well-documented, but Bacca bagged 28 goals for Sevilla en route to a fifth-place finish and a second Europa League title in a row.
Best Copa America finish: Champions – 2001
Manager: Jose Pekerman
Star man: James Rodriguez — Like Neymar, Rodriguez is still only 23. Only this time around, it won’t be his first crack at a major tournament. Throw in the last year spent competing for a place day in and day out at Real Madrid, and Rodriguez might yet top last summer’s stunning performances, if we’re all lucky. After finishing third in 2011, it’ll be tough for Peru to improve upon their most recent Copa America outing, and being drawn into a group with Colombia and Brazil never does anyone any favors, but it’d be a pretty big shock if La Blanquirroja didn’t qualify for the knockout stage.
One of the most veteran-laden sides of this year’s non-favorites, with Juan Manuel Vargas, Jefferson Farfan, Claudio Pizarro, Carlos Zambrano, Luis Advincula, Christian Ramos and Yoshimar Youtin all possessing either Copa America or World Cup qualifying experience. Being drawn into a group with Brazil and Colombia never does anyone any favors, but this is a Peru team with plenty of talent and know-how in major tournaments to get out of the group stage. Improving upon their third-place finish in 2011, though? That’ll be a tough ask.
Best Copa America finish: Champions – 1939, 1975
Manager: Ricardo Gareca
Star man: Paolo Guerrero — If Peru are to upset the Group C apple cart, it’ll almost certainly be thanks to the goalscoring of Guerrero. The 31-year-old is enjoying the most fruitful patch of his club career these days, at Corinthians, and pushing the likes of Farfan and Pizarro out of the side.
The pace at which the Venezuelan national team has improved and closed the gap between themselves and the continent’s middling sides is pretty remarkable. 11 of the 23 players on Venezuela’s Copa America roster currently play their club soccer in Europe, which is two more than their competition for a third-place finish, Peru. The two sides faced one another in a friendly back in March, with La Vinotinto prevailing 1-0 victors. Home-and-away victories over Honduras in February (3-2 and 2-1) see Venezuela enter the 2015 Copa America with lots of confidence and good form with which to back it up.
Best Copa America finish: 4th place – 2011
Manager: Noel Sanvicente
Star man: Salomon Rondon — The 25-year-old bagged 20 goals in his first full season at Zenit St. Petersburg, so he comes into this summer’s tournament full of confidence and the taste for goal fresh in his mind.
June 14: Colombia vs. Venezuela – Estadio El Teniente, Rancagua
June 14: Brazil vs. Peru – Estadio Municipal German Becker, Temuco
June 17: Brazil vs. Colombia – Estadio Monumental David Arellano, Santiago
June 18: Peru vs. Venezuela – Estadio Elias Figueroa, Valparaiso
June 21: Colombia vs. Peru – Estadio Municipal German Becker, Temuco
June 21: Brazil vs. Venezuela – Estadio Monumental David Arellano, Santiago
1st – Colombia
2nd – Brazil
3rd – Peru
4th – Venezuela