In June 2016 Chile defeated Colombia 2-0 in Chicago’s Soldier Field to advance to the final of the Copa America Centenario. The game, which was stopped for over two hours due to a severe storm, was settled with goals by Fuenzalida and Aranguiz. Mike O’Neill was there to watch the action.
It was supposed to be the tournament in which Argentina finally ended their 23-year drought for a major trophy, but instead it ended up with them losing a third final in three years, a defeat that was to have major repercussions. The victors, Chile, beat Argentina in a final for second time in as many years after a feisty 0-0 draw and penalty shoot-out. Lionel Messi missed his penalty and nearly sent Twitter into meltdown in the aftermath of the game, announcing his retirement from international football with immediate effect. There is more to this than meets the eye and I suspect it will all come out in the wash over the coming days. This story, however, shouldn’t detract from Chile’s deserved success, who we predicted before the tournament were joint favourites. Nor should the piss-up-in-a-brewery comments from COMNEBOL president Alejandro Dominguez who declared before the final that this was not a “real” Copa America despite previously stating that it was.
Like the World Cup and the European Championships, the modern Copa América runs roughly on a four-year cycle. The current South American champions are Chile who won the last tournament on home soil just, er, last year. Yes, last year. The 2015 competition saw the home team beat Argentina 4-1 on penalties and it was a deserved, if somewhat unexpected victory. So why is there another Copa only a year later? Well, 2016 marks a century since the first Copa, or South American Championship of Nations as it was then known (hosted by Argentina, won by Uruguay). And it’s being held in the United States. In ten different cities. And the U.S. is participating in it, along with Mexico. And so are teams from Central America and the Caribbean. One big happy tournament of the Americas. Money is playing a part as well. Ticket prices have been criticised for their, well, cost. Many journalists and commentators (and even national federations) don’t necessarily see this Copa as a ‘genuine’ one. But enough with the negativity, it is going to be good, I promise…
In June 2016 the USA will host the Copa Centenario, celebrating 100 years of the Copa America. Usually this tournament is contested by the ten footballing nations of South America. However, for this special anniversary edition, the teams from COMNEBOL will be joined by six teams from CONCACAF, the federation of North and Central America. This tournament has been mired in controversy and it wasn’t even guaranteed to go ahead until around a year ago. It has been seen as more of a marketing exercise than a sporting event, hence it taking place in the United States, a mere year after the last official Copa was held. Saying that, the strength of the squads named by the 16 managers would contradict this, and it is sure to be as keenly contested as any previous version of the competition. Brazil’s Neymar Jr., playing at the Rio Olympics instead, is the only major player to miss out.
Some of the most marketable players and national associations can now be found on the South American continent. Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and James Rodriguez need no introduction, and the Argentine and Brazilian national teams draw huge crowds at home and abroad, even for friendly matches. However, the beginnings were much more humble and owe a lot to the British. They also owe a lot to a particular Uruguayan: Isabelino Gradin.