Santiago : Argentina are favourites to end a 22-year trophy drought when the Copa America kicks off today as a resurgent Brazil chase redemption following their ill-fated campaign at last year’s World Cup.
One of the most eagerly anticipated Copas in years gets under way in Santiago, with hosts Chile launching the three-week extravaganza of South American football against Ecuador in Group A. The 12-team tournament is a convention of football’s deadliest attacking talents, with a galaxy of Europe-based stars including Lionel Messi, Neymar, James Rodriguez, Alexis Sanchez and Edinson Cavani set to shine. The competition also comes as a welcome relief to South America’s governing body CONMEBOL, which has been battered by corruption allegations in the ongoing scandal which has rocked world football.
Messi and Brazilian counterpart Neymar head to Chile less than a week after inspiring Barcelona to their Champions League triumph in Berlin on Saturday.
Both No.10s are carrying the weight of expectation on their shoulders, with Messi determined to finally taste glory at a major international tournament with Argentina and Neymar aiming to erase the memory of last year’s World Cup.
“Our aim is to win this year,” said Messi, who fell agonizingly short of ending Argentina’s jinx in an extra-time defeat to Germany in last year’s World Cup final.
“It’s great to play with the national team, to wear the shirt and to be captain,” Messi added. “But getting a title would be the ultimate for me.”
Argentina open their campaign against Paraguay on Saturday, and should comfortably progress from a Group B which also includes Uruguay and Jamaica.
The biggest threat to Argentina’s hopes of topping the group is likely to come from defending champions Uruguay. The holders will instead look to Paris Saint-Germain striker Cavani to provide the cutting edge in attack.
Brazil and Neymar meanwhile begin their campaign against Peru in Group C on Sunday.
Brazil’s biggest challenge of the first round comes three days later when they face Colombia on June 17, a rematch of the bruising World Cup quarters last year. That stormy encounter was notable for a series of rugged Brazilian challenges on Colombia star James, although Brazil’s 2-1 win came at a price, with Neymar suffering a broken vertebra that ended his World Cup. —PTI
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