The unprecedented Copa America 2021, played after the 2015, 2016, and 2019 vintages, because of the internal political reasonings of CONMEBOL, will finally take place in Brazil over the June 13 to July 10 time period this summer.
South America’s 10-nation regional competition is the oldest international football tournament on the planet—begun in 1916, this will be the 47th edition of Copa America. The competition has been won 15 times by Uruguay, 14 by Argentina, 10 by Brazil, 2 each by Paraguay, Chile, and Peru, and once each by Colombia and Bolivia. Ecuador and Venezuela have never won the tournament.
This year the two groups of five teams include five nations among the top 19 in FIFA’s World Rankings and three additional ones under 35th place, leaving Ecuador at 53 and Bolivia at 81 as the only ones outside the top 35 best teams in the world. The competition, as usual, is brutal. No South American country concedes anything to any other and with nine World Cups won among the contestants the quality of soccer is comparable to one held among Europe’s top twenty-four national teams.
Copa America 2021 Group Stage
This year, Group A—Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Paraguay, and Bolivia present a number of South America’s top clashes when Argentina meets Uruguay or Chile who both have outstanding records against Lionel Messi’s troops, or Paraguay who have been the Albiceleste’s kryptonite these past several years. Only Bolivia seems out of synch with the rest of the group.
There will be titanic clashes galore in this group—arguably the tougher of the two groups—and the Argentina-Chile, Argentina-Uruguay, and Chile-Uruguay clashes, will be the cream of the crop for the group stages of this edition of the Copa America.
Classic match-I—Chile and Argentina have contested the 2015 and 2016 Copa America finals—the first in Chile, which allowed the Argentines to argue home soil did the trick, but the second was in the USA and it was Messi’s missed penalty in the shootout that provided the difference and the win for Chile. Look for both teams to want to make another statement this time around.
First Surprise—Papa believes the four teams progressing will be, in order, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, and Paraguay. Chile and Uruguay will draw Argentine blood in their respective match-ups with Messi’s guys while making hay on their matches with others to garner the needed points, and thus, Uruguay will sneak past their neighbors across the River Plate to garner first place in their group.
In Group B, hosts Brazil are the prohibitive favorites with Colombia (who has played several classic matches against the Brazilians) and Peru (who contested the 2019 Copa America final with the hosts) providing early challenges. These two sides will be offering the Brazilians their best group competition, particularly this year as both teams have a great mix of veterans and youngsters who have melded to produce tough and well-playing national sides.
The matchups between Brazil and Colombia and Brazil and Peru will be the toughest ones in Group B. Brazil played Peru twice in the 2019 Copa America hosted by Brazil. The hosts clobbered the Peruvians 5-0 in the first match, but the second was the final, and for long stretches, the winner of that one was in doubt.
Classic match-II—Similarly, when Colombia and Brazil met in the 2014 World Cup, hosted by Brazil, it was Juan Zuniga’s brutal knee–in-the-back blow to Neymar that fractured the striker’s vertebra in his spine, and knocked the star out of the cup. That injury and Neymar’s absence led directly to the Brazilian’s dismal performance in their infamous next match against Germany in the semifinals. This will be Brazil’s toughest group match. And it will not be lost on a now healthy Neymar that burying that memory for his countrymen is a worthy quest.
Papa believes the four teams progressing will be, in order, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador.
Copa America 2021 Elimination Round
If these predictions hold, Uruguay will play Ecuador, Argentina will come up against Peru, Brazil will face Paraguay, and Colombia will fight it out with Chile.
Tournament Upset—The first match will go to the Uruguayans who are tourney contenders while Ecuador will have reached their peak by progressing from their group. Argentina will then run into a Peruvian side they have not had regular success against in the past few years, and who will be looking to avenge their 0-2 November 2020, World Cup qualifier home soil defeat. Peru will pull the upset of the competition and just, barely, sneak past Messi and company.
This will be a traumatic loss for the Argentines who will fairly feel star-crossed and be left with the realization that World Cup 2022, a mere 18 months hence, might well be Messi’s last hope for glory with his national team.
Semifinalists—Uruguay and Peru.
Brazil have had success against Paraguay by not repeating the mistakes of so many other continental teams who overlook Los Guaranies. Tite’s men will be ready again, and as they recently did in their World Cup qualifier (a 2-0 win) Brazil will emerge victorious in this match.
Classic match-III—Colombia vs Chile is the match-up no other team wanted for themselves. These are true tourney contenders, and one will necessarily be eliminated. Papa believes that despite Colombia’s stronger, talented youthful additions, it will be Chile’s veterans—and in particular, those who chose to return when originally they had not planned on attending—winning the day in a tough encounter that will figuratively, if not literally, bloody the winner.
Semifinalists—Brazil and Chile
Uruguay always takes any international competition to heart and this one is its baby, the one they have won the most times. With Edinson Cavanni surprisingly coming back into the fold, Luis Suarez on top of his game, and most of the core veterans of this tough team returning, they will come up with the goods against Peru and reach the finals. Uruguay—finalist.
Classic match-IV—Brazil finally meet a contender in Chile and are made to sweat by the veteran side. This has the makings of a historic match-up as both nations feel they have teams that will go far in the upcoming World Cup, and 2022 might well be the last for the veteran Chilean stars. But on this day, and in this tourney, this match-up is where that mentioned bloodying against Colombia comes in, and Brazil’s easier path to this point proves the extra tonic the nevertheless superior team needs to progress. Brazil—finalist.
The Copa America 2021 Final
Classic match-V No one likes playing finals against Uruguay, they are simply too rugged a bunch of players to be so technically gifted, let alone that they are so tough-minded to be easily subdued. See the first episode of this Netflix documentary to get an idea. This is a nation of 3.5 million inhabitants which has won the World Cup twice!
But the team that likes playing Uruguay the least, when deep into a major tournament, is Brazil. It was the Uruguayan’s who won 2-1 in the Maracana Stadium in the 1950 World Cup, a match the Brazilians only needed to tie to emerge champions. The trauma of that loss led to Brazil’s refusal to host the World Cup until 2014—64 years later! The same Uruguayans were there in the semifinals in the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, scoring first and requiring a classic comeback for the Brazilians to progress.
But this Brazilian team has shown a cohesion not seen in recent national team editions—remember the 2006 and 2010 World Cup vintages, and to some extent the 2014 and 2018 ones? This time around the selecao had a chance to coalesce without Neymar present, and know they can win without him. Now their star is back and is maturing (somewhat, as maturity and Neymar do not easily coexist). If his progression from the UEFA Champions League performances against Bayern Munich two seasons ago to his leadership on the pitch during the recent World Cup 2022 qualifiers are any indication, the starlet has emerged as a full-fledged star and is ready to lead his team to victory.
This will be Brazil’s final, and in a match to remember the hosts bury the ghosts of Uruguay’s past to clinch back-to-back Copa America trophies and enter the realm of the two-digit Copa winners.
Brazil—Copa America 2021 champions.
Graphic: Realistic soccer ball on flag of Brazil made of brush strokes. Vector design element. By backUP.