Los Angeles (California): With just a day left for the Copa America to begin, here’s a look at seven things to look out for in the centenary edition of the traditional football tournament.
1) Can Argentina end their drought?
There will be no shortage of motivation for Gerardo Martino’s team as they strive to win the country’s first senior international men’s football tournament since 1993, reports Xinhua.
On paper, Argentina have the tournament’s strongest squad with a talent-laden attack that includes Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel Di Maria.
Argentina have come desperately close to glory in their past two major tournaments, losing to Germany in a 2014 World Cup final that went to extra time and succumbing to Chile on penalties in last year’s Copa America final. Many believe it will be third-time lucky for them.
2) Ecuador — the dark horse
With 13 points from their first six matches, Ecuador are currently second in the South American zone qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup.
Despite playing without injured striker Felipe Caicedo, coach Gustavo Quinteros still boasts a plethora of creative and attacking options, including Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia, West Ham forward Enner Valencia, Swansea City winger Jefferson Monteiro and striker Miller Bolanos.
They have been drawn in a tough group alongside Brazil, Peru and Haiti but should they progress to the knockout phase there is no telling how far Quinteros’ team could go.
3) Mexico’s Chicharito in groove
Javier “Chicharito” Hernansez is coming off his most successful European season, having scored 26 goals from 40 matches for Bayer Leverkusen in 2015-16.
The 28-year-old striker — a permanent bit-part player during his time with Manchester United and Real Madrid — has long frustrated Mexico’s fans with his underwhelming performances for the national team.
The centenary edition of the Copa America will be the first time he has entered a major international tournament on the back of regular first-team football. It would appear that Mexico are poised to reap the benefits.
4) Brazil’s new boy wonder
He hails from the same club as Neymar and Pele, and the latest Santos wunderkind is already attracting interest from some of Europe’s top clubs.
Nineteen-year-old striker Gabriel — nicknamed Gabigol for his prolific scoring — was one of several Olympic-age players chosen by coach Dunga for this tournament as he looks ahead to the Rio 2016 Games in August.
Gabriel has already scored 52 first-team goals for Santos, including eight from 20 matches this year. He made his international debut last week, scoring just minutes after being introduced in the Selecao’s 2-0 friendly victory over Panama.
In the absence of their captain Neymar, who FC Barcelona refused to release for the tournament, and with injuries to forwards Douglas Costa, Ricardo Oliveira and Kaka, Gabriel could start in Brazil’s opening group match against Ecuador.
5) Chile in decline?
After winning their first Copa America on home soil last year, Chile have been on a downward spiral since then.
The appointment of Juan Antonio Pizzi to replace coach Jorge Sampaoli in January doesn’t seem to have helped, the team having slumped to three defeats from four matches under his stewardship.
Most of Pizzi’s squad is approaching or over the age of 30, raising concerns about whether the Argentine should be doing more to promote youth.
The obvious exception is talisman forward Alexis Sanchez, who is still only 27. Just like at last year’s Copa America, Chile’s fortunes will largely rest on the Arsenal forward’s shoulders.
But Pizzi is not without other world class players in his squad, most notably Bayern Munich midfielder Arturo Vidal and Barcelona goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.
6) Hungry James
James Rodriguez will feel he has a point to prove after enduring a frustrating season for Real Madrid.
The 24-year-old played just 32 matches in all competitions in 2015-16, many of them off the bench, and was an unused substitute in Real Madrid’s victory over Atletico Madrid on penalties in the Champions League final.
Media reports have linked him with a move away from Madrid next season but, stoically, the midfielder has said he is determined to win back his place in Zinedine Zidane’s first team instead of seeking a summer move.
7) America’s new breed
Pressure is high on the US and their coach Jurgen Klinsmann to deliver success on home soil.
Anything less than a semi-final appearance will fall short of expectations despite a tricky group that includes Colombia, Costa Rica and Paraguay.