For the second time in a decade, the prestigious Copa America tournament is coming to the U.S. The tournament, which is set to be staged this summer, could be the final act of superstar Lionel Messi in his country’s colors. If it is, he’ll have a chance to close out his international career by winning a third consecutive trophy with Argentina — and doing it in the city where he now resides. The Copa America final will be played in Miami on July 14.
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On Thursday, Messi and Argentina learned their path to another trophy — as did every other team hoping to knock off the defending Copa America champions. It didn’t happen without a bit of confusion during the final pot of the draw, when a third CONCACAF team was erroneously drawn into the U.S.’s group (only two teams from CONCACAF were allowed in any one group). That eventually led to teams swapping into different groups, but it was handled with enough confusion that even the official Copa America X account first sent out an incorrect graphic.
¡Así quedaron conformados los grupos de la CONMEBOL #CA2024! 🏆
Assim estão formados os grupos da CONMEBOL #CA2024! 🤩
— CONMEBOL Copa América™️ (@CopaAmerica) December 8, 2023
With the draw now set, our expert panel of Felipe Cardenas, Paul Tenorio and Melanie Anzidei share their thoughts on the tournament ahead.
Who had the best draw?
Felipe Cardenas: After talking to a few journalists from Argentina, the consensus is that the defending Copa America champions received a favorable draw. Chile and Peru are both in poor form and the former recently fired their manager. If Canada qualifies, they’ll fall into Group A and at least make it interesting. In South America, Canada is still viewed as a darling side, a dangerous underdog with a physical brand of soccer. But Argentina should be very happy with their group.
Paul Tenorio: I find it hard to argue against the U.S. in this scenario. Yes, they pulled Uruguay in their group instead of one of the weaker options in the second pot, but their opponents from Pots 3 and 4 — Panama and Bolivia — are both teams that the U.S. will feel confident it can and should beat. It sets up to be the perfect challenge for the U.S. because it brings all different layers of pressure for a group that is considered to be the most talented men’s national team ever: living up to expectations, navigating games as a favorite and playing against an Uruguay team that currently sits second in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying.
Cardenas: Within that context, Uruguay got a great draw. They’ll enter the tournament as true contenders. In South America, Bielsa’s side will be expected to waltz through the group.
Melanie Anzidei: I also would say Argentina, though having a supposedly easier route to the final may not always be in a team’s best interest. Argentina facing Chile in the group stage could be a blessing in disguise — even if Argentina loses, this may be the fire they need to get through the tournament, like how they used their loss to Saudi Arabia in the World Cup to propel them.
Who had the worst draw?
Cardenas: Mexico. Group B is as close to a “group of death” as there is, and while that’s a bit of a stretch, there is no clear favorite between El Tri, Ecuador, Venezuela and Jamaica. Mexico will be a home team in every match, but as we well know, that could backfire. No one in South America wants to play Venezuela right now. They’re a confident team that’s dreaming big. Ecuador is one of the most athletic and physical sides on the continent. And Jamaica will take a seasoned team to the tournament looking to spoil the party. Mexico could be in trouble here.
Tenorio: If we’re talking about the Pot 1 teams, I agree it’s probably Mexico that has the sneakiest tough group. Jamaica is better than people realize, and both Venezuela and Ecuador are playing well right now — they sit fourth and fifth in CONMEBOL qualifying right now. You have to feel a bit for Paraguay, though. Not only do they get drawn into a group with three CONMEBOL teams, but it’s Brazil and Colombia, one heavyweight and another team playing well in World Cup qualifying. I hate to say that Costa Rica and Honduras won’t scare anyone, but both could be tough outs, as well.
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Anzidei: I feel like it’s a tough predicament for the United States, especially if you look ahead to who they could face after the group stage. They will have to face Uruguay, who just a few weeks ago topped the defending World Champions, Argentina. And if they move on, they will likely face Brazil, or even Colombia. It will make for some good soccer to watch, if they advance.
How do you feel about the USMNT’s path? How far do they need to go for it to be considered a successful tournament for them?
Tenorio: When the U.S. last played in a Copa America, the Centenario in 2016, it advanced to the semifinal. Things fell just about as perfectly from them as could have been imagined in that tournament. Despite losing its opening group game to Colombia, the U.S. won its next two games and saw Costa Rica upset Colombia in the group stage. That allowed the U.S. to emerge as group winners. In the other group, Brazil shockingly drew Ecuador, 0-0, and then lost to Peru in the group finale to drop to third. That set up a U.S.-Ecuador game in the knockout stage, which the U.S. won, 2-1. They fell to Lionel Messi and Argentina, 4-0, in the semifinal.
The path this time is interesting. Once again they face a strong CONMEBOL opponent, and once again they have two other group games they will be expected to win. But in the knockout stage, Colombia and Brazil await as potential opponents — both will be better than the Ecuador squad from 2016.
Still, for it to be considered a successful tournament, I think the U.S. would have to get to a semifinal. Maybe they could avoid a backlash if they get to the knockout stage and lose to Brazil, but playing at home with heavy expectations means this team needs to do something special to have the tournament truly feel like a success. A semifinal is the absolute bare minimum standard of doing “something special.” If we’re going to truly call this a Golden Generation, it starts here.
Cardenas: The expectation for the U.S. should be to make the final. Full stop. They’ll be on home soil, playing for sellout crowds. Now, playing well throughout the tournament, advancing to the knockout rounds and defeating at least one big-time South American team would be a successful tournament. But the only way for this generation of American players to make progress is for them to be judged on the same level as the top teams in this Copa America.
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Anzidei: They would have to make it to the semifinal, at least, to have a successful campaign. A final would be great, but feels unlikely. They’re up against too many heavyweights with metaphorically too much to lose in a Copa America. As much as they’re competing at home, this is the Copa America — and the United States may still be, in a way, an outsider in this competition.
Can Messi and Argentina win it all again?
Cardenas: Argentina is the best team in the world. And that means they’re head and shoulders above every single national team in South America. So yes, Messi can win a second straight Copa America. The path to the final won’t be a gauntlet, but nothing that Argentina does comes easy. Every tournament they play is a dramatic, tear-filled journey toward a final. This Argentina team isn’t unbeatable, but they have Messi and they’ll be on a mission to make history again.
Anzidei: It would be a remarkable feat that Messi and La Scaloneta will absolutely try to accomplish. That, though, will require unity on the pitch as well as behind the scenes — and, as Felipe reported this week, it doesn’t seem things are all sunshine and rainbows for manager Lionel Scaloni, whose future with this team is uncertain. The 2016 Copa America and Messi’s brief departure from the national team is a reminder of how terribly wrong things can go for this team when the Argentine federation’s house is not in order.
But this team plays best when they’re playing for someone, and at the World Cup in Qatar this team played for Messi. This time, I believe that person will be Angel Di Maria, whose game-winning goal against Brazil in the 2021 Copa America final has this squad indebted to him. The legendary winger has said he plans to retire after this tournament. What better send off as he retires, than another final won against Brazil?
Tenorio: They absolutely can win it all again. Before the draw, Argentina was the favorite in the tournament. After the draw? I think they’re stronger favorites. I agree strongly with Melanie’s point above that it’s going to be as much or more about mentality and emotion than anything else, but I also think Messi is motivated to make it three consecutive trophies — and to do it in his new home in Miami.
- Group stage: June 20 – July 2
- Quarterfinals: July 4 – 6
- Semifinals: July 9 – 10
- Final: July 14
Which group matches are you most excited to see?
Anzidei: The United States versus Uruguay at Arrowhead on July 1 — because this will be the ultimate test for the USMNT. How will they fare against a Copa America favorite? Will they upset the CONMEBOL giant inside Arrowhead, one of the loudest stadiums in the world, days before July 4? And then there’s Argentina versus Chile at MetLife on June 25, because this is a poetic rematch between two Copa America rivals. The last time these two teams played here, Messi infamously quit the national team after falling to Chile for a second year in a row. This match could give Messi a storybook ending to close one of the least favorite chapters of his career.
Tenorio: I agree with both games above, but for me it’s the U.S.-Uruguay game. After covering the World Cup in Qatar, there is just something special about those big games. U.S.-England had such a great buzz, and then there was the do-or-die feeling around the U.S.-Iran game. Considering the U.S. plays Uruguay in its group finale, it could have BOTH factors entering that matchup: a top opponent and test, as well as the pressure of needing a result. Also, I know this is cheating because the question is about group games, but I am salivating over a possible Argentina-Mexico knockout game in Houston/Dallas if Argentina wins the group and Mexico finishes second or vice versa.
Cardenas: Chile and Peru are struggling right now, but they do not like each other, at all. El Clásico del Pacífico is always a battle and this version will hopefully live up to that. Meanwhile, Brazil versus Colombia is becoming a fun rivalry in South America. The two sides have a lot of respect for each other and have similar styles of play. Colombia recently defeated Brazil in a World Cup qualifier for the first time ever. That game could decide the winner of Group D. Can’t wait.
Which players do you expect to stand out (besides Messi)?
Tenorio: Darwin Núñez. The forward has scored five goals in six World Cup qualifiers under Marcelo Bielsa. He’s absolutely flying. Uruguay will come into this tournament with real belief that they can win it, and it’s a group where Núñez should be able to thrive.
Cardenas: This could be a really long list. Argentina’s Julian Alvarez, Ecuador’s Moises Caicedo, Brazil’s Vinicius Jr. and Rodrygo. There are a lot of talented players in this tournament.
Tenorio: But you’re going with a Colombian, aren’t you?
Cardenas: Of course! Liverpool’s Luis Diaz is a top-20 best player in the world right now. He can be unplayable on his best days. He’ll be Colombia’s main danger man and one of the tournament’s marquee players.
Anzidei: I was also going to say Núñez, after his goal against Argentina in World Cup qualifying. There’s something about this Uruguayan team. You can argue they’re all worth keeping a close eye on, with some potential surprises.
🐆 𝐂𝐨𝐫𝐫𝐞 𝐥𝐚 𝐩𝐚𝐧𝐭𝐞𝐫𝐚…
— Selección Uruguaya (@Uruguay) November 17, 2023
What are your predictions for semifinalists and champion?
Tenorio: Man, this is tough. Every tournament has upsets in the group and knockout stage. But it’s tough to bet against the favorites here. I’m sitting next to Felipe here in Miami trying to convince him Colombia can win the group, but he’s got me nervous for that upset pick. So I’ll say Brazil tops Group D and faces the U.S. and wins that game, while Uruguay tops Colombia. I have Argentina getting through to the semifinals along with Mexico, riding the home field advantage. And then it’s Argentina-Brazil in an epic final in Miami, with Messi and Di Maria winning one more together.
Yes, I’m basically going chalk. What a wimp.
Cardenas: Yes, I’m very nervous about Colombia’s chances. Here’s the thing about every Copa America: they’re unpredictable, they’re messy and the top sides aren’t always guaranteed a spot in the final four. I think this edition of the tournament will be fairly straightforward, though.
My semifinalists: Argentina-Mexico; Uruguay-United States. Where’s Brazil? If the U.S. is going to get a signature win under Berhalter, beating a struggling Brazil side could be that moment.
Champion: Uruguay — Bielsa becomes a legend in a third South American country after establishing himself in Argentina and becoming an icon in Chile.
Anzidei: I will never say out loud that Argentina will win it all, but that seems the obvious answer. I have a feeling either Uruguay or Brazil could see this through all the way, too. But like you said, Felipe, it’s really anyone’s tournament. Did we really expect Chile to win two in a row when they did?
Complete Copa America schedule
(Photo: Gustavo Pagano/Getty Images)