URUGUAY

Team Profile

The first country ever to have conquered the world, Uruguay is a football-mad, small nation that thrives on their historical success. After winning two World Cups and two Olympic medals mid-way through the 20th century, La Celeste Olimpica have been living in the shadows of Brazil and Argentina for quite sometime now. However, citizens find pride in their football team’s history and there is no better tournament to make them feel at home than the Copa America – a trophy that they have won more number of times than any other nation (alongside Argentina).

World Cup 2010 campaign in South Africa saw Uruguay finish fourth – highest achievement of any South American team in the tournament – and also saw Uruguayan striker Diego Forlan win the Golden Ball by a hefty margin. So, a major force to reckon with in the Copa? You bet!

Coach

Under coach Oscar Tabarez (or ‘El Maestro’), Uruguay usually set-up in an exciting 4-3-3 formation or a 4-3-1-2 one, in order to utilize their lethal strike force comprising Atletico Madrid’s Diego Forlan, Liverpool’s Luis Suarez and Napoli’s Edinson Cavani  – all three strikers have been in good form for their respective clubs.

Tabarez has decided to retain most of his World Cup squad. This time around, though, he has included Porto midfielder Cristian Rodriguez, who was a major absentee in South Africa, last year. He was carrying a suspension that would’ve meant he would miss out on the first two matches of the World Cup and Tabarez chose not to pick him for the mega event although he was a regular in the World Cup qualifiers.

The Celeste’s strength lies in the fact that all their strikers naturally roam and drift around the park causing formational mayhem for the opponents. However, at times, this creates a major gap between the midfield and forwards that is exploited by the opponents. Uruguay’s weakness lies in the fact that they are not masters of keeping possession like top-ranked teams. Their offensive approach to the game is of a hurried nature in which they look to hit oppositions quickly.

Key Players: Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani.

Best Performance: Champions – 14 times; last in 1995.

Prediction: One of the favorites to win the tournament, alongside Argentina and Brazil. They should easily progress to the next stage, and even win the group if they manage to get the better of Chile.

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CHILE

Team Profile

Chile has never won the Copa America, despite hosting the tournament on as many as six occasions. This is one football-crazy nation, which has been craving for success for a very, very long time. La Roja have managed to reach the final on four occasions, but have failed at the final hurdle every time.

After finishing third in 1926, 1941 and 1945, Chile finally looked good to go all the way in 1955, at home. They defeated Ecuador (7-1), Peru (5-4) and Paraguay (5-0), before suffering a painful 1-0 defeat at the hands of eventual winners, Argentina, on the last day of the championship. In the following year, La Roja were again on fire, defeating the mighty Brazil 4-1 on the opening day of Copa America, but losses to Argentina and Uruguay ensured that they finish second yet again.

The 2011 South American championship is underway and the nation is again hopeful, especially considering how talented their present team is.

Coach

Claudio Borghi, affectionately called Bichi, was a part of Argentina’s World Cup-winning team in 1986. After retiring as a player in 1999, Borghi began his journey as a coach. Since then he has coached clubs both in Chile and in Argentina, giving him crucial experience before taking over the Chile national team in February, 2011, from Marcelo Biesla.

Biesla’s men won a lot of hearts at the World Cup in South Africa, despite going down to Brazil in the round-of-16. Borghi has just continued from where Biesla had left, quite literally. The new manager has persisted with a 3-man back-line and his team also thrives on exploiting width in a 3-4-3 formation, which in reality is a 3-4-1-2 shape.

In this unique formation (considering the present times), the wing-backs play a defining role. In Mauricio Isla, Gonzalo Fierro, Jean Beausejour and Marco Estrada, Borghi has four good options to chose from for the two wing-back positions. Further up the pitch, the coach likes to deploy either Jorge Valdivia or Matías Fernández, just behind the two forwards – Humberto Suazo and Alexis Sánchez. Sanchez, who plays for Udinese, is arguably the third best player in the world, on present form.      

Key Players: Fierro, Fernández and Sanchez.

Best Performance: Runner-up in 1987, 1979, 1956, and 1955.

Prediction: Only one teams looks good enough to stop Chile from winning the group – Uruguay. Nonetheless, La Roja should easily progress to the quarter-finals. After that, the real character of this talented team will be put to test. Whether they can finally emerge from their curse of not winning the competition remains to be seen.

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MEXICO

Team Profile

Mexico are arriving in Argentina for this month’s Copa America in midst of a bit of a storm. First things first, Mexico are the invitees to this grand occasion, as they aren’t actually a part of the CONMEBOL – the association of South American football. FIFA couldn’t allow the Mexican first team to participate in any competition outside of the CONCAF; ergo the members of the Mexican 2012 Olympic Football team were summoned. Consequently Mexico were to participate in the Copa America starting July 1 with an under-22 squad, as well as five replacement players. The other participants in Group C include the likes of Chile, Peru, and Uruguay.

If the task wasn’t herculean to begin with, it just got humungous, as eight members from the original Mexico squad were suspended after being caught in an unsavoury act. Out of those eight suspended, former Barcelona player, Jonathan Dos Santos, was the most high profile casualty. However the show will go on and ironically Jonathan’s brother Giovani will lead this young Mexico squad at the Copa America, in absence of Javier Hernandez and other leading national team regulars.

Coach

Jose Manuel De La Torre has just managed the Mexicans to an impressive win in the Gold Cup with the senior squad. Torre generally likes to employ a derivative of a 4-2-3-1 for the senior side, however in the absence of majority of his first team members; he might look to tinker with his game plan. Whatever the strategy Torre chooses, Dos Santos will be integral to his plans. The likes of Oribe Peralta, Luis Ernesto Michel and Rafael Marquez Lugo will add much needed experience to the side and would be entrusted to guide the younger members of the squad.

Key Players: Dos Santos, Luis Ernesto, Rafa Lugo, Peralta.

Best Performance: The Mexican football team has been regularly invited to compete in the Copa América since Ecuador 1993, finishing as runner-up twice (1993 and 2001) and obtaining the third place medal on three occasions (1997, 1999, 2007).

Prediction: Mexico are undoubtedly massive underdogs of their group, with Chile and Uruguay as firm favorites to progress. The only genuine hope Torre’s team have is to qualify for the next round by finishing as one of the two best third placed teams and that too would be a long shot.

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PERU

Team Profile

Peru comes into the tournament having won it only a couple of times – 1939 and 1975. Their chances are not too bright this time around as well, especially with a lot of key players missing the tournament due to injury.

Coach

Sergio Markarian, who took up the manager’s job at Peru in 2010, is known to be an astute coach having achieved quite a bit in last 28 years in this role. However, with a depleted squad at his disposal, his tactical ability would be put through a severe test as he would need to get the best out of the available players. The players missing for Peru are the likes of Claudio Pizarro, Jefferson Farfán and José Paolo Guerrero, who have been central figures in Markarian’s squads. Although the manager likes to play a 3-5-2 formation, he might be forced to change the system given the absence of these players.

Still, the squad has several quality players, especially attacking midfielders such as Ramírez, Lobatón, Guevara and the young dynamite Cueva. Rinaldo Cruzado is another gifted midfielder in the squad, who can trouble the opponents with his range of passing and shooting ability from distance. However, the most talented of the lot is Fiorentina player Juan Manuel Vargas, who was also set to miss the tournament due to injury but somehow won his race with time to be fit for the tournament. Vargas is a versatile player who can play on the left as well as a defensive or an offensive midfielder. His crossing ability is known to be one of the best while he is also a threat from set pieces.

Key Players: Ramírez, Lobatón, Cueva, Vargas.

Prediction: Drawn with the likes of Chile and Uruguay, the best chance for Peru is to qualify as one of the two best third placed teams. Their task has been made easier by a very depleted Mexico team, who are also in the same group.

Fixtures

07-04-20113:45 AMUruguayvPeruGroup CSan Juan
07-04-20116:15 AMChilevMexicoGroup CSan Juan
07-08-20113:45 AMPeruvMexicoGroup CMendoza
07-08-20116:15 AMUruguayvChileGroup CMendoza
07-12-20113:45 AMChilevPeruGroup CMendoza
07-12-20116:15 AMUruguayvMexicoGroup CLa Plata