Copa America Centenario gets underway on Friday. It’s arguably the biggest soccer event to be played in the United States since the 1994 World Cup. The global stars of the sport will be on full display in stadiums across the country. This will perhaps be no more evident than in Copa America Centenario Group D.
The two finalists from last year’s tournament, Argentina and Chile, comprise half of the group. They will be expected to advance considering the perceived weakness of the other two teams, Panama and Bolivia. Can either of those sides pull off a surprise and make the quarterfinals?
Copa America Centenario Group D Preview
Manager: Gerardo Martino
Current FIFA ranking: 1st
Best finish: Champions (1921, 1925, 1927, 1929, 1937, 1941, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1955, 1957, 1959, 1991, 1993)
GOALKEEPERS (3): Mariano Andujar (Estudiantes de la Plata – Argentina), Nahuel Guzmán (Tigres UANL – Mexico), Sergio Romero (Manchester United – England)
DEFENDERS (7): Victor Cuesta (Independiente – Argentina), Ramiro Funes Mori (Everton – England), Jonathan Maidana (River Plate – Argentina), Gabriel Mercado (River Plate – Argentina), Nicolás Otamendi (Manchester City – England), Marcos Rojo (Manchester United – England), Facundo Roncaglia (Fiorentina – Italy)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Éver Banega (Sevilla – Spain), Lucas Biglia (Lazio – Italy), Augusto Fernández (Atlético Madrid – Spain), Matías Kranevitter (Atlético Madrid – Spain), Javier Mascherano (Barcelona – Spain), Lionel Messi (Barcelona – Spain), Javier Pastore (Paris Saint-Germain – France)
FORWARDS: (6): Sergio Agüero (Manchester City – England), Gonzalo Higuaín (Napoli – Italy), Erik Lamela (Tottenham Hotspur – England), Ángel Di Maria (Paris Saint-German – France), Nicolás Gaitán (Benfica – Portugal), Ezequiel Lavezzi (Hebeir China Fortune – China)
Argentina comes into Copa America Centenario as the prohibitive tournament favorites. La Albiceleste boast a squad full of elite talent who’ve figured prominently into the success of their respective clubs. Anything less than hoisting the trophy for the first time in 23 years will be considered a disappointment.
Much of the focus in the attacking third of the field will be centered on magnificent maestro Lionel Messi, and rightfully so. He scored a combined 41 goals in all competitions for FC Barcelona this season as the Blaugrana won the league/cup double in Spain. But despite scoring 50 goals for his country, a trophy at international level has remained elusive for him. He has a chance to erase that in this tournament.
What’s scary about Argentina for opposing teams is the fact Messi isn’t the only player capable of finding the back of the net with regularity. Sergio Agüero scored a combined 29 goals for Manchester City as the Citizens made it all the way to the UEFA Champions League semifinals. Paris Saint-Germain‘s Ángel Di Maria found the net ten times as his club ran away with the Ligue 1 title. And Gonzalo Higuaín‘s 36 goals in Serie A play for Napoli broke a 66-year-old league record set by Gunnar Nordahl in the 1949-50 season.
Manager: Juan Antonio Pizzi
Current FIFA ranking: 5th
Best finish: Champions (2015)
GOALKEEPERS (3): Claudio Bravo (Barcelona – Spain), Johnny Herrera (Universidad de Chile – Chile), Christopher Toselli (Universidad Católica – Chile)
DEFENDERS (7): Jean Beausejour (Colo-Colo – Chile), José Pedro Fuenzalida (Universidad Católica – Chile), Mauricio Isla (Marseille – France), Gonzalo Jara (Universidad de Chile – Chile), Gary Medel (Internazionale – Italy), Eugenio Mena (São Paulo – Brazil), Enzo Roco (Espanyol – Spain)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Charles Aránguiz (Bayer Leverkusen – Germany), Marcelo Díaz (Celta de Vigo – Spain), Matías Fernández (Fiorentina – Italy), Pedro Pablo Hernández (Celta de Vigo – Spain), Arturo Vidal (Bayern München, Germany), Erick Pulgar (Bologna – Italy), Francisco Silva (Chiapas – Mexico)
FORWARDS (6): Nicolás Castillo (Universidad Católica – Chile), Fabián Orellana (Celta de Vigo – Spain), Mauricio Pinilla (Atalanta – Italy), Edson Puch (LDU Quito – Ecuador), Alexis Sánchez (Arsenal – England), Eduardo Vargas (Hoffenheim – Germany)
After going 99 years without a Copa America trophy, Chile finally triumphed in 2015. In front of their home fans, they beat Argentina in a thrilling final that went to penalties. La Roja will be looking to upend their rivals from across the Andes once again when the two sides face off June 6th at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA.
Chilean goalkeeper and team captain Claudio Bravo was part of a dynamic tandem for his club team FC Barcelona that included Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Bravo played a huge role in Barça’s gigantic +83 goal differential in La Liga play. The 33-year-old kept a total of 19 clean sheets this season, his third with the club. His play will undoubtedly prove crucial against Argentina.
Higher up the pitch, Chile will need to get quality play in the final third from players such as Alexis Sánchez and Fabián Orellana. Sanchez found the net 13 times in English Premier League play as Arsenal finished second in the league. Orellana scored seven goals for a Celta de Vigo side that ended the season sixth in La Liga. That was good enough for them to qualify for next year’s UEFA Europa League. He was also tied for the team lead with seven assists.
Manager: Hernán Darío Gómez
Current FIFA ranking: 56th
Best finish: none (first appearance)
GOALKEEPERS (3): José Calderón (Plantense – Honduras), Jaime Penedo (Deportivo Saprissa – Costa Rica), Alex Rodríguez (San Francisco – Panama)
DEFENDERS (6): Felipe Baloy (Atlas – Mexico), Harold Cummings (Alajuelense – Costa Rica), Fidel Escobar (Sporting – Panama), Martín Gomez (San Francisco – Panama), Luis Henríquez (Tauro – Panama), Adolfo Machado (Deportivo Saprissa – Costa Rica), Roderick Miller (San Francisco – Panama)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Ricardo Buitrago (Juan Aurich – Peru), Miguel Camargo (Mineros de Guayana – Venezuela), Armando Cooper (Árabe Unido – Panama), Anibal Godoy (San Jose Earthquakes – USA), Gabriel Gómez (Cartaginés – Costa Rica), Amílcar Henríquez (América – Colombia), Valentín Pimentel (La Equidad – Colombia), Alberto Quintero (San Jose Earthquakes – USA)
FORWARDS (6): Abdiel Arroyo (RNK Split – Croatia), Roberto Nurse (Mineros de Zacatecas – Mexico), Blas Pérez (Vancouver Whitecaps – Canada), Luis Tejada (Juan Aurich – Peru), Gabriel Torres (Zamora – Venezuela)
Since Hernán Darío Gómez took over the head coaching job in 2014, Panama have realized quite a bit of success at international level. Los Canaleros finished third at last year’s Gold Cup after defeating the United States in a penalty shootout. And their debut in Copa America came about as a result of winning a qualifying playoff among four CONCACAF teams.
MLS fans will be familiar with a few of the players on Panama’s squad. Goalkeeper Jaime Penedo spent three seasons with the LA Galaxy before moving to Deportivo Saprissa in 2016. The San Jose Earthquakes boast two Panamanian midfielders on their roster in Anibal Godoy and Alberto Quintero. And 35-year-old veteran Blas Pérez scored 37 goals in four seasons with FC Dallas before moving to the Vancouver Whitecaps this season.
Panama’s final tune-up ahead of the tournament was a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Brazil on Sunday. They’ll be hard-pressed to make it out of this group. But of the two teams not named Argentina or Chile, Panama likely has the biggest shot to do so.
Manager: Julio Cesar Baldivieso
Current FIFA ranking: 82nd
Best finish: Champions (1963)
GOALKEEPERS (3): Carlos Lampe (Sport Boys – Bolivia), Rómel Quiñónez (Bolivar – Bolivia), Guillerma Viscarra (Oriente Petrolero – Bolivia)
DEFENDERS (7): Diego Bejarano (The Strongest – Bolivia), Marvin Bejarano (Oriente Petrolero – Bolivia), Nelson Cabrera (Bolivar – Bolivia), Ronald Eguino (Bolivar – Bolivia), Luis Gutiérrez (Ironi Kiryat Shmona – Israel), Mario Saavedra (Bolivar – Bolivia), Edward Zenteno (Wilstermann – Bolivia)
MIDFIELDERS (9): Pedro Azogue (Oriente Petrolero – Bolivia), Jhasmani Campos (Kazma – Kuwait), Raúl Castro (The Strongest – Bolivia), Samuel Galindo (Petrolero – Bolivia), Christhian Machado (Wilstermann – Bolivia), Alejandro Meleán (Oriente Petrolero – Bolivia), Fernando Saucedo (Wilstermann – Bolivia), Martín Smedberg-Dalence (Göteborg – Sweden), Walter Veizaga (The Strongest – Bolivia)
FORWARDS (4): Juan Carlos Arce (Bolivar – Bolivia), Yasmani Duk (New York Cosmos – USA), Bruno Miranda (Universidad de Chile – Chile), Rodrigo Ramalla (The Strongest – Bolivia)
Perceived as the weakest team in the group, all but five players for Bolivia are domestically based. Their FIFA ranking of 79 is the worst among the ten teams from the South American region (CONMEBOL). And the results on the field over the past year speak to how much of a struggle it’s been recently for La Verde.
Bolivia has a 1-9 record over their last ten matches. That included a 7-0 blowout last September at the hands of the same Argentina team they’re going to face on June 14th in Seattle. And their final friendly ahead of group play ended in similarly one-sided fashion, a 4-0 defeat to the United States on Saturday.
One player to watch in particular is forward Yasmani Duk. The 28-year-old currently plays for the New York Cosmos in the NASL, American soccer’s second tier. In a May 25th friendly with La Liga club Eibar, Duk netted a brace as the Cosmos won in penalties after the game was tied 2-2 after regulation.
It’s hard to be optimistic about Bolivia’s chances in this group. The string of less than satisfactory results leading up to Copa America suggest as much. As a result, most observers would consider it a miracle if Bolivia ended up in the quarterfinals.
Copa America Centenario Group D Schedule (all times Eastern)
Panama vs. Bolivia, June 6th, 7 PM; Camping World Stadium – Orlando, FL
Argentina vs. Chile, June 6th, 10 PM; Levi’s Stadium – Santa Clara, CA
Chile vs. Bolivia, June 10th, 7 PM; Gillette Stadium – Foxborough, MA
Argentina vs. Panama, June 10th, 9:30 PM; Soldier Field – Chicago, IL
Chile vs. Panama, June 14th, 8 PM; Lincoln Financial Field – Philadelphia, PA
Argentina vs. Bolivia, June 14th, 10 PM; CenturyLink Field – Seattle, WA