The biggest football tournament in the Americas will begin celebrating its 100-year anniversary June 3rd with the kickoff of Copa America Centenario. To bring wider visibility to the competition, the event is taking place in the United States with an expanded field that includes more teams from outside of South America.
The opening game pits Selección Colombia against the U.S. men’s national team in Santa Clara, California, on Friday, June 3, at 8:30 (Colombian time). Team Colombia is the favorite to win the match and its “Group of Death” that also includes Costa Rica and Paraguay. Yet there is no guarantee that the James Rodríguez-led team will advance to the knockout stage.
For one, the host nation always does well, so the U.S. team is expected to compete for the title. Colombia’s only Copa America victory came in 2001 when it was the home team, and Chile won the last championship as hosts.
Moreover, Colombia disappointed during Copa America last Summer in Chile. Though it did take Argentina to the brink before losing on penalties, the team showed little of the scoring and excitement it displayed while gaining fans across the globe in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Colombia scored just a single goal in four games and barely advanced to the competition’s second round. It did outclass a lackluster Brazilian team with a 1-0 victory in the group stage, but the national team lost 0-1 to Venezuela and drew 0-0 with Peru. Even against mighty Argentina, in a match that remained 0-0 after 120 minutes, only goalkeeper David Ospina deserved acclaim. Without his master performance to stonewall scorers such as Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero, Colombia would have lost by two or three goals.
Things have improved since the poor showing in Chile, however. While the Selección has continued to come up short against world-class competition in World Cup 2018 qualifying matches (losing to Argentina and Uruguay while drawing with Chile), it has returned to dominance against lesser teams. Colombia beat Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia with a combined 8 to 3 goal advantage in its three wins.
The competition will certainly be tougher in Copa America. The Group of Death label is reserved for those with the toughest route to the knockout stage, so one slip up could lead to a quick exit.
Two of the four teams in the group will advance, and those slots will be fiercely contested. The United States is no football powerhouse, but it has home-field advantage and has been improving each year. Paraguay should be no threat in theory, but it did knock Brazil out of the last Copa America. And while Costa Rica is also well behind Colombia in terms of talent and will be withoug world-class goalkeeper like Keylor Navas due to injury, you never know which underdog team will make a great showing.
This tournament is always full of surprises, and this edition may be the most unpredictable ever. But if Colombia can continue to improve on its recent play, there is no reason they can’t compete for the trophy. With U.S. viewers invested in the outcome this time around, the audience will be bigger than ever. The whole world will be watching — and Colombians will be hoping to see their team dance after every goal.
Colombia vs. United States
Friday, June 3, 8:30
Santa Clara, California
Colombia vs. Paraguay
Tuesday, June 7, 9:30
Colombia vs. Costa Rica
Saturday, June 11, 8:00
to be determined
Goalkeepers: Cristian Bonilla (Atletico Nacional), David Ospina (Arsenal), Robinson Zapata (Santa Fe)
Defenders: Felipe Aguilar (Atletico Nacional), Santiago Arias (PSV), Farid Diaz (Atletico Nacional), Frank Fabra (Boca Juniors), Stefan Medina (Pachuca), Jeison Murillo (Inter Milan), Yerry Mina (Santa Fe), Cristian Zapata (AC Milan)
Midfielders: Edwin Cardona (Monterrey), Guillermo Celis (Junior), Juan Cuadrado (Juventus), Sebastian Perez (Atletico Nacional), Andres Felipe Roa (Deportivo Cali), James Rodriguez (Real Madrid), Carlos Sanchez (Aston Villa), Daniel Torres (Independiente Medellin)
Forwards: Carlos Bacca (AC Milan), Roger Martinez (Racing Club), Marlos Moreno (Atletico Nacional), Dayro Moreno (Club Tijuana)