BUENOS AIRES - Hosts Argentina feel it is
their "obligation" to win the Copa America with a team built
around Lionel Messi and cannot stomach the idea of finishing
behind arch rivals Brazil for a third time in a row.
The old enemies met in the last two finals of South
America's top football tournament, with Brazil upsetting the
favourites twice, but with home advantage at the July 1-24 event
Argentina hope to win the trophy for the first time since 1993.
While Argentina have Messi, fast emerging as Diego
Maradona's heir, at the heart of their attack, Brazil have their
own brilliant player in Neymar, a potential new Pele who has
already helped Santos win the Libertadores Cup at 19.
"It is our obligation to win the tournament," said Argentina
coach Sergio Batista, who plays the high-scoring Messi in a
roving centre forward role akin to his flexible position at
Argentina open the world's oldest active major soccer
tournament at the modern, roofed Ciudad de La Plata stadium on
Friday when they take on Bolivia in Group A.
They have a score to settle, having been thrashed 6-1 the
last time they met in a World Cup qualifier at high altitude in
La Paz two years ago during Maradona's time as coach.
An attack boasting Messi, Carlos Tevez and Ezequiel Lavezzi,
with Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria on the
bench, should have little trouble brushing aside the Bolivians
in a relatively easy group for the hosts. They also meet
Colombia and Costa Rica.
Brazil, with coach Mano Menezes going back to the basics of
his country's "beautiful game" after the pragmatic Dunga era,
kick off against Venezuela in Group B at the same venue on
Sunday before heading for Cordoba to play Paraguay and
Menezes' pair of aces are Neymar and his 21-year-old Santos
team mate Paulo Henrique Ganso, an exquisite playmaker the coach
hopes will spark Robinho, a veteran of Brazil's 2007 victory,
and Alexandre Pato up front.
Uruguay come to the tournament on the back of their fourth
place at the World Cup and with hardly any changes in personnel
or style but a fresher 32-year-old Diego Forlan after a tough
season in Spain that included an alarming loss of form.
"There is a very strong [team] base around Diego Forlan [and] he is in very good physical condition [after a refreshing
break]," said coach Oscar Tabarez, one of the few coaches to
survive a post-World Cup cull.
Uruguay will also play a match in La Plata - an obligation
for the seeded teams in the three groups - but only when they
meet guest team Mexico there on June 12. They kick off Group C
in the Andean city of San Juan against Peru on Monday.
Chile and Paraguay, who had good World Cups last year,
especially the latter with their place in the last eight for the
first time, will be tough opponents.
Colombia are dark horses, with an attack boasting Radamel
Falcao Garcia, whose top-scoring exploits helped Porto win the
Portuguese championship and Europa League.
"I think Colombia will have a good Copa America, a good
World Cup qualifying campaign and qualify for the finals [in
Brazil in 2014]," Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino told Reuters.
"They have a very good group of players and they have also
put together a very good coaching staff," he said referring to
Francisco Maturana and Hernan Dario Gomez, who were in charge in
the brilliant Colombia era of the 1990s.
CONCACAF Gold Cup winners Mexico and Costa Rica are here as
guest teams but the Mexicans are highly unlikely to reach the
final as they did when they first took part in 1993.
They and Gold Cup quarter-finalists Costa Rica have sent
Olympic age teams to the tournament and the Mexicans' chances of
doing well took a blow when they suspended eight of their
players for indiscipline on Tuesday.
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