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! 🤩 Here’s how the CONMEBOL final draw for #CA2024 shaped up! ⚽ #VibraElContinente #VibraOContinente #RockingTheContinent
pic.twitter.com/lm1ZtcbAfM — 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. USMNT has been handed a favourable draw (Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
and so on…
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. Uruguay will be tough opponents (Fernando Gens/picture alliance via Getty Images)
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?
Argentina won Copa America in 2021 (Alexandre Schneider/Getty Images) Anzidei: It would be a remarkable feat that Messi and…
Argentina won Copa America in 2021 (Alexandre Schneider/Getty Images)
Anzidei: It would be a remarkable feat that Messi and…