Burning questions about Brazil, Argentina ahead of Copa America draw
With the draw for the 2016 Copa America Centenario set to take place on Sunday night in New York City, we asked Tim Vickery to dig into the key questions ahead of this summer's tournament.
1. Some context about the Copa
The Copa America has had an uneven history. Played annually at times, it had fallen into disuse before being brought back in 1987. In the nearly two decades since, it has since been staged in all 10 of South America's footballing nations -- it is currently in the early stages of a second circuit.
This new era of the competition has involved it being held every other year, which became a problem after 1996 when South America introduced its marathon format of World Cup qualifiers, with all 10 nations playing each other home and away. From this point, a Copa every two years started to become an inconvenience. Making it to the World Cup was considered much more important and in order to ease the strain on first choice players, the Copas of 1997, 1999, 2001 and 2004 were packed with under-strength and experimental sides.
An intelligent adjustment was made. Now the regular Copa is played every four years, twelve months after the World Cup. It brings an end to a phoney year of friendlies, and kick-starts a new series of competitive matches, serving as a dress rehearsal for the next set of World Cup qualifiers. This was the case for last year's Copa in Chile but it does not apply to the Copa Centenario, which takes place after six rounds of Russia 2018 qualifiers with another six coming up between September and November.
2. Is there a risk of second-string squads this summer?
There certainly is. Paraguay coach Ramon Diaz has just said that he will be experimenting -- "we have to start giving opportunities to the young players because they are the future" -- while Peru have floated the idea of taking an U-23 squad under the command of newly appointed youth coach Daniel Ahmed. Bolivia boss Julio Cesar Baldivieso is working along the same lines, partly because with the domestic season coming to a close just a few days before the Copa, he feels there is lack of preparation time with his first-choice players. The Bolivian FA may try to move the end of the season forward in a bid to give him a few extra days.
There may well be conflicting pressures coming to bear. First, the implied need for full-strength squads was outlined recently by Kathy Carter of Soccer United Marketing. The scale of the tournament, she said, "will be at minimum twice the size of the 2015 Copa from in-stadium attendance and global television reach." The size of the event and the amount of money on the table may cause the South American FAs to plead with their coaches to take the tournament as seriously as possible.
On the other hand, some big-name players will surely come under pressure from their European clubs to give the competition a miss. This is not hard to understand: All 10 South American nations were in action in last year's Copa while six took part in Brazil 2014. A third consecutive year without a full holiday looks like an aggravation.
In theory, the clubs are obliged to release their players for national team duty. In practise they might suggest end of season medical procedures to ensure their stars are fresh and raring to go for 2016-17.
3. Argentina will mean business
Though they won Olympic gold in 2004 and 2008, Argentina are without a senior title since 1993. This means that as far as they are concerned, the 2016 Olympic tournament is not a priority -- it is more a chance to have a look at some youngsters. The current generation, though, are running out of time to win a major title for their country. They fell at the final hurdle in both the 2014 World Cup and last year's Copa.
The Centenario could therefore be their chance and they should be close to full strength, too. That said, the fact that Lionel Messi has a court date in Spain just a few days before the tournament kicks off is something of a concern.
4. It's not so simple for Brazil
Brazil's prestige is at stake every time they take the field and the coach's job is seemingly always on the line. This is especially true in the case of current boss Dunga, not the most popular of choices and a man who is forever looking over his shoulder.
Brazil, then, will want to win the Copa Centenario but there is a complication. The Olympic tournament will probably take priority, especially now that there has been a change of mind and Dunga will also be in charge for Rio 2016. Olympic gold is the only title for which Brazil are eligible that they have not won. This year, on home ground, is surely the moment to put that right. The Selecao have won plenty of Copas -- they triumphed under Dunga in Venezuela nine years ago. The Olympic gold medal, though, would put everyone concerned in the history books.
What happens, then, with Neymar, Brazil's captain and attacking inspiration? Now 24, he is set to be one of the team's three over-age players at the Rio Games but there is no obligation on Barcelona's part to release him. The scene is set for some tough negotiations and one of the probable conclusions is that Barcelona may only free Neymar for the Olympics if he sits out the Copa. It would be bizarre indeed if the club allowed him to play both.
5. The reigning champions begin their reboot
A couple of months ago, the Copa looked like an inconvenience for Chile. They played the World Cup in 2014, won the Copa on home soil last year, have the Confederations Cup next year and, they trust, the World Cup in Russia 2018. It would surely be unwise to subject an ageing side to five consecutive years without sufficient time off to refresh their batteries.
But then coach Jorge Sampaoli resigned. His post was not easy to fill. A few names turned it down, worried that the team had passed its peak and that quality young re-enforcements were not available. Juan Antonio Pizzi has stepped in and suddenly the Copa looks more like an opportunity. It is a chance for him to spend time with the players, look at alternatives and impose his own methods -- all of which emphasise the point that even if all the teams are not at full strength, there will be plenty to interest and enthuse between June 3-26.
Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC.