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The Copa America: A summer of vindication and redemption awaits

For all the stars and all the standout moments and games, what really tends to elevate an international tournament are the storylines that link it all together. They provide a dramatic thrust that only deepens the emotional effect of all the action.

Brazil 2014 had plenty of storylines, which is why it was one of the best World Cups of the past few decades. Those same storylines are also why this month's Copa America in Chile could rise to similar levels as a tournament.

All of the main challengers have deep motivation to succeed because of what happened in Brazil; all have something big to prove.

For one team, this is going to be the summer of vindication, of redemption.

Those very words have been explicitly stated in much of Brazil's build-up to the competition, and their own 1994 hero Bebeto recently said a lot about what people are thinking -- what a lot of people from the country so badly need.

"We have to fix the impression left by the World Cup," the former striker said. "We have to rescue our football. If Brazil win the Copa America, many will start to forget that hard defeat."

Bebeto was of course referencing that 7-1 humiliation at the feet of Germany in the World Cup semifinals, but it is conspicuous that he didn't directly mention it. It illustrates there is not just dramatic drive here, but also something of a psychodrama.

There seems a curious refusal to confront the reality of that defeat, which was indicated by their very next move. Rather than properly investigating the problems last summer seemed to flag up -- and potentially create a new future -- they just returned to the past. They appointed the manager who left after the last World Cup -- Dunga.

Then there are the new boss' own comments. He is one of many in Brazil all too willing to write off that ruinous defeat to Germany as a freak occurrence, as "something isolated."

For his part, Dunga remains a better manager than the Luiz Felipe Scolari of 2014, and has immediately restored a sense of durability to the team. Miranda has been brought into the defence, Roberto Firmino has brought pace rather than brawn up front, and the end result is a more resolute and cutting side.

You get the sense that, under the current manager, they will never look as fragile or as prone to collapse as they did throughout that World Cup.

Brazil have deep motivation to redeem themselves after their 7-1 mauling at the hands of Germany at the 2014 World Cup.

That is Dunga's great ability as a coach, and it can be seen in his very mantra.

"The pressure to win will always exist in Brazil," Dunga recently said. "The national team must remain competitive and winning at any cost."

The wonder, however, is whether the true cost of the World Cup has yet been discovered. The core of the team remains, and the question is whether you can really wave away the mental effects of such a momentous defeat so easily. The challenge will come when they actually go behind to a properly good team, which is what happened against the Germans.

Of course, that didn't happen in a vacuum, and the exact scale of Brazil's emotional implosion was almost the exact inverse reaction to the explosion of anger over Neymar's injury in the quarterfinal win against Colombia. That incident didn't happen in a vacuum either, though, and was an indirect consequence of the abrasive approach the Brazilians themselves took to try to stop James Rodriguez in that match.

As such, Colombia have their own desire for vindication. They received a lot of criticism from that match, and it both reflects and deepens the spark of this tournament that they have been drawn in the group stage with Brazil.

It also gives Jose Pekerman's team an early chance to reassert their readiness to win this tournament. Because as historic as their World Cup was given it was the first time Colombia had got as far as the quarterfinals, there was still the feeling they could have gone further.

They should not be cowed by taking on the notionally better nations, because they were probably one of the best sides in the competition, and would not have been unfashionable winners.

Goalkeeper David Ospina is certainly thinking along those lines: "Now we come to Chile with options and the mentality that we can be champions."

Colombia are not the only team looking to surprise in such a way, though, nor are they the only squad who could feel somewhat hard done by a World Cup defeat to Brazil. There are also the hosts of this tournament, the Chileans themselves.

The way in which they pushed Brazil all the way to penalties in last summer's last 16 -- and first showed how delicate Scolari's side were -- in turn displayed the strength of Jorge Sampaoli's squad.

The Chilean manager is currently presiding over what is considered one of the most profoundly talented group of players in the country's history. There is a sense they will never have as good a chance to win their first-ever piece of silverware, especially since they are at home and have been placed in an exceedingly forgiving group with Ecuador, Mexico and Bolivia.

"The time has come to achieve big things," Alexis Sanchez declared.

They will likely have to overcome some big challenges because, beyond all that, there's also the biggest star of all and the biggest story of all.

Brazil may have finished an embarrassing six goals behind Germany, but Argentina came within a shot of beating the eventual champions in the final. It now feels a cruel quirk of history that shot fell to the exact right player at the exact wrong moment in his career, as Leo Messi was dealing with injury problems throughout the World Cup.

It was one reason Argentina have now gone 22 years without winning a trophy, but one consequence is that their brilliant No. 10 has used such difficulties to rise to what is perhaps the greatest form of his career, or any other career.

If he can maintain anything close to the level of performance he displayed throughout this campaign with Barcelona, it's hard to see how anyone beyond Argentina will have a chance.

"Getting a title would be the ultimate for me," Messi declared.

It would be the ultimate ending to the story of this tournament, but far from the only one with dramatic merit.

Before then, Argentina start their campaign in a group involving defending champions Uruguay, who themselves must adjust to a new era and the suspension of Luis Suarez after his own controversy at the World Cup.

That is currently a mere subplot, which shows just how rich this Copa America will be.

Miguel Delaney covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MiguelDelaney.


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