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By ESPN Staff

Copa America coming to Venezuela

The 42nd edition of the Copa America kicks off in Venezuela on June 26 with the expectation that something is about to change in South American football. Long neglected by footballing authorities in the region, the competition has undergone something of a transformation in recent years, and this year promises much.

The investment made by the host country is impressive. A lot of money has been put into the country's transport and communication infrastructure, while a total of three new stadiums have been built to hold the matches.

Indeed, with many of the smaller nations keen to build on some impressive performances in their World Cup Qualifying campaigns, the likes of Paraguay, Mexico and Brazil will all start the competition under new management, so there could be a few surprises.

Below is a team-by-team guide for the competition, which culminates in the final at Maracaibo on July 15.

With a full-strength squad expected to play in the Copa, Argentina are surely favourites to take home the title. They have a solid defence and forward players Carlos Tevez, Roman Riquelme and Diego Milito are all in great form. If they can rectify the lack of goals suffered by the country since the World Cup, then few would bet against them. Watch out for some all-out attacking football and incisive passing manoeuvres.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Lionel Messi - A key player and still so young, has the potential to be one of the best in the world.

Having finished bottom of their group in the World Cup qualifiers, Bolivia will not trouble too many other teams. Currently involved in a row over their ability to play at high altitude, perhaps their only hope is to starve their opponents of oxygen. Boasting only one quality top-flight European player, in Juan Manuel Pena of Villareal, they have failed to win in the competition since 1997, so don't expect fireworks.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Jamie Moreno - Plying his trade with DC United in the MLS, he will want to take his last chance in internationals and resurrect his career.

All the headlines will be about the absence of Kaka and Ronaldinho, but the Brazilians still have more than enough resources to win the competition. Werder Bremen's Diego will be important, while Alfonso Alves has netted 34 times this season for Heerenveen. Some of the younger players will get a chance to broker their big move, although only four of the squad are still based in Brazil. Expect the usual Brazilian flair.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Robinho - Without Kaka around, all eyes will be on the stepover wizard. A chance to show why he's been lauded as the 'new Pele.'

With a number of impressive young players in the squad, Chile could spring a few surprises under the 'bald strategist' Nelson Acosta. Boasting an excellent holding midfielder in Claudio Maldonado and Villareal's promising youngster Matias Fernandez, the Chileans have some potent attacking players. However, a lack of quality defenders may be their undoing and they'll be keen to show they are on the up after missing out on the World Cup.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Mark Gonzalez - The Liverpool winger has been a perennial figure at Anfield, but will surely be key to Chile's attacking play with his pace.

Recent history tells us that Colombia could be successful in the competition, having won it in 2001, and making the semi-finals in 2004. However, they have not been able to build any kind of creativity, shown by a distinct lack of goals. The door is open for youngsters like Hugo Rodallega or Edixon Perea to really make an impression on the tournament.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Ivan Cordoba - The Inter Milan defender is solid as they come and will lead from the back in everything he does.

Qualification for the 2006 World Cup in Germany made the country a household name; but their recent record in Copa America has not been good. Reading's Ulises De La Cruz is perhaps their most well-known player, while Luis Antonio Valencia showed his skills (and yellow boots) to all with a move to Wigan. A lack of left-footed players could be cause for concern, but Ecuador will try to use their natural width to good effect.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Edison Mendez - The PSV midfielder has shown himself to be an excellent prospect. Boasting a fierce long-range shot, he will be key to Ecuador's success.

With both the Gold Cup and Copa America coming in quick succession, new coach Hugo Sanchez has made his intentiosn clear. Win the Gold Cup, semi-finals of the Copa, at least! Aiming high, they have Barca star Rafael Marquez to lead them forward, while Atlas' tricky midfielder Andres Guardado will cause problems on the wings. A tricky group may hinder their chances, but they have a decent record against South American teams.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Cuauhtemoc Blanco - The Mexican has signed for MLS side Chicago Fire, watch out for his trademark trick and some kind of controversy.

Time for rebuilding as veterans Carlos Gamarra and Jose Cardozo have left the squad, while eccentric goalkeeper José Luis Chilavert retired in 2003. With an almost all-Mexican based defence, lack of pace is an issue, and they will rely on Bayern Munich striker Roque Santa Cruz to bang in the goals. Possibly too much for one man to cope with, although Paraguay are seen by many as the third best team in South America.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Roque Santa Cruz - The Bayern Munich star will have the goalscoring burden of a nation on his shoulders.

1982 was the last time that Peru made it into the World Cup, and their Copa America record is not much better. Another side embroiled in the row over playing at high altitude, Peru may find themselves in trouble, despite being placed in the easiest group. To make matters worse, Nolberto Solano has fallen out with the federation and will need to be placated if he is to play any part in the competition.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Jefferson Farfan - The PSV striker finished with 21 goals in the Dutch league and will be focal point of Peru's attacking play. Great pace and still only 22 years old.

Having already said that the Gold Cup is America's priority, coach Bob Bradley is likely to treat the Copa America to an experimental squad. Boasting an array of talented goalkeepers, veteran Kasey Keller looks most likely to get the gloves for the competition, while the depth of US squad means that youngsters will get their chances to shine. Second round would be seen as a success, but tiredness will certainly play its part.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Eddie Johnson - The Kansas City Wizards forward may lead the line in the absence of Landon Donovan.

A team in decline after failing to qualify for the World Cup, Uruguay will be looking to prove themselves in the Copa America. A hard-tackling and powerful outfit, they will rely on Pablo Garcia in midifield and Diego Lugano in defence. Forlan up front will provide the goal threat, and they have adapted a 4-3-3 formation all the way down to under-15 level to give the squads a common grounding. Need to fulfill their potential and keep all their players on the pitch.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Diego Forlan - Villareal's potent striker has attracted much attention with his goalscoring form recently. Will be a vital part of the Uruguay squad.

The hosts could not be happier with the arrival of the tournament, at a time when Venezualan football is on the rise. One of the teams to impress in World Cup qualifying, the side will be looking to use the competition to change their country's dependence on baseball as the major sport. They have the easiest group and contain much of the successful home-based Caracas team. Could be just the opportunity the country needs to impress.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Juan Arango - The only player to have made a significant impression outside of South America, the Mallorca midfielder was the team's top scorer in 2005/06 and will be the focus of Venezuela's attacks.

  • Any comments? Email Jon Carter