Copa America Kicks Off Tomorrow

The 2011 Campeonato Sudamericano Copa América, a quadrennial soccer competition between the best national teams of South America, begins tomorrow. The Copa America, as it is popularly known, is one of the sport’s most prestigious international tournaments, outranked only by the FIFA World Cup. The opening match features hosts Argentina against underdogs Bolivia at 9:45 PM local time (8:45 US/Eastern) in the small city of La Plata, outside Buenos Aires.

This year, Argentina is experiencing more than the usual pre-match jitters. Last Sunday, the country’s most successful club, River Plate, were relegated to the second division after losing a play-off match against minnows Belgrano. It’s as if the New York Yankees were forced to play Minor League Triple-A ball after a poor season in the Majors. But that’s how soccer works. Despite “Los Millionarios'” thirty-three previous domestic championships, a few lousy years were enough to send them packing to the “B” division (in Argentina, relegation is based on a team’s results from the past three years. Most other leagues relegate teams based on their performance in a single season)

Riot Police enter the stands at El Monumental Stadium, Buenos Aires, in an unsuccessful attempt to disperse angry fans

River’s fans reacted with outrage, storming the field and tearing the seats out of the stands. Within an hour, the chaos had spilled out of the ruined stadium. Angry crowds ran riot through the streets of Buenos Aires, burning cars, looting stores and fighting pitched battles with riot police. The Washington Post reported 89 injured and 55 arrests.

No one wants to see a repeat of this catastrophe in La Plata. So the pressure is on the hosts to win, especially given that Bolivia inflicted a humiliating 6-1 defeat on Argentina the last time these two teams met in April, 2009. But that was in the oppressive altitude of La Paz (elevation: 3640 meters), where Argentina’s players huffed and puffed but couldn’t keep up with the acclimatized Bolivians in the paper thin air. La Plata is at sea level and Argentina’s squad of superstars should have no trouble beating their northern neighbors. Bolivia don’t have a single player in a major European league.

Probable Lineups:

Argentina, 4-3-3: Sergio Romero (AZ Alkmaar); Javier Zanetti (Internazionale Milan), Nicolas Burdisso (Roma), Marcos Rojo (Spartak Moscow); Esteban Cambiasso (Internazionale Milan), Javier Mascherano (Barcelona), Ever Banega (Valencia); Carlos Tevez (Manchester City), Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Ezequiel Lavezzi (Napoli).

Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about this Bolivian side to predict a line-up. They often play an old-fashioned 3-4-3 formation with attacking wingers. Goalkeeper Carlos Arias (Maccabi Netanya), midfielder Nacho Garcia (Bolivar) and young striker Marcelo Martins (Shaktar Donetsk) will be key to their team’s hopes of a strong performance.

Prediction: Argentina 3 – Bolivia 0

The game will be streamed live on http://www.youtube.com/user/copaamerica at 8:45 PM (Boston time)

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About Nicholas Nehamas

Journalist and soccer fan. I write on politics, culture, business and sports.
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2 Responses to Copa America Kicks Off Tomorrow

  1. Michael says:

    Is this tournament subject to the same corrupt dealings as we saw at the last World Cup?

    • greekgod134 says:

      Absolutely, although the South American federations are better at covering their tracks than FIFA, soccer’s world governing body. In South America, the game is even more politicized than it is in Europe. Bribes are common, as are fixed games and violence, both fan-on-fan and fans-on-under-performing-players. The clubs and their presidents are deeply involved in local and national politics, and appointments to the national federations are jealously sought as patronage positions. For these reasons, the media is understandably wary of digging too deep into the inner workings of CONMEBOL (the governing body of South American soccer).

      Keep in mind that, as with the World Cup, the matches at the Copa America are most likely above suspicion. High-profile international games are very difficult to fix as the authorities watch betting patterns closely and the players are reluctant to throw globally-watched matches that could make-or-break their careers. Gamblers prefer to bet on under-the-radar games in lower-tier leagues that aren’t as closely monitored. Corruption at the Copa America probably takes place behind the scenes in the traditional “smoke-filled rooms” where officials are elected and tournament hosts decided.

      Having said that, some journalists believe that gamblers do target “non-essential” games at major international tournaments including the World Cup (games where a team has already been eliminated and can’t gain anything from winning or lose anything by losing). Declan Hill’s “The Fix” is an excellent source, the best recent book on the subject. Hill, an investigative journalist who has covered the conflict in Kosovo and mob wars in Canada, focuses on how politically-connected East Asian gambling syndicates have fixed matches across the world through bribery, influence-peddling and intimidation. It is an excellent read.

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