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Copa America 2021: Defending champions Brazil start favourites; Argentina hope to break trophy duck

·4 min read

Brazil's international players were reluctant to play in the Copa America on home soil. Now that they're committed, they're favored to win it.

Argentina still loom as a threat to Brazil's title defence, but now as a visiting team.

Argentina and Colombia were dropped as tournament co-hosts before Brazil contentiously stepped in late to stage the continental championship.

Being away from home takes some pressure off Lionel Messi and his Argentina team.

The Copa America will kick off on Sunday with defending champion Brazil against Venezuela at the Mané Garrincha stadium in Brasilia. The final will be on 10 July at the Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro, one of the COVID-19 epicenters in Brazil, where more than 480,000 have died from the coronavirus.

No spectators will be allowed to attend any Copa America matches because of restrictions in place for the pandemic, which has already delayed the tournament by a year.

Brazil players ended speculation about a potential boycott by issuing a unified statement on Wednesday saying they are "unsatisfied" with the decision to move the tournament to their country, but it wouldn't stop them from representing their national team.

And if South American World Cup qualifiers are anything to go by, the Copa America title is Brazil's to lose. Brazil have won all six of their games and are six points clear of second-placed Argentina. With the likes of Neymar onboard, coach Tite expects not only to defend the title they lifted in 2019, but also use the next 30 days to prepare for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Many tests are expected. Alisson is no longer the team's unchallenged goalkeeper, with Ederson getting more chances to start.

Captain Casemiro is yet to find out whether he will play as defensive midfielder next to Douglas Luiz, Fred, or Lucas Paqueta. And four options appear upfront to work with Neymar: Gabriel Jesus, Roberto Firmino, Richarlison, and Gabriel Barbosa.

Argentina were placed third in the 2019 Copa America, but they have improved under coach Lionel Scaloni.

Defender Cristian Romero, and midfielders Leandro Paredes and Giovani Lo Celso are now trusted to break the opponents' lines. Up front, Lautaro Martínez and Sergio Agüero bring the same respect.

And that means Messi, who turns 34 later this month, doesn't need to be part of every play for Argentina to win.

"Argentina always dominates, sometimes in a very vertical way," Scaloni said. "If you look at all our matches in qualifiers we deserved to win. But at soccer, deserving doesn't count."

Argentina haven't won a major title since the 1993 Copa America.

Colombia have improved since the return of coach Reinaldo Rueda. They trashed Peru 3-0 in Lima and got a late equaliser to force a 2-2 draw after being two goals down against Argentina. Copa America could further enhance the team, which will not have midfielder James Rodríguez because of fitness problems.

Uruguay have struggled despite counting on Luis Suárez and Edison Cavani, who will return to the team after a two-match suspension in World Cup qualifiers. Uruguay haven't won any of its three latest matches on the road to Qatar.

"We have to be aware there's things to improve as always and get ready for something that gives us a lot of aspiration," Uruguay coach Oscar Tabárez said after Tuesday's 0-0 draw with Venezuela.

Peru, the 2019 Copa America runner-up, are struggling in World Cup qualifying but hoping a 2-1 win at Ecuador earlier this week might spark a change in momentum. Coach Ricardo Gareca decided not to bring in striker Paolo Guerrero, who is returning from injury. He will be relying instead on Santiago Ormeño, who plays at Mexico's León.

Chile coach Martín Lasarte has decided to use an inexperienced squad in Copa America, making it more of a priority to qualify for the next World Cup.

"We will use it as a tool to strengthen younger players," he said. Chile are currently placed sixth in qualifying.

The tournament will be divided into two groups of five. Group A includes Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, Chile, and Paraguay. Brazil are in Group B with Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Peru. The four best of each group advance to the knockout stage.

Quarter-finals will take place on 2 July at the Nilton Santos and Goiania's Olimpico stadium, and 3 July at Olimpico stadium and Brasilia's Mané Garrincha.

The semi-finals will be at the Nilton Santos stadium in Rio on 5 July and in Brasilia the next day.

Also See: Copa America 2021: Tournament left without a host country after CONMEBOL rules out Argentina amid rising COVID-19 cases

Copa America 2021: Iconic Maracana stadium to host final; Brazil to play Venezuela in tournament opener

Copa America 2021: Brazil players debate whether or not to play in tournament

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