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A rough guide to the Copa América Centenario (Part 2)

In Part 2 we cover the final two Copa América Centenario groups, which include tournament favourites Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, and also include the only two Fiorentina representatives in the tournament.

Roncaglia (along with Javier Mascherano and Enner Valencia) in 2013.
Roncaglia (along with Javier Mascherano and Enner Valencia) in 2013.
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Since Part 1 was posted, there have already been a few signficant updates:

  • The rules of the Copa América Centenario have been confirmed. The most notable change is that for the knockout stage, until the final there will be no extra time - after 90 minutes, the game will go directly to penalties. Penalties are often arbitrary and cruel, as anyone who watched the Champions League Final would agree, but this is in theory better for the players. The final, if necessary, will have two 15 minute periods of extra time as always.
  • Brazil has lost yet another big name, as Kaká has been replaced by São Paulo midfielder Ganso after being unable to recover from a muscle injury.
  • One of the three Fiorentina representatives in the tournament, Chilean midfielder Matías Fernández, has unfortunately been ruled out of the tournament because of a knee injury. Matí Fernández was primarily used as a substitute player in Chile's 2015 Copa championship, scoring one of the winning penalties.

Group C

Mexico: El Tri has a new coach, Colombian Juan Carlos Osorio, but remains the same talented, unstable side hampered by infighting (well known names such as Giovanni Dos Santos and Carlos Vela are off the squad due to personal feuds), though they are bringing a strong, experienced squad to rival territory. Up to this tournament , Osorio's Mexico has struggled to score goals, however its defense, anchored by the iconic 37 year old Rafael Márquez and Héctor Moreno, has been flawless, giving the new coach a perfect record up until now.

Alongside celebrated veterans such as Márquez and Andrés Guardado, Mexico will rely on service getting to Javier "Chicharito" Hernández, who is coming off a career season at Bayer Leverkusen, where he scored 26 goals in all competitions. Supporting him will be Jesús "Tecatito" Corona from the wings and midfield engine Héctor Herrera.

Uruguay: It would be unfair to call Uruguay a one man team - after all, they have talent at every position and have an unequalled commitment level that has allowed the tiny nation to become the side with the most Copa América trophies, but really, their hopes live and die with Luis Suárez. Love him or hate him, Suárez, Uruguay's all time top scorer in history, cemented his place this season as the best striker in the world, leading Barcelona to a La Liga title and further proving his passion to winning at all costs. Unfortunately, Suárez injured his hamstring during the Copa del Rey final and will miss the group stages.

La Celeste will likely be able to survive the group stages even without Suárez, as they still have a strong, uncompromising defense lead by the all-purpose Diego Godín, a symbol of both Uruguay and Atlético Madrid and perhaps the finest center back in the world; his young Atletí teammate José María Giménez; and international mainstay Fernando Muslera between the sticks. As always, Uruguay will struggle with possession and without Suárez will struggle for goals, hoping Edinson Cavani, who struggled this season for Paris Saint-Germain and has traditionally underachieved with Uruguay, will be able to find his touch.

Perhaps the biggest question remains coach Óscar Tabárez. His no-nonsense, counter attacking style dependent on a muscular midfield that leaves attacking duties to the fullbacks and forwards, sparked a renaissance for Uruguay in 2010 and 2011, accumulating in a 4th place finish and a record 15th Copa América respectively. Tabárez has failed to adjust since then however, and his loyalty to his aging squad has continued to backfire, leading Uruguay to return to mediocrity as their midfield decayed and Cavani failed to properly replace Diego Forlán. Tabárez continues to call up far past their prime regulars like Jorge Fucile and Egidio Arévalo Ríos, however he has finally been forced to slowly introduce new elements, most notably Matías Vecino, Fiorentina's very own box to box midfielder who may have forced his way into Uruguay's starting lineup with his energy and two way abilities. Vecino is likely to be the only Fiorentina representative starting in this tournament.

Jamaica: The strongest Caribbean side, the Reggae Boyz have struggled leading up to the tournament, but have shown an ability to cause upsets since German coach Winfried Schäfer took over in 2013, beating holders Chile as part of the run up. Last year they competed as an invite in the Copa América, holding their own against Uruguay and Argentina, and were the runners up in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, defeating the United States in the semi-finals only to lose to Mexico in the finals.

Their strength is defense, lead by centerback Wes Morgan, the Leicester City captain coming off a historic Premier League championship, sturdy central midfield anchor Rodolph Austin of Danish club Brøndby, and goalkeeper Andre Blake of the Philadelphia Union, who lead a physical and talented defensively focused side. Their weakness will likely to be a struggle to score goals, where the focus will be on Houston Dynamo forward Giles Barnes, a former England youth international.

Venezuela: The last few years have not been kind to La Vinotinto, who have dropped to 74 in the world rankings and are winless in World Cup qualifying. Former national team goalkeeper Rafael Dudamel was appointed coach in April and has plenty of work to do on a side that has talent but has been knocked around in South American qualifying, especially since long time captain and midfield icon Juan Arango retired last year. The first question is how to fix the defense, which has been especially bad in World Cup qualifying.

The pieces are there to turn things around. The backline features veteran centerback Oswaldo Vizcarrondo of Nantes and standout, attack minded right back Roberto Rosales of Málaga. In the midfield is captain and team lead Tomás Rincón, a do everything defensive midfielder who plays for Genoa, who was voted the best player by the fans in the 2011 Copa América, along with 22 year old attacking midfielder Juan Pablo Añor aka Juanpi, who plays with Rosales at the club level. Up front hope lies with the powerful Salomón Rondón, coming off a promising year with West Bromwich Albion, along with Torino's Josef Martínez, another young player looking to put it all together.

Group D

Argentina: On paper, Argentina, stacked with firepower and the number 1 ranked team in the world, are tournament favourites. This is a familiar position right now; it's also not a good thing, as the 2014 World Cup runners up also have made three Copa América finals since the emergence of Lionel Messi. They also have zero titles in this time frame. Talk about Argentina begins with Messi, the best player in the world, maybe the greatest attacker of all time, whose international career has been the subject of hyperbole in his home country and globally, where he remains unable to escape the shadow of Diego Maradona (who never won the Copa América himself). Although Argentina has a wealth of attacking talent and does not depend on the Barcelona forward the way Uruguay does on Suárez, they have increasingly looked to Messi to solve all their problems. In 2014, Alejandro Sabella's defensive minded side relied on Messi exclusively for attack as the tournament went on; things did not improve much in 2015 as the other attacking players continued to disappear and Messi himself ran out of steam in the end.

This should not be the case; alongside Messi in attack is pure striker Gonzalo Higuaín, coming off a historic Capocannoniere campaign with Napoli where he scored 36 goals in 35 games, and Manchester City's Sergio Agüero, another one of the best forwards in the world, and Ezequiel Lavezzi, who has an entertaining Instagram account. The Albaceleste midfield includes verstatile playmakers such as Érik Lamela, Ángel Di María, Lucas Biglia, and Javier Pastore, complimenting the destructive powers of Javier Mascherano who gives it his all, especially when freed from the defensive role forced on him at Barcelona. The backline includes talent coming off less than ideal seasons including Nicolás Otamendi and Marcos Rojo; one weakness is the lack of quality attacking fullbacks available, enabling Fiorentina's combatative call up Facundo Roncaglia to potentially get an opportunity, especially at right back. Gonzalo Rodríguez made the preliminary squad but of course was snubbed quickly, something that is not a surprise at this point.

Gerardo "Tata" Martino, a more pragmatic student of Marcelo Bielsa, has failed to convince since taking over coaching duties from Sabella in 2014, and may be on his last chance. Although he cannot be faulted for the instability of the AFA, despite recent qualification improvements, Martino has failed to bring new life to the non-Messi attacking options and the loss to Chile in last year's final still stings.

Chile: A lot has changed for the 5th rank team in the world and title holders in the past year. In January, manager Jorge Sampaoli resigned. Sampaoli expanded upon the ultra aggressive pressing style introduced to La Roja from fellow Argentine Marcelo "El Loco" Bielsa, and made them the most entertaining attacking side in the world, one that would throw caution to the wind and constantly be looking for forward pass opportunities. This style has taken its toll on Chile's aging core, and Sampaoli's replacement, fellow Argentine (and former international with Spain) Juan Antonio Pizzi is struggling to find a direction to take the team. Pizzi, a promising manager who has had success at the club level in Chile, Argentina, and Spain, is more pragmatically inclined, but risks failing to leave his personality on the squad the way Claudio Borghi did, and a recent loss to Jamaica is not encouraging.

Nevertheless, Chile comes into this tournament with the same talented squad that won the Copa at home last year. In goal is Barcelona's Claudio Bravo, Chile's all time cap leader and one of the world's better goalies if healthy. The midfield revolves around Arturo Vidal, now with Bayern Munich. Vidal has slowed down and adopted a more cerebral game since his move from Juventus, but he still forces his will on every element of the game from line-walking tackles to long range shots, if healthy he will be joined in the midfield by Marcelo Díaz, a smooth passing central midfielder and a favourite of Sampaoli who suceeded David Pizarro. Up front will be Alexis Sánchez, coming off an excellent season with Arsenal, who makes up for his erratic shooting with unrelenting pace and trickery, and Eduardo Vargas, a player who continues to be erratic on the club level but almost as dangerous as Sánchez with Chile.

Unfortunately as discussed earlier Matías Fernández will not be Fiorentina's third representative, as the midfielder is set to miss the tournament with an injury. Matí will be missed, in particular as a change of pace substitute.

Panama: Not exactly the most historically impressive side, the Central Americans nevertheless have been one of the tougher CONCACAF sides in recent years and have a propensity for shock results. They are coming off a third place CONCACAF Gold Cup run despite not winning a game in regulation. A defensive minded side coached by Colombian Hernán Darío Gómez, who rely heavily on strong play from goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, now with Saprissa after a spell in MLS with the LA Galaxy, and play for opportunistic goals and penalty shootouts.

Along with Penedo, notable players include the captain, defender and Mexican league veteran Felipe Baloy, and forwards Blas Pérez and Luis Tejada, all of who are on the wrong side of 30. While Panama thrive on being underdogs, this is an aging squad that will struggle to hold on against the two highest powered attacks of the tournament.

Bolivia: The lowest ranked nation in the tournament, Bolivia is in transition and have little hope of making an impact in this tournament without their home field altitude advantage. Top striker Marcelo Martins and former captain Ronald Raldes retired from international duty following difference with coach Julio Cesar Baldivieso. Without Martins, goalscoring duties will fall to Juan Carlos Arce, who has only 8 goals in 49 games.

Any impact from La Verde will depend on breakout performances from Romel Quiñónez, the first choice of a squad of inexperienced goalkeepers who will be likely to see plenty of work, and 18 year old attacker Bruno Miranda, a Universidad de Chile product who may be the most promising Bolivian talent seen in a while. Other notable callups include left back Luis Alberto Gutiérrez and winger Jhasmani Campos (who never missed a penalty kick in his career), experienced professionals who currently play in the Middle East, and the Swedish born defensive midfielder Martin Smedberg-Dalence.