Focus on old foes Argentina, Brazil

Focus on old foes Argentina, Brazil

Having lost the last two finals to the Samba boys, Batistas men have a huge point to prove

The old enemies met in the last two finals of South America's top soccer tournament, with Brazil upsetting the favourites twice, but with home advantage at the July 1-24 event, Argentina hope to win the trophy for the first time since 1993. While Argentina have Messi, fast emerging as Diego Maradona's heir, at the heart of their attack, Brazil have their own brilliant player in Neymar, a potential new Pele who has already helped Santos win the Libertadores Cup at 19.

“It is our obligation to win the tournament,” said Argentina coach Sergio Batista, who plays the high-scoring Messi in a roving centre forward role akin to his flexible position at Barcelona.

Argentina open the world's oldest active major soccer tournament at the modern, roofed Ciudad de La Plata stadium on Friday, when they take on Bolivia in Group A (0615 IST on Saturday).

They have a score to settle, having been trounced 6-1 the last time they met in a World Cup qualifier at high altitude in La Paz two years ago during Maradona's time as coach.

An attack boasting Messi, Carlos Tevez and Ezequiel Lavezzi, with Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria on the bench, should have little trouble brushing aside the Bolivians in a relatively easy group for the hosts. They also meet Colombia and Costa Rica.

Brazil, with coach Mano Menezes going back to the basics of his country's ‘beautiful game’ after the pragmatic Dunga era, kick off against Venezuela in Group B at the same venue on Sunday before heading for Cordoba to play Paraguay and Ecuador.

Menezes' pair of aces are Neymar and his 21-year-old Santos team-mate Paulo Henrique Ganso, an exquisite playmaker the coach hopes will spark Robinho, a veteran of Brazil's 2007 victory, and Alexandre Pato up front.

Uruguay come to the tournament on the back of their fourth place at the World Cup and with hardly any changes in personnel or style but a fresher 32-year-old Diego Forlan after a tough season in Spain that included an alarming loss of form.

“There is a very strong (team) base around Diego Forlan (and) he is in very good physical condition (after a refreshing break),” said coach Oscar Tabarez, one of the few coaches to survive a post-World Cup cull.

Uruguay will also play a match in La Plata -- an obligation for the seeded teams in the three groups -- but only when they meet guest team Mexico there on June 12. They kick off Group C in the Andean city of San Juan against Peru on Monday. Chile and Paraguay, who had good World Cups last year, especially the latter with their place in the last eight for the first time, will be tough opponents. Colombia are dark horses, with an attack boasting Radamel Falcao Garcia, whose top-scoring exploits helped Porto win the Portuguese championship and Europa League.

CONCACAF Gold Cup winners Mexico and Costa Rica are here as guest teams but the Mexicans are highly unlikely to reach the final as they did when they first took part in 1993.

Copa at a glance

Groupings

* Group A: Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica.
* Group B: Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay, Venezuela.
* Group C: Uruguay, Chile, Peru, Mexico.

Leading contenders

Argentina: Winners of South America’s top football tournament 14 times, a record they share with Uruguay.

Argentina went into the last two finals against Brazil as favourites but lost on penalties in 2004 after conceding a stoppage-time equaliser and were crushed 3-0 in 2007 by lethal counter-attacks.

Brazil: The eight-time champions have won four of the last five Copa America tournaments.

Under new coach Mano Menezes they have sought to play to their traditional strength, away from the dour, defensive approach of former coach Dunga.

Uruguay: The 2010 World Cup campaign suggested Uruguay -- who have won Copa America 14 times -- had returned to the glory of their early days and they pose a serious threat to the duopoly of Brazil and Argentina. Uru­guay reached the semis in the 2010 World Cup.

Telecast: Unfortunately, the fans in India look set to miss the event with no television channel beaming it live.

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