Over the course of its 105-year history, the Copa America has witnessed plenty of unexpected results, surprise moments, and unforeseen eliminations. Ahead of this year’s tournament, here is a runthrough of the biggest shocks in Copa America history, and the occasions when teams most firmly defied the odds and pre-match expectations.
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Bolivia lift the trophy on home soil
When Bolivia hosted the South American Championship (as the tournament was known then) for the first time in 1963, they were not featured among the pre-tournament frontrunners. Competitors included Brazil, who had won back-to-back World Cups in 1958 and 1962, and Argentina, champions of three of the previous five editions. Bolivia’s 4-4 draw with Ecuador in their opening match was then responsible for lowering expectations further.
However, they then preceded to win each of their remaining five games to top the group and thus win the tournament. Highlights included an 88th-minute winner in a 3-2 victory over Argentina and a spectacular nine-goal thriller against Brazil to conclude the tournament, which they edged 5-4 to confirm their status as champions. 1963 remains the first and only time that Bolivia have won this competition, progressing beyond the group stage on just three occasions since.
The US humble Argentina in 1995
Ahead of their final group stage match at the 1995 Copa America, defending champions Argentina were in a comfortable position. Convincing wins over Bolivia and Chile meant that they required just a point against the unfancied United States to top Group C, and presumably secure a quarter-final opponent down the less challenging end of the spectrum.
Instead, the US, who had lost 1-0 to Bolivia three days before, capitalised on lacklustre defending to beat Argentina 3-0 and win the group themselves. Goals from Frank Klopas, Alexi Lalas, and Eric Wynalda condemned Argentina to the embarrassing loss, which was then compounded by the fact that they were drawn against Brazil in the quarter-finals, who eliminated them on penalties.
Peru beat Argentina in 1997
Argentina’s attempts to avoid Copa America shocks didn’t fare much better two years later. Daniel Passarella’s team navigated Group A unbeaten and while conceding a solitary goal in the process, and they were rewarded with a quarter-final tie against Peru, who had progressed from the group stage on only the second occasion in the last six tournaments.
Argentina’s tournament then abruptly ended, as Eddy Carazas and Martin Hidalgo established a 2-0 lead for Peru and the favourites were unable to find an equaliser after Marcelo Gallardo’s penalty. Peru celebrated an unexpected 2-1 win and as if to exhibit the extent to which they had exceeded expectations, they were promptly thrashed 7-0 by Brazil in the semi-finals.
A tournament of shocks in 2001
The entirety of the 2001 Copa America was borderline impossible to call. After it was controversially confirmed that the tournament would be staged at just seven days’ notice, it produced a flurry of unforeseen results.
In the group stage, Costa Rica and Honduras – neither of whom were in the top 45 of the FIFA World Rankings – unexpectedly took the top two spots in Group C, and the latter also went on to stun Brazil 2-0 in the quarter-finals.
Elsewhere, Mexico dispatched both Chile and Uruguay to ensure the final featured a non-CONEMBOL team for only the second ever time. In the final they met hosts Colombia, who triumphed 1-0 to win their first ever Copa America, impressively without conceding a single goal in the process. It is fair to say that there hasn’t been such a wildly unpredictable edition of the tournament since.
Mexico spoil Brazil’s 2007 opener
After what was broadly deemed an underwhelming campaign at the 2006 World Cup, Brazil were expected to return to winning ways at the following year’s Copa America and were duly installed as pre-tournament favourites. Their Group B opener against a Mexico team who had recently slumped to 20th in the FIFA World Rankings was considered to be a great opportunity to get their competition off to the perfect start.
However, a Brazil side featuring the likes of Robinho, Maicon, and Gilberto Silva lost 2-0 on the night, as they were unable to respond to first-half goals by Nery Castillo and Roman Morales. Mexico held on to be the beneficiaries of an opening match victory, although Brazil did ultimately win the tournament, suggesting that this particular shock spurred them into action.
A quartet of quarter-final suprises
Unprecedentedly, all four quarter-finals at the 2011 Copa America were won by the underdog. In usual fashion, Brazil and Argentina led the betting market with Chile and Colombia also expected to challenge, but none of the four teams were able to progress to the semi-finals.
Instead, Paraguay held Brazil to a goalless draw before edging them on penalties and Uruguay matched the feat by beating Argentina 5-4 on spot kicks. Peru downed Colombia 2-0 with two late extra-time goals and Venezuela’s Gabriel Cichero netted an 80th-minute winner to eliminate Chile.
Uruguay went on to lift the trophy, a further shock in itself given the team were outside the top 20 of the FIFA World Rankings just three years earlier.
Brazil suffer a group stage exit
When Brazil arrived at the 2016 Copa America Centenario with a talent-stacked squad including Phillipe Coutinho, Alisson, and Casemiro, a group containing Ecuador, Haiti, and Peru seemed easily manageable. A few eyebrows were raised when they turned in a sluggish 0-0 draw against Ecuador in their opening match, but they responded by demolishing Haiti 7-1.
That meant a point against Peru would be enough to secure a quarter-final spot, and there was little to suggest that would be beyond reach. However, their plans were thwarted when Peru forward Raul Ruidiaz scored the only goal of the game in controversial fashion, as replays appeared to show him guiding the ball into the net via his arm.
The result allowed Peru to leapfrog Brazil in the final standings, while Ecuador’s 4-0 win against Haiti meant that Brazil’s four points was only enough for third and they would not feature in the Copa America knockout stages for the first time in 29 years.
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