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Copa America 2021: Group A predictions
Pinnacle projected points
Copa America 2021: Group A schedule
June 14: Argentina vs. Chile, Paraguay vs. Bolivia
June 18: Chile vs. Bolivia, Argentina vs. Uruguay
June 21: Uruguay vs. Chile, Argentina vs. Paraguay
June 24: Bolivia vs. Uruguay, Chile vs. Paraguay
June 28: Uruguay vs. Paraguay, Bolivia vs. Argentina
Manager: Lionel Scaloni
Key player: Lionel Messi
FIFA World Ranking (May 2021): 8th
Recent performances: 2018 World Cup - Round of 16, 2019 Copa America - Semi-finals
Odds to win Group A: 1.769*
Odds to win Copa America 2021: 3.570*
Argentina has regularly shifted their tactical set-up in response to both the availability of players and the expected set-up of the opposition. At times, they have played 4-4-1-1 with Messi playing more freely behind the striker; at times, they have played with wing-backs and two strikers; at times, it has been a narrow 4-3-2-1; and at times, they’ve played a more conventional 4-3-3.
Rather than try to predict a system that is likely to change and evolve throughout the tournament, I will instead focus on a few key partnerships and approaches Lionel Scaloni has prioritised.
Argentina looks to build from a solid core of technical, conservative passing midfielders who have good defensive awareness. Players who work together to provide midfield cover but are also very effective at playing progressive, line-breaking passes.
Despite making the final twice in the last six years, Argentina have not won the Copa America since 1993.
Rodrigo de Paul, Guido Rodriguez, Leandro Paredes, Giovani Lo Celso, Nicolas Dominguez, and Exequiel Palacios are all players who can be used deep, centrally or wide if necessary in a variety of systems and combinations. A focus on these players has been Scaloni’s biggest contribution and it has improved Argentina. These players have the quality to get the ball to Messi so that Messi doesn’t have to drop deep to find the ball himself.
Lautaro Martinez has also been incredibly important in improving Argentina and creating space for Messi. He has excellent movement and is also, importantly, full of confidence. So many other Argentine strikers just look to give the ball to Messi and hide from their responsibility for the national team, but Martinez pushes the opposition defence deeper with his movement, freeing up space for Messi, and if he doesn’t, then he can run in behind.
Defensively, Argentina is still much weaker and this is a big concern. Nicolas Otamendi frequently loses possession under the most minimal of pressure. The likes of Lisandro Martinez, Lucas Martinez Quarta, and Cristian Romero were highly rated youngsters who are now into their peak years without maturing as everyone had hoped.
Lionel Messi is the obvious standout player, who is always capable of winning a game at any moment. He is deadly from set-pieces, and can dribble the ball himself effortlessly, score from range, draw defenders out of posistion and set up a tap-in, or play a killer through ball. The remarkable became normal for Messi over a decade ago.
Lautaro Martinez is also key in opening up space for Messi and giving the opposition defence another threat to contend with.
Scaloni will have to decide if he plays Messi behind Lautaro Martinez, them both upfront together or with Messi drifting in from wide areas. This is likely to come down to the opposition and form of both players during the tournament. There are plenty of good-quality midfielders who are each slightly better suited to different roles and I imagine the system will determine who starts in the area.
Finally, he will need to try to minimise the weaknesses at the back. He has played with a back three and a back four and while the protection in front of goal has improved, this is still a serious vulnerability. If other teams press Argentina’s defence aggressively, they are likely to be rewarded with a number of big chances.
What does the country expect?
Despite making the final twice in the last six years, Argentina hasn't won the Copa America since 1993. While there is an appreciation that this Argentine side is in the middle of a transitional stage, it is a country that always expects the best from the team at any major tournament. Argentina are probably not yet amongst the big favourites for the tournament, but there is a sense they could pull it off if they can get their more experienced players in form.
Argentina obviously has the attacking quality to get goals against anyone in the competition. The big question will be whether their unconvincing defence can keep them safe at the back. However, Argentina looks more like a complete, quality team every month; so perhaps, if things click into place at the right time, this could be their year.
Manager: Cesar Farias
Key player: Marcelo Moreno
FIFA World Ranking (May 2021): 81st
Recent performances: 2018 World Cup - Did not qualify, 2019 Copa America - Group stage
Odds to win Group A: 51.000*
Odds to win Copa America 2021: 177.880*
Generally, Bolivia will play more aggressively to try to win their home matches but will set up more defensively and try to not lose when playing away from home - something which, historically, hasn’t meant a great deal of Copa America success. That said, they did win the competition in 1963 - in La Paz with Chile and Uruguay pulling out while Argentina and Brazil sent reserves.
Bolivia generally switches between a 4-2-3-1 system, which can then change into a 4-5-1 when the team does not have possession of the ball or a 4-4-2 system. Up until recently, it was 41-year-old Carlos Saucedo who played with star striker Marcelo Moreno in attack but Saucedo won’t be playing at the Copa America and it looks like Rodrigo Ramallo of Club Always Ready who could step up to fill the position.
Moreno is superb in the air and a real focal point for everything the side does.
Alejandro Chumacero has been Bolivia’s big international superstar, alongside Moreno, but he is injured and will miss the tournament which will be a big blow to the team. The energetic midfielder is capable of playing almost anywhere and is a consistently impressive performer.
Bolivia has two talented, inventive midfielders in the form of Henry Vaca and Ramiro Vaca. Both are creative attacking midfielders with a good technical ability. Ramiro has been a good, consistent performer with The Strongest while Henry, perhaps generously dubbed “Bolivian Messi” moved to Brazil on loan before returning home for a reported lack of discipline.
Bolivia has some talented players but a lack of confidence away from playing in high altitude means it will be their defenders and solid goalkeeper, Carlos Lampe, who will likely be key in their chances of performing well.
Experienced striker Marcelo Moreno is Bolivia’s all-time leading goalscorer and one of few players in the squad who plays outside of the country. Moreno is superb in the air and a real focal point for everything the side does. He currently plays in the Brazilian second tier, trying to get giant Belo Horizonte club Cruzeiro promoted.
Goalkeeper Carlos Lampe has also been in fine form in this year’s Copa Libertadores and will be important for Bolivia in the Copa America tournament. The athletic keeper had a brief spell at Boca Juniors but has been a consistent top performer in the Bolivian league for much of his career.
Bolivia manager Cesar Farias will have to decide between fielding a team with two strikers or using advanced wide players to link with Marcelo Moreno.
Another big question will come down to how, where, and how many Vacas he can incorporate into his side. A reliance on defensive rigidity has meant they have both struggled to get minutes on the field but with expectations low and freedom to take risks, perhaps they can play a bigger role in the team.
Finally, there have been big changes at the back and it will be interesting to see how they line up. Adrian Jusino plays in Greece and is likely to start but former regulars Jose Carrasco and Gabriel Valverde have not been included.
What does the country expect?
Very little. Playing away from La Paz with some key men unavailable and a lot of changes means Bolivian fans do not have high hopes. A goal or perhaps a clean sheet would be seen as a decent return by many. Perhaps a bit of Vaca magic can lift their hopes ahead of future World Cup qualifiers.
Manager: Martin Lasarte
Key player: Alexis Sanchez
FIFA World Ranking (May 2021): 19th
Recent performances: 2018 World Cup - Did not qualify, 2019 Copa America - Semi-finals
Odds to win Group A: 5.550*
Odds to win Copa America 2021: 13.650*
Chile parted ways with manager Reinaldo Rueda at the start of the year and Rueda has now taken over at Colombia. Uruguayan Martín Lasarte has come in and made a few interesting additions but the core players - Alexis Sanchez, Gary Medel, Jean Beausejour, Claudio Bravo, Mauricio Isla, Charles Aranguiz, and Eduardo Vargas - have been with the squad for around a decade now.
A lack of height at the back was once a determining factor in the national team’s move to place a high defensive line and press aggressively. With Monaco’s 6ft 4’ Guillermo Maripan and Watford’s 6ft 3’ Francisco Sierralta now in the squad, this is less of a concern. Enzo Roco is another very tall option while Sebastian Vegas of Monterrey is decent in the air. Gary Medel is the only potential defensive option who doesn’t have the physicality you would typically expect from a defender.
Chile is really short of some top-quality fullbacks and it will be interesting to see what Lasarte does.
This means Chile can now, at times, play a deeper backline than in the recent past and the side has some very good, experienced options up front too. Erick Pulgar is an excellent tall, midfield anchorman alongside the classy Charles Aranguiz and the tenacious, influential Arturo Vidal.
Chile will probably play with two wingers in a 4-3-3 system, although those playing behind the central striker are likely to come inside to support. Alexis Sanchez has played as a support striker but with everyone else available, he will probably play from the left wing with 20-year-old Carlos Palacios, who is a very quick, tricky, and effective option from the right.
Eduardo Vargas was the top scorer at both the 2015 and 2017 editions of the tournament and he will make a strong claim for the starting central striker spot. Felipe Mora, who plays in MLS with Portland Timbers, is another option while Blackburn’s Ben Brereton could make his debut, offering a more physical option.
Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal are obviously the standout names for Chile. However, I would say that Erick Pulgar and Charles Aranguiz are now perhaps equally as important for the side, quietly running the midfield and providing a solid base for everyone in front. Pulgar is a tall, strong, and dominant defensive midfielder with very consistent passing, while Aranguiz is an extremely technical, intelligent, and deep-lying playmaker.
For me, if Chile are to progress in this tournament, Pulgar and Aranguiz will be key in recovering and retaining possession.
Decisions for the boss
Maripan is very likely to start but who joins him at the heart of the defence is a tricky call for the boss. Medel has been converted to become an effective central defender but he has a severe lack of height and can be caught out when facing quick or tricky players due to his lack of speed when turning. Chile is really short of some top-quality fullbacks and it will be interesting to see what Lasarte does in response to this potential weakness.
I believe the strongest midfield players are quite obvious but it will be interesting to see how the attacking options are set up. A lack of an obvious central striker probably suggests the manager will likely opt for fluidity and interchange amongst the front three. This will be interesting to see.
What does the country expect?
Chile fans will be hoping for one last Copa America challenge from their golden generation. The team has a solid base and if they can get Alexis Sanchez in space around the box then they will be dangerous.
I would put Chile as outsiders but outsiders with the experience and quality to get the better of any side in this tournament.
Manager: Eduardo Berizzo
Key player: Miguel Almiron
FIFA World Ranking (May 2021): 35th
Recent performances: 2018 World Cup - Did not qualify, 2019 Copa America - Quarter-finals
Odds to win Group A: 11.000*
Odds to win Copa America 2021: 36.890*
Traditionally, Paraguayan success has been built around organised, tough, assertive, and uncompromising defensive performances. They will put their bodies on the line and do whatever is necessary to get the points. This approach made the relatively small country a regular fixture and a major test at the World Cup for years.
Without some of the attacking and creative quality of the mid-2000s, Paraguay has become a bit one-dimensional and limited. Coach Berizzo is trying to develop a more expansive and assertive style of play but this is somewhat at odds with what has proven to be effective.
Miguel Almiron has been absolutely vital for Paraguay.
Paraguay traditionally plays a very deep defence which is often made up of four central defenders who will typically play extremely deep, particularly against the stronger sides that they face. This is supplemented by strong, disciplined central midfielders in front.
At the last Copa America, they often went for big ‘target-man’ strikers which really didn’t work with their counter-attacking style. Miguel Almiron would have to carry the ball the length of the field on his own to try to find the fairly static forwards.
In recent months, the Romero brothers, Oscar and Angel, have been brought into the side and this should make things much more interesting. The pair working with Miguel Almiron could transform Paraguay into a far more dynamic, creative, and pacey side, which would complement the very sturdy foundations provided at the back.
Miguel Almiron has been absolutely vital for Paraguay, both when they are sitting deep and countering and when they are looking to play more in the opposition half. Almiron is incredibly selfless in his pressing work and always plays a vital outlet on the break.
While the Paraguayan defenders deserve a lot of the credit for recent draws against Brazil and Argentina, I don’t think either would have been possible without Almiron alleviating pressure and forcing the opposition back with his quick breakaways.
The central defensive pair of Palmeiras captain Gustavo Gomez and West Ham’s Fabian Balbuena is also absolutely vital for the team
Berizzo has to try to balance a desire to be more assertive and ambitious in games with maintaining the organisation, discipline, and defensive rigidity which has kept Paraguay competitive even when they have been short in areas.
If Paraguay can keep their defence strong, supplement that in midfield, and give freedom to the likes of Almiron, Angelo, and Romero, then they should have a really interesting side.
What does the country expect?
Many in Paraguay revel in their national team’s ability to get a result by any means necessary, so the move to a more assertive style of play wasn’t in response to fans’ demands. They will often take a win however it comes, so Berizzo still has to prove the value in his approach.
Paraguay is still somewhat unsure what to make of it all but expectations are of a competitive tournament with more signs of optimism ahead of the resumption of World Cup qualifying. They should get out of the group and then Paraguay’s ability to protect a result could be huge in the knockout round.
Manager: Oscar Tabarez
Key player: Diego Godin
FIFA World Ranking (May 2021): 9th
Recent performances: 2018 World Cup - Quarter-finals, 2019 Copa America - Quarter-finals
Odds to win Group A: 3.800*
Odds to win Copa America 2021: 8.800*
For years, Uruguay had a pair of world-class central defenders and a pair of world-class strikers with everything in between being a bit of a step-down. The strikers Cavani and Suarez are unchanged and the central defenders (Godin and Gimenez) are the same familiar faces but Uruguay’s midfield is now also filled with elite-level talent.
Diego Godin is still a hugely influential defensive leader for his national team.
Uruguay now have Lucas Torreira (Atletico Madrid), Rodrigo Betancur (Juventus), Matias Vecino (Inter), and Nahitan Nandez (Cagliari) available to fulfill a number of roles in the middle of the park.
This gives a lot of subtle flexibility to the 4-4-2 system they most often adopt, while it also provides a very strong core to a potential 4-3-3 system, utilising some of the exciting, tricky wingers and inventive wide-forwards available.
Giorgian de Arrascaeta (Flamengo) and Nicolas De La Cruz (River) have been two of South America’s best attacking midfielders while Brian Rodriguez, on loan in Spain from LAFC, is a very dangerous, direct winger.
Uruguay now has the personnel to comfortably play a flat 4-4-2, a narrow 4-4-2 diamond, a 4-2-3-1, or a 4-3-3 system. They can now also dominate the midfield rather than relying on defensive solidity and match-winning moments from their attacking pair.
Godin is still a hugely influential defensive leader for Uruguay but his partner Gimenez is now probably the key man at the back. The Atletico Madrid player is one of the best central defenders in the world and he looks incredibly at ease at the heart of Uruguay’s organised back line.
It will also be fascinating to see if Federico Valverde and Rodrigo Betancur can strike up a partnership in the middle of the field. This could be another world-class pair for the national side that sticks together, running the show for the next decade.
Oscar Tabarez has played a key role with the Uruguayan national team set-up since the early 1980s when he took over the U20 side. He managed the full national side in the late 80s and returned to the job in 2006, remaining in charge ever since.
Tabarez has done an excellent job building an incredibly effective Uruguay side - they give their star men the chance to shine while bringing them into a close, unified, and cohesive collective unit.
Uruguay were often defensive and direct but with the emergence of great passing midfielders, there is a slightly uneasy transition underway. Uruguay should emerge from this a better side but it is a careful balance. You don’t want to detract from their tight defence or blunt their lethal attack with changes aimed at empowering the talented midfield options.
This is the tricky balance Tabarez faces. That said, a sudden abundance of elite-level midfield talent really shouldn’t be seen as a problem!
What does the country expect?
Uruguay knows they can win this and the entire nation will watch every second with such intense enthusiasm. They are undoubtedly in the conversation; they have world-class defenders, world-class strikers, and now world-class midfielders.
As well as a lot of ability, there is also the unparalleled passion, commitment, and unity that can make all the difference. I believe they will be there or thereabouts.
Don't forget to read our Group B preview and Copa America 2021 predictions ahead of the opening round of group stage fixtures with team news, stats, and analysis, as well as insight from Pinnacle’s odds.
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