Copa America Centenario: Highlights from the Group Stages - IMBOLDN
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The Copa America Centenario has closed in on its group stages, complete with upsets and bloopers, laying the ground for a knockout stage that promises to be exhilarating.

Usually taking place every four years, this event comes one year after the previous installment, to commemorate the one-hundred years since the Copa’s first occurrence. While all previous Copa Americas have taken place on South American soil, this event is being held in the United States and with 16 teams, 4 more than the usual participants, taken from both CONMEBOL and CONCACAF football federations.

While this timing is unusual, no one is bemoaning the chance to see Messi, Suarez, Sanchez, Dempsey and others, showcase their skills this summer. If the group stage is any indication, the knockout stages promise to deliver the goods.

Group A saw hosts USA secure the top spot after two convincing victories against Costa Rica and Paraguay, following a 0-2 defeat against group runners-up Colombia, in the opening game of the tournament. Colombia, who boasts Real Madrid midfielder and World Cup 2014 darling James Rodriguez, saw the promotional campaign for their jersey temporarily marred by an awkward gaffe, courtesy of Adidas: They spelled Colombia with a “u”. Luckily, this mistake was quickly corrected, and this certainly did not prevent the “cafeteros” from clinching the second place, thanks to their 2 – 1 victory against Paraguay.

Copa America Centenario

Group B is where the most of the tears have been shed. Barely reeling from their crushing world cup semi-final defeat two years ago on home soil, Brazil embarked on this Copa America sans-Barcelona superstar Neymar, who will be leading the country’s Olympic team, also in Brazil. While they failed to truly shine in their tournament opener against Ecuador, Brazil turned up the heat against newcomers Haiti, easily defeating the island nation by 7 goals to 1. Philippe Coutinho’s hattrick (a first for his national team), cemented the victory, reinforced the team’s confidence, and pushed Brazil to the top of the group, ahead of their match against Peru. But Brazil have often had it a bit too easy in the group stages of large international tournaments, and their final group game against Peru was a reminder that things don’t always go as planned.

A frustrating and goal-less first half saw the “auriverde” unsuccessfully try to breach Pedro Gallese’s goal line, while his squad mates struggled to even get a shot onto the brazilian goal. In the second half, things took a nightmarish turn on the 75th minute, when an opportunistic counter attack and a cross from Andy Polo saw Raul Ruidiaz open the score sheet for Peru, with a controversial goal that was aided by his right hand, according to replays. After deliberating with his linesmen, the referee confirmed the goal, and Peru were through to the quarterfinals upon the final whistle blow. Brazil was once again eliminated from another major international tournament, and a few days after this outcome, 1994 world champion and Brazil coach Dunga was asked to leave his role, for the second time. Ecuador will join Peru at the knockout stages, and the latter Andean nation can enjoy another significant record: striker Paolo Guerrero is now their all-time top scorer, having beaten previous the previous record held by Peruvian legend Teofilo Cubillas, since 1978.

Copa America Centenario

Both Uruguay and Mexico were favorites in Group C, which also included Jamaica and Venezuela. Their first game saw the Uruguayan anthem mistakenly replaced by the Chilean one – which worked wonders for team morale: Uruguay lost 1 to 3 against Mexico. While Jamaica was surprisingly sub-par, no thanks to their Premier League-winning captain being ruled out of his first match for parting too hard London, it is Venezuela who upset Luis Suarez’s “celeste”, knocking out the nation which has celebrated the most Copa America victories (a grand total of fifteen). Mexico’s performance in the tournament has positioned them as favorites, with a squad combining the experience of a Rafael Marquez back in defense, with the goal scoring flair of Chicharito, the 28 year old Bayer Leverkusen striker, who is one goal away from reaching the national record held by Jared Borgetti.

Many teams are considering this Copa America as redundant, given its timing and the fact that the Olympics are taking place mere weeks after. However, the opposite is true for Argentina.

Coach Gerardo Martino has lined up the nation’s best, to finally clinch the international title that this golden generation feels they rightfully deserve. In this group, last year’s finalists were paired with the team they lost against: Chile. The other two teams in Group D were Panamá and Bolivia. Messi fanatics collectively held their breath as the Barcelona superstar was injured during a friendly game shortly before the tournament began, drawing a cloud of uncertainty to his participation in the Copa. While he missed the first game against Chile, he joined his squad for the confrontation against Panama, scoring a hattrick (including a surgically executed free kick), and convincing the skeptics that he is indeed, in it to win it.

Copa America Centenario

Argentina’s first game was a rematch of last year’s final, and the “albiceleste” emerged triumphant, clinching the first place of their group.

For their final group stage match, Chile played a tenacious Panama side, who managed to shock Claudio Bravo with a surprise opening goal, only 6 minutes in. Undeterred, the cup holders leveraged the skills of Eduardo Vargas and Arsenal striker Alexis Sanchez, who produced two goals each, ending the game at 4-2, and with Chile in the second place.

The first semi-finalist is already known. Host nation USA secured their spot in the final four by beating Group B runners-up Ecuador 2-1. Peru will face one of the tournament favorites, Colombia, while Venezuela will challenge Argentina. Finally, current cup holders Chile will defend their title against a riled-up Mexican squad, who, based on stadium attendance, are pretty much playing on home soil as well.