As hosts, it was clear the burden of expectation weighed heavily on Brazil at last year’s World Cup. So much so that they enter the 44th edition of the Copa America with doubts over whether they have fully recovered from the 7-1 semi-final humiliation at the hands of Germany on home soil despite winning friendlies to repair a fragile confidence.
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Now it is Chile who take centre stage with lofty ambitions and a nation urging them to create history.
In the inaugural tournament 99 years ago they finished fourth, and have been runners-up on four occasions. But they still seek that elusive first success.
A strong team ethic, spirit and the mercurial Alexis Sanchez up front offers hope, though, that this could be their moment.
“This group can win the Copa America,” said the Arsenal frontman. “The time has come to achieve big things.”
But Sanchez and Chile will have to back up their words with big performances as they will not be alone in their quest to be crowned kings of South America.
— Juan Arango (@JuanG_Arango) June 10, 2015
History could perhaps provide a pointer. On the past four occasions Chile has hosted the 12-team tournament, Argentina have been triumphant. And how Gerardo Martino’s men yearn for a repeat of wins in 1941, 1945, 1955 and 1991.
Widely regarded as the best team in the Americas, and with the best player in the world in the shape of Lionel Messi, Argentina’s ‘golden generation’ have failed to sparkle and vastly under-achieved. Having lost the final to Germany, their last World Cup title remains back in 1986, and their last Copa in 1993.
Gold in the 2008 Olympics cannot gloss over the senior side’s failure on football’s biggest stages, and so too Messi, who will lead the Albiceleste’s bid for a 15th Copa, matching the haul of defending champions Uruguay.
Brilliant for Barcelona, he has yet to achieve the same standards for Argentina and was jeered by fans four years ago when hosts Argentina lost on penalties to Uruguay in the quarter-finals.
To be lauded above Pele or his compatriot Diego Maradona as the greatest, Messi has to inspire his country to their first Copa in 22 years, when they overcame Mexico 2-1.
Few will argue they have the best squad and coach Martino admits: “This group of players cannot finish their cycle with the national team without winning a title.”
Brazil will, of course, have a point to prove and a potential meeting between the arch-rivals in the semi-finals could be significant.
Head coach Dunga has rung the changes to take them forward, giving chances to Al Ahli midfielder Everton Ribeiro and Robinho among others, but has yet to win over fans with an approach that focuses on not conceding goals than scoring them.
Hopes of a fifth Copa, out of the last seven, will rest on the slender shoulders of Neymar and all eyes will be on the 23-year-old to see if he can overshadow his club teammate Messi.
The other member of Barca’s fearsome frontline threesome, Luis Suarez, will be a notable absentee as he serves his international ban for biting Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup. That could leave Uruguay toothless in attack and others could also fall short in their challenge.
Colombia could threaten, especially with strikers Radamel Falcao and Jackson Martinez trying to impress potential suitors married to the wizardry of James Rodriguez.
With third-placed teams getting a shot at the quarter-finals, Mexico, despite being shorn of big names due to the Gold Cup, Ecuador, Paraguay and two-time winners Peru will look to upset more fancied opponents in a knockout tie.
Jamaica, whose captain and star man Rodolph Austin is without a club, should enjoy their invitation to the top table and the experience.
Coach Winfried Schaefer, who led Al Ahli to the UAE championship in 2006 and was a President’s Cup and Emirates Cup winner with Al Ain, will have his work cut out, though, to avoid them being embarrassed.
Bolivia were winners in 1963, but they and Venezuela will also be playing for pride.