Copa America predictions: Argentina to win, hosts USA may fight

Our Latin America soccer experts pick their winners for this summers Centenario, and wonder whether USA and could be early casualties

The winner will be

Argentina. They have a ridiculously good squad, particularly in forward areas, and, wracked by the fact theyve won no senior international tournament since 1993, theyre one of the few major nations to be treating the competition with full seriousness. Gonzalo Higuain, whose missed chances cost Argentina at the World Cup and 2015 Copa America, is in the form of his life. Jonathan Wilson

Argentina. Now that we know theyre going to be there in the first place, this team should be strong enough to hold off even the well-organized Chile team, or the ongoing Dunga revamp of Brazil. Graham Parker

. Clearly the strongest squad, especially as a Neymar-less Brazil are more interested in winning the Olympics on home soil. Runners-up in three of the past four Copas, and last champions in 1993, Argentina are due. Tom Dart

Argentina. The Albiceleste find themselves on promising form heading into the tournament. Even with Messi battling back pain, Argentina still boast the deepest attack and a vastly improved defense. A forgiving group draw doesnt hurt either. Dave Martinez

Mexico. No Suarez for the group stages for Uruguay means El Tri will run away with Group C and that means they wouldnt have to face an inconsistent Brazil until the semi-finals. Osorios squad is deep and extremely talented, led by Javier Hernandez and one of the most exciting midfield units (Guardado, Herrera, Corona, Lozano) in the tournament. And lets not forget thanks to the Mexican-American community in the US, every game will feel as if theyre playing at the Estadio Azteca. Luis Miguel Echegaray

USA will get to

the quarter-finals. With home advantage they should be good enough to get out of a relatively straightforward group, but Brazil or Ecuador await in the last eight. Brazil are out of sorts and Ecuador, while in rich form, are beatable, so a semi-final isnt impossible. JW

the quarter finals. A semi-final place may be the target, but starting the tournament with a final against Colombia, as Jrgen Klinsmann has put it, may not give them the result to advance better than second out of the group particularly with Klinsmanns insistence on experimenting right up to the very last warm-up game. That will tee them up for a difficult quarter-final and probable heartache. GP

watch as better teams compete for the trophy. Home field advantage wasnt any use in last years Gold Cup and overall the squads generating less buzz than a beehive in a pesticide factory. The pressure on the coach may spur the team on, but its borderline whether they even get out of a hard group. TD

the semi-finals. But it wont be easy. Colombia, Paraguay and will all present difficult challenges, but with Keylor Navas in doubt for Costa Rica, the USs chance for advancement only grows. Led by a crop of youngsters and buoyed by home field, the US will be poised to make an impression. DM

the group stage and thats about it. I hope Im wrong: Id love to see the hosts make a good run, but my gut tells me they wont get out of Group A. Its a tough group for USA, and Im not even talking about Colombia. On their day, both Costa Rica and Paraguay can be a handful. Jozy Altidore is hardly Robert Lewandowski but Jrgen will miss him more than he thinks. LME

Jurgen Klinsmann is

an average coach whose motivational abilities cant disguise his tactical shortcomings. JW

stretched too thin. The technical director of US soccer keeps interfering with the head coach in trying out new personnel to bring through, with a perpetual eye on a distant event horizon. The coach is unable to settle on a side with all this going on, and should maybe take that up with the technical director, but the technical director etc etc. GP

still unsure of his best team and tactics and surely ripe for replacement if the Copa is a catastrophe. TD

relying on new blood. Pulisic, Brooks, Nagbe and Wood have excited in recent matches. Will they finally fulfill Klinsmanns promise of proactive soccer? DM

always a motivator, never a tactician. Klinsmanns Achilles heel is that he doesnt have a plan B. LME

Lesser known player to watch

Egidio Arevalo Rios. At 34, hes not exactly a new talent bursting onto the stage, but he has been a weirdly underappreciated member of the Uruguay national side for a decade, his energy and reading of the game in front of the back four protecting tough but slow central defenders. JW

Obviously Christian Pulisic is all potential at the moment, so lets say him. Though bitter experience of US prospects in the past might mean the kindest thing to do is turn our collective backs every time he has the ball, until hes at least 25 and has been allowed to grow up. Perhaps Gabriel of Brazil a 19-year-old forward who seems to have a certain something about him will break through. GP

Does the world need a new Neymar? Old Neymar is only 24. But Gabriel Barbosa has been linked with a move from Santos to a top European club and the 19-year-old prolific goalscorer may see decent playing time for Brazil in the absence of the Barcelona man. TD

Bobby Wood. Wood blossomed in Bundesliga II competition and has looked dangerous in his recent outings with the USMNT. With Altidore gone and Dempsey struggling with form, Wood may have the kind of breakout performance at striker the US hasnt seen since Charlie Davies in the Confederations Cup 2009. DM

Perus Christian Cueva. Ricardo Gareca has named a relatively inexperienced squad for la Copa but Cueva who plays for Toluca in Liga MX is one of the survivors from last years tournament, and with no Pizarro, Farfan or Vargas he could make quite the impression for La Blanquirroja. Since making his debut in 2011, the 24-year-old has matured tremendously. A tricky dribbler with an eye for goal. LME

Surprise team of tournament

The absence of Felipe Caicedo is a blow, but hes not the only reason Ecuador stand level on points with Uruguay at the top of Conmebol World Cup qualifying. Gustavo Quinteros has put together a well-balanced, attacking side and with Brazil as weak as theyve ever been, the draw has been kind. JW

Maybe Mexico will punch above their weight on whats essentially home turf for them I heard an argument the other day that they may be the most popular sports team in the USA, and you can see why thats claimed. For betting sorts, their odds are way too long given the location of the tournament. GP

Jamaicas current struggle to qualify for the 2018 World Cup is a bad omen, and their group is nasty, but they did reach the final of last years Gold Cup, competed hard in last years Copa (losing all three games 1-0), have a decent number of US-based players and a Premier League-winning captain in Wes Morgan. TD

Colombia. Costa Rica, Ecuador and Jamaica are the dark horse teams this tournament, but will likely leave their hopes in the group stage. Colombia, a Group A favorite, seems an odd choice here, since they clearly lack the form of their darling 2014 World Cup side, but if their defense holds it together, Colombia has the tools to upset some of South Americas giants, thanks in part to their attacking options. DM

Jamaica. Suarezs injury has flipped Group Cs fate upside down. Yes, Uruguay are still a strong contender, but they are completely different without Lucho, so if Mexico come on top, the runner-up is up for grabs. Enter the Reggae Boyz, led by Premier League champion Wes Morgan. Jamaica has had recent success in America as last summer they made it all the way to the Gold Cup final by beating USA in the semis. LME

Tournament MVP

Angel Di Maria. The hope, of course, is that the tournament becomes the international consecration of Lionel Messi, but more likely is that Di Maria, in fine form for PSG, can benefit from the attention paid to Messi. Argentina suffered form his injury in Brazil two years ago. JW

Its going to depend how tired Lionel Messi is, but if my prediction for champions comes true hell have been the difference maker. GP

Lionel Messi. Sure, an obvious pick, but hes the best player on the best team. Hes motivated. Hell see a lot of minutes, deep into the tournament. With Panama and Bolivia in Argentinas group, he could enter the knockout phase leading the scoring chart. TD

Lionel Messi. This is the cop-out choice, but hear me out. Argentina fans get on Messi for lacking that Maradona-esque quality, carrying the team on his back towards glory. He has 28 club titles, but his biggest international achievement came in a gold medal winning Olympic performance in 2008. He has never won a World Cup or Copa America. This is his chance to put that right. DM

Lionel Messi. Last years Copa was an interesting experience for La Pulga. Despite the fact Argentina went all the way to final, losing to Chile on penalties, the Barcelona star failed to score from open play during the entire tournament. Lightning wont strike twice this summer: Messi will take full advantage of a manageable group and help Argentina reach the final. LME

Big team to suffer

Brazil may win the tournament and they should reach the final. They have such a large population and so many good players that even being as badly run at every level as they are, they can still bluster through especially with a draw this straightforward. But they play dull, dour football that is at least a decade out of date, have a debilitating sense of entitlement and could be embarrassed by Ecuador. JW

Brazil sort of. If you call a semi-final loss failure. I just think it still might be a little too early in the Dunga project for them to get past Chile, who I have them on course to play. GP

Champions at home last year, are Chile at risk of an early exit? Under new management, their recent form has been indifferent. They should get out of their group without too many problems (unless Panama are a surprise package) but then may face a buoyant Mexico in the quarters. TD

Brazil. While they have one of the most forgiving group stage opponents and will likely win their group outright, Brazil have suffered against better opposition in recent World Cup qualifiers. O jogo bonito is no more, and without Neymar, David Luiz and Marcelo in the mix, winning will be that much more difficult.

Brazil. No Neymar is the least of Dungas worries. This is a young squad playing without any ginga to their game, and the individual flair and team cohesion seems but a distant memory. Group B is not as clear as we may think: both Ecuador and Peru could give the selecao a headache this summer. LME

Quarter-finalists

USA, Costa Rica, Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile. JW

USA, Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile. GP

Colombia, Ecuador, Argentina, Jamaica, Brazil, USA, Mexico, Chile. TD

USA v Peru, Mexico v Argentina, Brazil v Colombia, Uruguay v Chile. DM

Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile. LME

Semi-finalists

Brazil, Ecuador, Argentina, Mexico. JW

Colombia v Argentina; Brazil v Chile. GP

Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico. TD

USA v Argentina, Colombia v. Chile. DM

Ecuador, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia. LME

Final

Argentina v Brazil. JW

Argentina v Chile. GP

Argentina v Brazil. TD

Argentina v Chile. DM

Argentina v Mexico. LME

Should some games be played at more intimate venues?

Possibly. Others will know more about marketing than me, but the distances teams are having to fly between even group games is not conducive to a good tournament. Siting one group in one region is an old-fashioned idea but it made everything easier for players, fans and journalists. JW

No. This is what the spectacle needs to be for this whole party to make any sense. GP

Its important the tournament feels big-time, hence NFL arenas, but asking fans to pay $80 for a bleacher seat for Haiti v Peru, even in a hotbed like Seattle, is a guarantee of a stadium emptier than outer space. TD

Away from the group matches, intimate venues are just bad business. Copa Centenario has the chance to make major headlines in the US. There will be no shortage of interest in the knockout matches. Keep it big. Show how much soccer is loved in this country by the thousands watching live and at home. DM

Remember when Manchester United played against LA Galaxy in July last year at the Rose Bowl? The attendance was 86,432. And then a few days later, when Los Angeles played against Barcelona? 93,226. This is America. They dont do intimate. LME

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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