The 2015 Copa America begins with the hosts, Chile, playing the group A opening match at the Estadio Nacional in Santiago against Ecuador, hoping to fulfill the promise and live up to the expectations of the nation.
Unlike previous tournaments, Chile enter this one as one of the top 3 or 4 favorites to win it all. They’ve done well in the past when hosting the tournament, but they’ve yet to win the competition in all of its formats and years, four times losing in the final. The quality and depth in the Chilean squad which seems to be more than just a passing phase suggests this is a team that’s more than just one or two good performances in a World Cup.
Ecuador did make an impression in the World Cup but didn’t go through to the group stage and overall lack the kind of star power and technical quality the Chileans possess, with a squad that’s mostly made up of players playing in Ecuador, as seven players represent Emelec. Another problem for Ecuador will be goals, as the players called up to the tournament (no Antonio Valencia or Felipe Caicedo) have only 40 international goals between them, 11 to Enner Valencia.
With Valencia looking like the only serious threat up front (maybe Fidel Martinez of Pumas can be of assistance), it’s their defense, with goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez and captain Walter Ayovi that will try to prove they’re really the strong part of this team, and be solid enough to withstand the Chilean pressure which is sure to come.
Two names stand out in the Chile team. Alexis Sanchez, coming off a brilliant year with Arsenal (25 goals in all competitions) and Arturo Vidal, who didn’t have the best of seasons but is one of the best central midfielders in the world, as long as he keeps his head straight and doesn’t let his emotions get the best of him, something that almost happened to him in the Champions League final, and something manager Jorge Sampaoli warned him about.
But there’s more to Chile than just attack. They don’t have the best defense in the world but their goalkeeper, Claudio Bravo, had an excellent season for Barcelona and is regarded as one of the best in the world today. It’s an experienced squad with Guy Medel and Gonzalo Jara at the heart of the defense, while Matias Fernandez playing next to Eduardo Vargas will try to provide some creativity and solidity in midfield.
Ecuador will be playing on counter attacks, while Chile can do a much better job of blending possession and slow build up. In terms of recent clashes, the two sides traded wins in the World Cup qualifiers. Ecuador beat Chile in Quito on October 2012, but Chile were victorious in the previous meeting at Santiago, winning 2-1 a year later with goals from Sanchez and Medel.