Nickname - La Albiceleste
FIFA Ranking - 1st
Head Coach - Gerardo Martino
Best Copa Finish - Champions (1921, 1925, 1927, 1929, 1937, 1941, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1955, 1957, 1959, 1991 and 1993)
Player You Should Know - Javier Mascherano, MID/DEF, Barcelona (ESP) - Yes, there might actually be someone on Argentina more important than Lionel Messi. Notice I didn't say better, Messi is ridiculously good, but it's going to be Mascherano either leading the backline or shielding it as a holding midfielder that could be the key to ending Argentina's 23-year Copa drought.
Player To Watch - Lionel Messi, FOR, Barcelano (ESP) - Fine, this is a cop out. But even if I throw in Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero, you watch Argentina because their attack is one of the best in the world. That and you want to see them score, I admit it, but scoring hasn't always been Argentina's problem recently, but winning trophies certainly has been and Messi probably wants to end some of the talk he gets from his countrymen about never winning international silverware.
They are the favorites to win this thing, which is actually saying a lot considering the depth of teams in CONEMBOL and the Centenario edition of Copa America. The questions with Argentina, as they usually are, are in defense. I admit I was pleasantly surprised when the half of the team was the key to their World Cup run in 2014, but Pablo Zabaleta (injury) and Martin Demechelis (form?) aren't on the roster. Meaning that the bulk of the veteran experience lies with Marcus Rojo and Nicolas Otamendi and a cast of mostly inexperienced but no doubt talented professionals looking to claim an elusive trophy for their home country.
Nickname - La Verde
FIFA Ranking - 79th
Head Coach - Julio Cesar Baldivieso
Best Copa Finish - Champions, 1963
Roster Breakdown - 19 Domestic, 1 Israel, 1 Kuwait, 1 Sweden, 1 USA (NASL)
Player You Should Know - Juan Carlos Arce, FOR, Bolivar (BOL) - If there's anyone that could be considered a big name for Bolivia, Arce is it. And that's a stretch because in 49 career international games he's got 8 goals, but he's by far the most experienced player on Bolivia's squad and that's going to be a problem because Marcelo Moreno isn't walking through that door.
Player To Watch -Yasmani Duk, FOR, NY Cosmos (USA/NASL) - The 28-year old striker playing on loan in the United States second division is about all we have for a homer pick here. He's got one goal in eight international caps. It's all I got, shout out to Twice a Cosmo.
Bolivia on their best days, which involve playing at very high altitude, are not a great team. Where they play is often the great equalizer and away from home they are absolutely dreadful. This is a team in desperate need of results, new talent and seemingly, just about everything when it comes to their national team. I don't see their cause improving in the short term with two CONEMBOL giants and CONCACAF Hex regular in Group D with them.
Nickname - La Roja
FIFA Ranking - 5th
Head Coach - Juan Antonio Pizzi
Best Copa Finish - Champions, 2015
Player You Should Know - Claudio Bravo, GK, Barcelona (ESP) - The Chilean keeper might be the back up at Barca now, but he was a national hero after pitching a shutout and winning a penalty shootout in the Copa Final last year on home soil. He reached the century mark with his 100th international cap earlier this year and now looks to backstop his country again as they defend their title.
Player To Watch - Alexis Sanchez, FOR, Arsenal (ENG) - Yes, the talented winger is Chile's main attacking threat, but don't sleep on strike partner Eduardo Vargas or midfielder Arturo Vidal either. What makes Chile great is they don't have to rely on one player and can beat you in several different ways, even if guys like Sanchez might be a big part in the goals.
Chile has always been a team that I've enjoyed watching in the past. They're organized, come out with game plans and execute very well and if it goes wrong, well, they'll just outwork you and steal the result anyway. The defending champs won't be a push over in the group or in the knockout stages and you have to assume that they'll get that far. This is as deep and experienced a roster as their is in the tournament and a big run back to the finals should shock no one.
Nickname - Los Canaleros
FIFA Ranking - 56th
Head Coach - Hernan Dario Gomez
Best Copa Finish - 1st Appearance
Player You Should Know - Blas Perez, FOR, Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS) - Love him or hate him, Blas Perez is exactly the kind of character on the field that Panama needs in this tournament. The big striker probably doesn't have a lot left in the tank, but even at 35 he's still got a knack for scoring goals and getting under opponent's skins.
Player To Watch - Jaime Penedo, GK, Deportivo Saprissa (CRC) - The former LA Galaxy keeper has long been one of my favorites in CONCACAF, backstopping both of Panama's runner up finished in the Gold Cup. Like Perez, Penedo is running out of tournaments to play in at 34 but if he's on, even Argentina and Chile are going to have trouble scoring on him.
Panama are rather solidly the third best team in this group, which makes them a threat to advance but as we've seen most CONCACAF teams struggle, they'll have to buck the region trend and knock off their CONEMBOL "minnow" in the first game. With three points in hand, could Panama steal a result from the big two? Certainly, but if they're going to rely on the goal difference tiebreaker they're going to need a big rout against Bolivia to have a chance. Like many in CONCACF, they're good enough to compete with this group, but not good enough to get out of it.
GROUP SCHEDULE (All Times US Eastern)
Monday, June 6th - 7:00 p.m.: D3. Panama vs. D4. Bolivia at Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Fla. / FS1, Unimas
Monday, June 6th - 10:00 p.m: D1. Argentina vs. D2. Chile at Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif. / FS1, Unimas
Friday, June 10th - 7:00 p.m.: D2. Chile vs. D4. Bolivia at Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass. / FOX, Unimas
Friday, June 10th - 9:30 p.m.: D1. Argentina vs. D3. Panama at Soldier Field, Chicago, Ill. / FOX, Unimas
Tuesday, June 14th - 8:00 p.m.: D2. Chile vs. D3. Panama at Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa. / FS1, Unimas
Tuesday, June 14th - 10:00 p.m.: D1. Argentina vs. D4. Bolivia at CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Wash. / FS1, Unimas
On paper the only question that needs to be answered is who wins Group D between Chile and Argentina. The winner of this group would face the runner up of Group C in the quarterfinals, and after yesterday's loss to Mexico that would seem to be Uruguay though Venezuela is currently in second. Panama will make the two CONEMBOL giants earn their knockout round spots, and I've slept on the bad South American teams so far in this tournament but Bolivia could be legitimately bad.
1. Argentina (7pts) 1. Chile (7 pts) 3. Panama (3 pts) 4. Bolivia (0 pts)