“There is surely plenty more backstage politicking ahead before a final calendar is drawn up for next year’s long-range version of the Copa America.”
CONMEBOL has announced a change to the usual format of its flagship bi-yearly football tournament, Copa America.
As of next year, Copa America will happen on even years, meaning the tournament will take place this year and next year, and every two years from then onwards.
The Copa America’s about to change: Five key things to know…
- The Copa America tournament is switching from occurring every two, odd years to even.
- Therefore there will be an extra tournament in 2020.
- The tournament will be held jointly by Argentina and Colombia, which are around 3,000 miles apart from each other.
- Both nations wanted the tournament for different reasons, some of which are in direct conflict with the other, but Argentina hosted the Copa America as recently as 2011 while Colombia’s sole contribution came in 2001.
- Instead of featuring the usual three groups of four, the 2020 tournament will involve two groups of six, one in either host nation, with the top four from each qualifying, meaning 38 games rather than the previous 26.
The chief reason behind these wholesale changes to the world’s oldest international tournament is, according to ESPN’s South American football correspondent Tim Vickery, CONMEBOL’s desire for the 2030 World Cup to be staged in South America.
Uruguay were the hosts of the world’s first World Cup in 1930, but the country doesn’t have enough cities, beyond the capital Montevideo, to build the stadia and welcome the millions necessary to fulfil the requirements 100 years later for the centenary event.
The USA, which hosted the COPA America centenary event in 2016, offered to host the 2020 version but was also discounted because of CONMEBOL’s longer-term play for the 2030 World Cup.
The South American footballing federation have thus decided on Argentina and Colombia, although the two countries have wholly different reasons for wanting the event, nor did they bid as a united team.
CONMEBOL believe Argentina, as part of a World Cup bidding team featuring a number of its South American neighbours (including Uruguay, who would have the final, but barring Brazil who hosted the tournament in 2014), would be the primary host in 2030 with its numerous cities.
However, the trouble that came with the Copa Libertadores final between Boca Juniors and River Plate in Buenos Aires – the final was ultimately moved to Madrid due to crowd trouble – means Argentina needs another chance to prove its ability to host elite competition, and the 2020 Copa America is it.
Meanwhile, Colombia believes it is the rightful host to the next World Cup in South America, with Brazil recently having its go and Argentina doing so in 1978.
Vickery writes: “They were originally named as hosts for 1986, but that proved way premature. Things have changed. They organised a successful Under-20 World Cup in 2011 and the country boasts an interesting number of urban centres. But if 2030 goes to the Uruguay-Argentina et al bid, Colombia will have a long wait ahead of them.
“To rub further salt in the in the wound, when it comes to the Copa America, Argentina had one as recently as 2011 – and plenty more before that. Colombia have only ever staged one, back in 2001 and so if there was an extra Copa going, and it was not heading to the U.S., then Colombia thought it should be solely theirs.
“Earlier this year, when CONMEBOL rejected the U.S. offer, they tried to push through a compromise solution, with a tournament shared between Argentina and Colombia. The Colombians continued to lobby for exclusive rights but this week in Rio de Janeiro the final decision was made — although splitting the competition in this way creates problems which will require further decisions down the line.”
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Looking ahead to 2020
Colombia and Argentina are at opposite ends of the continent to each other and will have divergent climates in the summer, with Southern Hemispheric Argentina in the grips of winter while Colombia features climactic variability dependent on geography, from blistering heat to cool and temperate at altitude.
On the actual logistics of the tournament, both decided upon and as yet unknown, Vickery writes: “The 2020 Copa will not feature the traditional three groups of four but instead two groups of six, one in each country. The top four from each group will qualify — meaning that the tournament is longer than the current version, with 38 games rather than 26, as a consequence of a drawn-out and potentially dull group phase.
“The division has already been made as with Argentina are neighbours Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and one of the as yet undefined invited guests. In the north with Colombia are Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela and the other to be determined guest.
“Still undecided is the thorny issue of how and when the two groups cross over – or, to put it more bluntly, which country gets the showpiece games. There is surely not enough time for extensive travel between the co-hosts, so will that mean, then, that the quarterfinals will be between teams from the same group – teams who have already faced each other in the competition? And then where will the semifinals and final take place?