Host Brazil gets easy path in Copa America draw
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Copa America host Brazil was drawn in a relatively easy group for this year’s tournament, where it will face Bolivia, Venezuela and Peru.
The draw was made on Thursday in Rio de Janeiro, and gave Argentina the toughest path of the top-seeded teams as it was placed in a group with Colombia, Paraguay and guest nation Qatar.
In the third group, Uruguay will start its campaign against Ecuador, then play against guest Japan before finishing against defending champion Chile.
The top two teams in each group, plus the two best third-place finishers, qualify for the quarterfinals.
Brazil will open the tournament on June 14 at Sao Paulo’s Morumbi stadium against Bolivia, a team that hasn’t reached the World Cup since 1994. Venezuela has never qualified for soccer’s top event, while Peru played in its first World Cup since 1982 last year in Russia.
Brazil’s coach Tite agreed his team will not face the toughest opponents in group stage.
“We are aware of that, but we are also aware we need to play well and win those games,” Tite said.
Copa America is seen as massive test for the coach, who had his contract extended for four years after the elimination against Belgium in the World Cup, a rare event in Brazilian soccer.
The Brazilian coach said he will fly to Paris this weekend to check how Paris Saint-Germain striker Neymar is doing after an injury that could keep him out of action for months, which could affect his preparations for Copa America.
Seeking to end its title drought that dates to the 1993 Copa America, Argentina will face Colombia on June 15 in Salvador before playing Paraguay four days later in Belo Horizonte. Its last match in the group stage will be on June 23, against the Qatari in Porto Alegre, a Southern Brazil city close to the Argentinian border.
It is still unclear whether Barcelona star Lionel Messi will return to his national team for the tournament. He hasn’t played for Argentina since the elimination against France in the last World Cup.
Argentina’s interim coach Lionel Scaloni said he will talk to Messi before he makes his final list for the Copa America.
“We hope he can come, we want him to be happy,” said Scaloni. “We have a good feeling about this.”
If Brazil and Argentina win their groups, their paths could only cross at the July 7 final at the historic Maracana stadium in Rio. In case the Argentinians finish second in their group, the clash could happen at the semifinal at the Mineirao, where Brazil was hammered 7-1 by Germany in the 2014 World Cup.
Uruguay will debut on June 16 against Ecuador in Belo Horizonte. Defending champions Chile will start its campaign against Japan on June 17 in Sao Paulo, a city of massive Japanese immigration.
Japan also played as a guest in the 1999 Copa America.
Qatar, a team that barely existed before the country was granted the rights to host the 2022 World Cup, will debut at Copa America at the Maracana stadium against Paraguay on June 16. The Qatari will play against South Korea on Friday in a semifinal of the Asian Cup, a feature that was unimaginable a few years ago and that bodes well for a team about to face tough South American sides.
Tournament organizers also said it will put an additional 228,000 tickets on sale on Friday. Most of the first batch of Copa America tickets that was released earlier in January has already been sold.
2002 World Cup winner Ronaldinho introduced Merlin Rabisco, the Copa America official football. Its urban-art design includes five stars representing the number of times Brazil hosted the tournament.
Savarese reported from Sao Paulo.