The Copa América, the worlds oldest international football tournament kicks off in La Plata, Argentina on Friday. This will be the 43rd edition of the tournament as Brazil look to defend the title they won in Venezuela in 2007. This is unique competition as well, as there is NO qualification process as all ten CONMEBOL countries are represented. The field is then made up to 12 by two invited sides, this year Mexico and Costa Rica make up the entrants. Costa Rica were late entries into the tournament after Japan were forced to withdraw when the top European club sides refused, as is their right, to release players for the competition. Mexico, after just winning the CONCACAF Gold Cup, have sent a pretty much reserve squad made up of players from their domestic competition barring Giovanni Dos Santos of Tottenham Hotspur.
Despite all their FIFA World Cup success, Brazil have only won this competition eight times in their history and the trail current leaders Uruguay and Argentina who have fourteen victories each. Argentina last won in 1991 in Ecuador while 1995 was Uruguay's last triumph which came on home soil. Paraguay and Peru have two titles each while Colombia and Bolivia have one title each. Chile, Venezuela, Ecuador have yet to taste success while none of the invited teams have yet to triumph.
This year's competition will take place in Argentina and kicks off on Friday in La Plata where the host nation takes on Bolivia. The last time Argentina stages the competition was in 1987 when Uruguay defeated Chile in the final. One big change to the format this year is that extra time will be played in the knock out stages, previously ties went straight to kicks from the penalty mark if things were level at the end of regulation.
In a bid to take football to the masses in Argentina, all games barring the final will be held outside of the capital Buenos Aires.
The venues are
Córdoba - Estadio Mario Alberto Kempes - 57,000
Junjay - Estadio 23 de Agosto - 23,000
Mendoza - Estadio Malvinas Argentinas - 40,268
Salta - Estadio Padre Ernesto Martearena - 20,408
San Juan - Estadio del Bicentenario - 25,000
Santa Fe - Estadio Brigadier General Estanislao López - 47,000
La Plata - Estadio Ciudad de La Plata - 53,000
Buenos Aires - Estadio Monumental - 57,921
The draw for the tournament was made in La Plata last November and the groups are as follows
From here, the top two teams qualify automatically for the knock out stages and the best two placed runners up. There are all sorts of tie-breakers for the Group Stage, the end of the line is the drawing of lots by the CONMEBOL Committee.
After that, it's a straight knock out down to the final in El Monumental on July 24th.
Viewers in the UK can catch live action on ESPN.
This is just an overview for now, we'll be back with a more detailed group by group breakdown.