Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:58 AM

Copa Betting Preview

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The oldest running international tournament in world soccer kicks off on Friday night in Brazil. The ten members of CONMEBOL plus two guests in Japan and Qatar, take part in Copa America, the competition that kick-started football in South America and that continues to showcase some of the world’s best players.

The 12 teams are divided into three groups of four. The top two qualify automatically, and they will be joined by the best two third-placed teams. The quarter-finals go straight to penalties after 90 minutes, while the semifinals and final have extra time. The format provides a sharp contrast between the group stage and the knockout rounds. Three draws from three games will almost certainly be enough to take a team through what could be a rather pedestrian first two weeks.

Group A
Brazil -600
Bolivia +2500
Venezuela +1400
Peru +600

Group B
Argentina -140
Colombia +150
Paraguay +800
Qatar +4000

Group C
Uruguay +100
Ecuador +600
Japan +1400
Chile +150

On the eve of the tournament, one of those great players was ruled out and with it, one of the likely themes of the tournament. There will be no redemption for Neymar, no first big international title. The PSG man cruelly picked up an ankle injury in Brazil’s warm-up win over Qatar. Others must now step up.

However as hosts, Brazil are still runaway 11/10 favourites to win the competition. They have been put in a kind group along with Peru and South America’s two traditional whipping boys, Bolivia and Venezuela. Should the favourites win all their group games, their path sees them avoid both Argentina and Uruguay, the second and third favourites for the tournament, on their road to the final at the Maracana on 7 July.

Without Neymar, Brazil coach Tite must reconsider his options. Key to his plans is likely to be Philippe Coutinho, while the centre forward position is a choice between Roberto Firmino and Gabriel Jesus, with the latter slightly more likely to get the role.

Tite has evolved Brazil’s style since last year’s World Cup. The introduction of Arthur in midfield gives the team more guile, while Alisson has proved himself to be one of the world’s best keepers.

The second favourites are the perennially fascinating, dysfunctional and wonderful Argentina.

After a shambolic World Cup, coach Jorge Sampaoli was swiftly dismissed and they go into this competition with a caretaker manager, Lionel Scaloni, at the helm. The stakes are incredibly high. This elite footballing nation has not won a major tournament since 1993. They are desperate to give Lionel Messi some silverware before it is too late. But off-field problems, the difficulty of picking the right striker to play with Messi, and defensive incompetence have hampered them.

The positive for this tournament is that Messi is relatively fresh. Barcelona wrapped up La Liga early, and his fitness showed as he put on a masterclass in Argentina’s thrashing of lowly Nicaragua.

Third come Uruguay, who look a really interesting prospect. For a long time La Celeste were a functional, dogged team, but the discovery of a crop of skilful young midfielders, such as Rodrigo Bentancur and Federico Valverde, has allowed Oscar Tabarez to make his side more expansive.

The long-standing qualities for determination that define Uruguay still remain, however. Atletico pair Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez make up arguably the most fearsome centre-half partnership in the competition. Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani are now 32, but both are still superb strikers. And there is now competition in the shape of Maxi Gomez, a 22 year-old bull of a striker for Celta Vigo who looks set to have a fine career.

Uruguay won all three group games in Russia before beating Portugal 2-1 in the last 16, showing they have the mettle to win big knockout ties. Their downfall came against eventual champions France. The second goal in that game came thanks to an error from keeper Fernando Muslera, and his erraticness is perhaps Uruguay’s main weakness. But at 7/1, Uruguay look good value.

Peru are the favourites to finish second behind Brazil. They made a lot of friends in Russia but an unfortunate early defeat to Denmark meant they went home after the group stages. Naivety cost them at the World Cup, and although they will surely have enough to get through the group, that could cost them again here.

Venezuela, the only South American country where football is not the most popular sport, are not as hopeless as they once were. They nearly qualified for the 2014 World Cup before slipping back in their quest to qualify for 2018. However they were runners-up at the 2017 Under-20 World Cup, indicating that there is promise.

They look good value to finish above Bolivia, whose record is consistently dreadful away from the extreme high altitude of La Paz. At sea level, their team is generally exposed for being slow and short on talent.

Joining Argentina in Group C are Colombia, Paraguay and Qatar.

Colombia have never really kicked on since breaking through at the 2014 World Cup. Although they were a penalty shootout away from the quarter-finals in Russia, their performances were inconsistent. Juan Fernando Quintero was their best player, but he misses out through injury, and talisman James Rodriguez is coming into the competition after a very average season for Bayern Munich.

Paraguay are traditionally similar to Scandinavian teams in Europe: relatively defensive and tough to beat. They have suffered a poor last 12 months since their failure to make the World Cup and bring a young squad to Brazil. Newcastle’s Miguel Almiron will be key for a side that generally struggles in front of goal.

Qatar won the Asian Cup earlier this year but are up against a completely different category of opponents here. Their squad, who are all based at Qatari clubs, will struggle with the step up in quality.

Uruguay’s Group C draw of Chile, Ecuador and Japan looks tough on paper, but in reality is quite kind.

Chile have won the last two Copa Americas, but are coming to the end of their golden generation. Alexis Sanchez has suffered a horrible decline over the last two years, and the young players coming through simply are not of the calibre of the best Chilean team of all time.

Ecuador collapsed spectacularly in qualifying for the World Cup, losing their last six games. Coach Hernan Dario Gomez has selected a relatively young group in the hope of starting a fresh cycle. However their record outside Ecuador - with altitude again being a factor - is awful. Their last away win came against Venezuela in 2015.

Japan are using this tournament to plan for the future. Their squad contains just three players who have over 10 caps, and all bar six are yet to represent the national team. The group could well contain stars of the future, but they are unlikely to pick up any points here.

Prediction: Brazil to win

Best Bet: Uruguay at 7/1

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