While not wanting to waste my life away all this talk of the Asian Cup has got me looking six months ahead to the 2011 edition of the Campeonato Sudamericano Copa America which will be hosted in Argentina.
To those out of the loop to all things South American, the Copa America is the equivalent of the Euro’s. Taking place every four years now, the competition in different formats and names has been going since 1916 and will see it’s 43rd edition this July. Argentina and Uruguay hold the most championship victories with 14 each, although Brazil have tasted success with 4 of the last 5 tournaments.
When you think of hosts Argentina you think of World Cups of 78, 86, Maradona and Messi but with Argentine club football you are immediately drawn to Boca Juniors and River Plate. While neither are having the best success at this time, their names ring around the world as does their cathedrals of football El Monumental and Bombanera. Even out with these two, Buenos Aires has three other massive clubs in Racing, Independiente and San Lorenzo. There are of course other big clubs outside the capital but Buenos Aires is without doubt the heartbeat of Argentinian football.
So perhaps it is with a slightly raised eyebrow that only El Monumental is included in the venue lists for 2011.
The emphasis for this tournament is on taking the game to places that don’t get to watch top flight Primera Division, Copa Libertadores or Argentina national team games. So instead of hosting the Copa America predominantly in one city, which in Buenos Aires they could have done. The tournament will be taken to Mendoza, San Juan, Salta and Jujuy in the north and eastern side of the country who between them have one Primera side, two Primera B Nacional side’s and Salta even hosts Juventud Antoniana a third tier regional side. To have an equivalent it would be like England hosting the Euro’s and having venues such as Carlisle, Doncaster and Darlington. Of course Argentina is much bigger than England so geographic locations plays a much bigger part in getting to games in Argentina.
The final will of course be hosted in Buenos Aires, to be exact at the home of River Plate, El Monumental. So if part of the tournament is taking place outside of the normal setting why not the final? Capacity would be the issue here with Salta, Jujuy and San Juan’s stadia have a combined capacity of around 68,000 while El Monumental holds 58,000 on its own and is where Argentina plays most of its home internationals.
After a slightly disappointing World Cup, not a disastrous one as some of the European press would have you believe, La Albiceleste (white and sky blues) have dusted themselves off, hired coach Sergio Batista and defeated Brazil (albeit in a friendly) to ensure preparations are going well. Victory this summer would be the first major honor for Argentina since 1993, far too long for a country with such talented footballers as Argentina. The most talented of which is one Lionel Messi.
Messi himself admits that up until now not winning anything with Argentina is “a big thorn in my side”. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what Messi has won on an Individual and club level but the answer covers just about everything.
There have been major questions over Messi’s commitment to the national team with a section of the support even going as far as to call him ‘the catalan‘ a reference to the fact he has lived in Catalunya since he was 12 and was brought up at Barcelona’s famous La Masia youth system. While I can’t argue against the fact that the Messi at Barca seems a step up from the Messi with Argentina, to question his commitment is a step over the line, while these doubters do remain, over time they are dwindling especially after Messi’s most recent performance with an individual slice of brilliance to carve open Brazil to earn Argentina a 1-0 win in Doha at the back-end of 2010.
Whether the little man is as good if not better than Pele or Maradona is something which shouldn’t be discussed until Messi is near retiring, he’s only 23 after all, but one thing is clear he needs to win something at International level and followers of La Albiceleste would dearly love this Copa America to be the start of Messi’s honors at International level. Perhaps even including a winner’s medal at the World Cup at neighbours Brazil in 2014? You never know…