Lionel Messi and Argentina were given a chance for revenge after being drawn against reigning Copa America champions Chile in the group stage for this summer’s special centenary edition of the tournament.
Argentina suffered an agonizing defeat to Chile in the climax of last June’s tournament in Santiago as their major championship drought continued.
However, Messi and his teammates have the opportunity to strike back at Chile after being drawn alongside their South American rivals in Group D.
The Copa America Centenario is taking place outside South America for the first time this year to mark 100 years of the world’s oldest international football tournament.
Ten cities across the United States will host games from June 3-26 in the 16-team tournament, which features 10 sides from South America and six from the CONCACAF region.
Argentina’s clash with Chile was the standout fixture from Sunday’s draw at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan. Panama and Bolivia complete Group D.
Host United States will kick off the tournament against Colombia in the opening match on June 3 at Super Bowl venue Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
The match may carry a good omen for the United States, who beat Colombia in the 1994 World Cup group stages, a game made infamous by the own goal from Colombian defender Andres Escobar, who was later murdered in his homeland in an apparent reprisal.
– Kind draw for Brazil? –
The Americans’ Group A is full of demanding challenges, with 2014 World Cup quarter-finalists Colombia and Costa Rica as well as 2015 Copa America semi-finalists Paraguay.
“It’s a very difficult group, but it’s doable, and this is what a Copa America is about,” US coach Jurgen Klinsmann told Univision television.
“You want to measure yourself with the best teams from South America and also our region. So we can’t wait to get it started.”
Five-time world champions Brazil, however, were given what looked like a straightforward passage into the knockout rounds, with Ecuador, Haiti and Peru forming their opposition in Group B.
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Brazil will open their campaign against Ecuador at the Pasadena Rose Bowl — scene of their 1994 World Cup final triumph — on June 4.
Reigning CONCACAF Gold Cup champions Mexico and Luis Suarez’s Uruguay will be favored to proceed to the last eight from Group C ahead of Jamaica and Venezuela.
Organizers of the Copa America Centenario are banking on a star-studded tournament featuring the world’s best players led by Messi and his Barcelona teammates Neymar of Brazil and Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez.
However, Argentina’s opening game against Chile at Santa Clara on June 6 takes place just three days after Messi’s trial for tax fraud in Spain is due to be completed.
Brazil star Neymar, meanwhile, faces a potentially grueling summer with the Copa America in June followed by the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August.
Although Neymar has reportedly indicated a desire to play in both tournaments, it remains to be seen whether Barcelona will agree to release their star for back-to-back events.
The tournament is taking place against the backdrop of a year of tumult for football in South America and the CONCACAF region, which groups Central America, North America and the Caribbean.
Several high-ranking officials from South America’s governing body CONMEBOL and CONCACAF have been indicted in the US-led corruption investigation that ultimately led to the downfall of global soccer chief Sepp Blatter.
According to US investigators, business deals surrounding the Copa America Centenario had served to generate millions of dollars in bribes for officials implicated in the corruption scandal.
The swirl of sleaze surrounding the tournament’s inception had left it in doubt before officials finally confirmed it would go ahead as scheduled.