Copa America - Brazil looks to atone for World Cup, Messi to drive Argentina | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 11.06.2015
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Copa America - Brazil looks to atone for World Cup, Messi to drive Argentina

Amid a series of scandals off the pitch, the great and good of South American football are set to deliver a spectacle in Chile when the tournament kicks off in Santiago on Thursday evening local time.

Under the pressure of expectation from his compatriots, Neymar wasn't able to deliver the dream World Cup win last summer. His tournament was cut short before that fateful 7-1 defeat to Germany in the semifinals.

A year later, the Barcelona forward carries the hopes of a nation once more as national team captain. The stakes might not be as great at the Copa America, but its Brazil's first chance at redemption since last summer's World Cup heartbreak.

"I'm thrilled to be able to wear the national team's jersey again in a tournament," said the 23-year-old, whose World Cup was brought to an end in a combative quarterfinal win over Colombia.

In recent months, the young forward has looked at home among the stars at Barcelona. As part of a lethal, all-South American front-three with Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi, the Catalan side rounded off the season with the Champions League triumph in Berlin. Combined, the trio have hit 122 goals this season in all competitions.

Thirty-nine goals in 51 appearances this season perhaps doesn't tell Neymar's whole story. The Brazilian has matured into a fine all-round player with the mindset of adding to the team's performance rather than his own.

Now, looking to win Brazil's ninth title and first since 2007, the attacker is Brazil's most dangerous frontman. With more than 60 caps in a record space of time for any Selecao footballer, its little wonder coach Dunga and his cohorts have put so much faith in Neymar.

Messi's time to shine

Fußball WM Finale Argentinien Deutschland

Messi lost out in the World Cup final to Germany and wants to earn his first title in Chile

Meanwhile, Argentina are looking to end a 22-year wait for the South American title. With Barcelona's Lionel Messi producing some of the best form of his glittering career, the 14-times winners of the tournament are one of the frontrunners.

Despite his magisterial contribution to Barcelona's recent success, the 28-year-old has still to conquer the final frontier: international football. Argentina hasn't won the World Cup since 1986 with Diego Maradona, and suffered extra time heartbreak at the hands of Mario Götze and Germany in last summer's final.

"We are at a special time in our careers, we're coming from a World Cup in which we came very close to glory and that urges us on and helps us to feel strong for what's ahead," Messi said. "We have the obligation to play well and fight for all championships. It has been a long time since Argentina last won anything so we must win the Copa America."

Uruguay are international football's overachievers with two World Cups and 15 South American championships to their name despite a population of around three million.

But without the suspended Luis Suarez - sidelined for his 'biting' incident at the World Cup - Uruguay will need to rely on the likes of Edinson Cavani to deliver as part of a hard-working, brave squad which finished fourth at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

"This is a team game and affinities between players need time to gel," noted the team's coach Oscar Tabarez.

Honoring the golden generation

Chile Fußball Nationalmannschaft WM 2014

Chile impressed at the 2014 World Cup, but lost to Brazil

Host nation Chile is looking to win its first championship in its 99 year existence when the country's heroes play in front of a raucous home support.

Jorge Sampaoli's team who impressed at last summer's World Cup with a dynamic and constantly fluid style of football is seen as the country's best hope of lifting a major championship after 36 attempts. Sampaoli even considered basing the team in Europe for the pre-tournament training camp in order to avoid the hype before kickoff on Friday.

Hosting the 44th edition of the tournament, the Chileans are one of only three South American confederations never to have won the competition. Many regard the current generation of Chilean footballers as the best ever, with the likes of Juventus' Arturo Vidal, Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez and Queens Park Rangers' Eduardo Vargas.

But four-time runners-up Chile haven't yet enjoyed success despite the rejuvenation by the philosophy of Marcelo Bielsa, a former coach whose style has inspired even Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola.

"We've been able to work on our planned tasks, we have brought the players who have played less to the same physical and footballing level as those who saw more action in the season, it's all been positive," said Biesla-disciple Sampaoli.

"It's a big challenge for us all," added captain and Barcelona goalkeeper Claudio Bravo on Tuesday. "But in the Copa America, the real pressure is on the teams that have lifted the trophy most often."

The tournament kicks off Thursday evening local time (already the early hours of Friday morning in most of the world) with the hosts facing Ecuador in the capital, Santiago. Chile will also play Bolivia and Mexico, an extra addition from North America, in Group A.

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