The 43rd Copa America kicks off on 1st July in Argentina, with 12 talented teams ready to prove a point. With no World Cup or European Championships to generate excitement this summer, the pressure is on the Copa America to fill the void for fans around the world.

While Lionel Messi’s Argentina will attract plenty of headlines in Group A, the most intriguing battles may well come in Group B where defending champions Brazil were drawn alongside Paraguay, Ecuador and Venezuela.

With so much at stake en route to the final on 24th July at Buenos Aires Estadio Monumental Antonio Vespucio Liberti, no team can afford early slip-ups.

We take a look at the contenders in Group B:


Having won four of the past five Copa Americas, the Brazilians have every right to approach the tournament with confidence. While the past two World Cups have ended in disappointing fashion with surprisingly early exits, the Copa America has been under Brazil’s spell – and bragging rights have been earned by beating Argentina in the final in 2004 and 2007.

But this is a new year and Brazil have a new manager and an altered cast of stars. Results in the build-up to the tournament have been erratic – with wins over Scotland and Romania, but losses to Argentina and France – and the goals have not been flowing in the manner that the football world expects from the Brazilians. So, there is still a lot to prove and concerns linger that despite the obvious potential within their ranks, Brazil are now lacking that vital ingredient – experience.

Coach: Mano Menezes

Mano Menezes has had a rough start to life in the Brazil hotseat after replacing Dunga last summer. It did not help matters that he was reportedly the second choice for the job behind current Santos boss Muricy Ramalho.

With established stars suffering from injuries and loss of form, Menezes has been forced to rebuild his squad. The result has been stuttering performances that will not strike fear into the rest of Group B. The squad is a work in progress and the 49-year-old coach arrives in Argentina under pressure and with the talents at his disposal is expected to go all the way.

“The renovation has been intense. If you look at the names today, there are only four players who were starters in the last World Cup: Julio Cesar, Lucio, Robinho and Elano,” Menezes explained as he illustrated the extent of the revolution he has instigated.

Key Player: Lucio

While the creative spark of youngsters Neymar and Paulo Henrique Ganso will be critical in determining how far Brazil go in this year’s Copa America, captain Lucio has the most important role. The Inter centre back has seen it all at international and club level and continues to merit a place in the “best defender in the world” discussions. In fact, such has been his form since landing at the San Siro, the defender is even being courted by former club Bayern Munich; the German side decided his best days were behind him when they sold Lucio to Inter.

Surrounded by younger, unproven team-mates, his leadership and organisation of the back four take on an even greater significance as the 33-year-old is one of the established stars in this Brazil unit. Lucio will also be expected to launch attacks with his trademark forward bursts.


Look for the Paraguayans to provide the sternest test for Brazil. La Albirroja have not won the tournament since 1979 and are unlikely to reach the final in Argentina, but they have more than enough quality to spring a surprise or two. Having reached the last four World Cups, experience is building within the squad – and the quarter-final appearance in 2010 was their best ever effort.

The defence is solid – as shown by clean sheets in their past three games – and the strike pairing of Roque Santa Cruz and Lucas Barrios, the Borussia Dortmund frontman, has the potential to grind down opponents.

Coach: Gerardo Martino

Martino had originally planned to step down from his role after the 2010 World Cup, but was persuaded to continue and take one final crack at the Copa America. Barring another turnaround, this will be the 48-year-old’s swansong in the job. During his spell in charge, Paraguay have consistently proven a gritty side, capable of frustrating the big boys and it would be no surprise to see another run to the quarter-finals. Eyebrows were raised, however, over the omission of striker Oscar Cardozo.

But Martino has high hopes for the tournament. "We’re not going to the Copa America to just see what’s going on," he said. "We’re looking to reach the final. We have to go to win it, like everyone else."

Key Man: Lucas Barrios

Off the back of a prolific season in the Bundesliga for champions Borussia Dortmund, Barrios must convert that form to the international stage. He has yet to take that step – with just five international goals to his name – but Paraguay’s hopes of sneaking into the semi-finals rest squarely on his shoulders. Expect the striker to be a marked man.


While the Ecuadorians have gained World Cup experience, their track record in the Copa America is nothing to write home about. More adept at pulling off upsets at the high altitude of their home stadium, La Tri are not expected to progress from the group stage. Much will depend on the country’s opening fixture against Paraguay.

The squad largely consists of home-based players, for whom this will be a major step up. It remains to be seen whether this group can play fearlessly or if the magnitude of the occasion in Argentina will prove too much. There is plenty of pressure on Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia to carry his team-mates.

Coach: Reinaldo Rueda

Rueda made his name as manager of the Colombian national team but has struggled to win over the Ecuadorian fans. The restlessness reached new levels during a recent loss to a second string Mexico side, with supporters calling for the former Honduras boss to be sacked.

It is hardly the ideal environment for launching a strong run in the Copa America. And Rueda has an uphill battle ahead to rally his squad before the start of the tournament.

Key Man: Antonio Valencia

As one of only three players plying their trade outside Ecuador, Valencia must bring his best Manchester United form to the tournament if Ecuador are to have a fighting chance of progressing in the Copa America. Despite a disappointing display in the Champions League final against Barcelona, the winger was a key man down the stretch for United as they clinched the English Premier League title and can be expected to shine here if his country provide the proper support.

His pace and crossing will create opportunities against any defence, but Ecuador must ensure he sees enough of the ball down the right flank to cause havoc.


Few expect Venezuela to make an impact in Argentina – and an opening game against Brazil is certainly a tough start for these underdogs. Despite never having won the tournament, the team is now heading in the right direction, as proved by a quarter-final spot in the 2007 Copa America. There is still a lot of ground to make up, though.

La Vinotinto have also produced some encouraging displays over the past few months, including a 3-0 win over Mexico and a 2-0 victory against Guatemala, but it is hard to see the Venezuelans finishing in the top two in Group B. Instead, collecting at least two points will be the target.

Coach: Cesar Farias

Just 38 years old, Farias has overseen clear progress in charge of Venezuela. His involvement with the country’s youth teams has helped a number of youngsters make the step up to the senior side and he remains a popular figure in the dressing room.

Farias earned plaudits for the way he has handled the job will be looking to cause an upset or two in Argentina over the coming weeks. Well schooled in the national team, the young coach bossed the country’s Under-20 side at the World Cup for that age group in 2009.

Key Man: Yohandry Orozco

One of the youngsters to profit under Farias, Orozco has earned a move to Wolfsburg in Germany at club level and is the likeliest creative spark for Venezuela, operating in an attacking midfield role.

Orozco is still looking for his first goal for the national team but, at just 20 years of age, he has a bright future ahead of him and he can demonstrate this at the Copa America. This tournament will be an important learning experience.

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