The Copa - a century of latin rivalry

27 June 2011 05:30

Spanning a century of keen rivalry, suffused by politics and history - the Copa America, which kicks off Friday in Argentina, is where the cultural and sporting twain meet, uniting a continent in one of its most enduring passions.

It used to be only the world's second oldest international football tournament - but after the 1980s demise of the old British Home Internationals it is the Copa, first held in 1916, which today can lay claim to that epithet.

While Latin America - (not just South, given a regular guest slot invite to Mexico) - remembers to offer an historic nod in the direction of the global game's British inventors, with many top clubs given English names, the Latin game was quick to carve itself a continental identity well before the first World Cup of 1930.

British railway workers introduced locals to the game in Argentina, where the first recorded game was held in 1867, prior to the creation of the Argentine Football Association in 1893.

By 1910, the round ball had become a fixture with sports fans and Argentina invited Chile and Uruguay to a tri-nations tournament to commemorate the May Revolution of 1810.

Although that event was not officially sanctioned, by 1916 it had morphed into the Campeonato Sudamericano de Selecciones (South American championship of national teams), crucially adding Brazil into the mix.

Given that Brazil are on a hattrick of Copa crowns going into this year's edition, the Argentinians may reflect that might have been an invitation too many - but in reality they and Uruguay lead the honours board with 14 triumphs each to only eight for the 'auriverde'.

Brazil can, of course, comfort themselves with five World Cups to two for their Copa-collecting neighbours.

Uruguay, as would later happen with the World Cup in 1930, won the first edition at Argentina's expense and then repeated the dose the following year, this time on home soil, before Brazil got off the mark, also at home, in 1919.

Until the tournament was formally baptised the Copa America in time for the 1975 event, Argentina and Uruguay dominated the winners roster - a notable exception coming with minnows Bolivia triumphing in 1963 in their own landlocked country.

The early years of the Copa era followed that pattern, though Brazil did lift the trophy in 1989 after a 40-year gap, inspired by the predatory instincts of Bebeto - though it was Romario who hit the decider at a packed Maracana against Uruguay.

But the selecao, perhaps galvanised by a fourth World Cup in 1994, then turned to redressing the balance nearer home and Brazil have won four of the last five editions - Colombia interrupting the sequence in 2001.

The Copa has traditionally been a chance for the regional powerhouses to wean up-and-coming talents - Brazil are hoping that the likes of Santos' Neymar will set this edition alight, while Argentina will pray for some Barcelona-esque form from the peerless Lionel Messi.

Despite the kudos that winning the tournament can bring - and putting Argentinian noses out of joint in their rivals' backyard would be a sweet feeling for the Brazilians - coach Mano Menezes admits that the event is essentially a dress rehearsal for the 2014 World Cup, when the auriverde will welcome the world for the first time since 1950.

That extravaganza was all going to plan until Uruguay bagged a shock win in the final and the wound has not entirely closed, hence the need to look ahead.

Source: AFP

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