MX23RW : Thursday, January 17 03:29:13

Copa America - Group A preview

Sports Mole takes a closer look at the four nations that make up Group A of this year's Copa America.

CHILE

Previous Copa America best: Runners-up (1955, 1956, 1979, 1987)

Head coach - Jorge Sampaoli: Ever since the Argentine was appointed by the Chilean Football Federation in 2012, the general public has fallen back in love with the national side. Not since the days of Marcelo Salas and Ivan Zamorano has there been such a buzz around the team, with the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal leading the way. Sampaoli, 55, likes his side to press high up the pitch and move the ball quickly.

Key player - Alexis Sanchez

Chile's forward Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring a goal during the Round of 16 football match between Brazil and Chile at The Mineirao Stadium on June 28, 2014© Getty Images

The 26-year-old enjoyed a fine first season in England with Arsenal, which was rounded off by him scoring one of the most memorable goals in FA Cup final history. For Chile, he is given a free role in attack, which makes him difficult to pin down for opposition defenders. From his 80 international appearances to date, the speed merchant has scored 26 goals. However, there is no doubt that he will be looking to improve upon his return of one Copa America goal to date.

Sports Mole says: As hosts, there is a growing belief in Chile that the 'golden generation' will end the country's wait for a first Copa America title. They showed last summer that they are capable of mixing it with the biggest nations, beating holders Spain in the group stages and pushing Brazil close. If their key players can remain fit, it will be a disappointment if they do not at least reach the semi-finals.

Did you know? No nation has lost more Copa America matches than the Chileans, who have tasted defeat on 81 occasions.


MEXICO

Previous Copa America best: Runners-up (1993, 2001)

Head coach - Miguel Herrera: Despite reportedly being the lowest-paid manager at last summer's World Cup, Herrera guided his side to the first knockout round, where they were unluckily dumped out by eventual semi-finalists Holland. His enthusiastic style on the touchline has won him many admirers, not just among the Mexican public, but also from football supporters across the globe. His one managerial success came back in 2013 when he guided America to the Liga MX title.

Key player - Rafael Marquez

Mexico's defender Rafael Marquez celebrates after scoring during a Group A football match between Croatia and Mexico at the Pernambuco Arena in Recife during the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 23, 2014© Getty Images

He may have turned 36 earlier this year, but Marquez is still going strong in Serie A with Hellas Verona. Last year the centre-back became the first player from any nation to have captained his country at four different World Cups, three of which he has scored in. A defender with a keen eye for a goal, it is not difficult to see why the 2005 Champions League winner remains a key part of the squad.

Sports Mole says: With the Gold Cup to come in July, Herrera has been forced to prioritise. Believing that next month's tournament, which will be co-hosted in the USA and Canada, represents the better chance for success, an inexperienced squad will be travelling to Chile. There is no Javier Hernandez, while Andres Guardado, Hector Herrera, Diego Reyes and the Dos Santos brothers are all rested. Taking that into consideration, getting beyond the group stages should be regarded a success.

Did you know? After Marquez, who has scored 15 international goals, the second-highest goalscorers in the Mexico squad are Marco Fabian and Raul Jimenez, with six strikes to their names.


ECUADOR

Previous Copa America best: Quarter-finals (1997)

Head coach - Gustavo Quinteros: Following a disappointing World Cup campaign under Reinaldo Rueda, who was sacked soon after, and squabbles between the playing squad over money, it has been left to Quinteros to pick up the pieces. The Bolivian took up the job in March and boasts a vast experience from a number of years managing clubs in South America.

Key player - Jefferson Montero

Ecuador's forward Jefferson Montero (L) vies with Switzerland's midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri during their Group E World Cup football match in Brasilia on June 15, 2014© AFP

At the age of 25, Montero has already played for nine teams, but there were signs with Swansea City last term that he has finally found his feet. Injuries may have limited the number of appearances that he was able to make, but when he was available for selection, the tricky winger often impressed. His performance against Arsenal late last year, during which he continually got the better of Calum Chambers, is regarded to have been one of the best produced by a player in his position during 2014-15.

Sports Mole says: The Copa America has not been a great competition for the Ecuadorians in recent years. Since 1997, they have been eliminated at the group stages and are without a victory in their last three appearances. In fact, their last win was recorded back in 2001. Despite that, they will be confident they can take advantage of the fact that Mexico have sent a weakened squad.

Did you know? Ecuador have conceded a total of 296 goals in the Copa America, which is more than any of their rivals.


BOLIVIA

Previous Copa America best: Winners (1963)

Head coach - Mauricio Soria: The 49-year-old's route to the job was not exactly a straightforward one. He was all set to take charge following an interim spell last November, but recorded conversations of him criticising the city of Potosi were leaked and he was overlooked. An apology did the trick, though, with Soria being appointed on a permanent basis in December. In their last four matches, Bolivia have had three different head coaches.

Key player - Marcelo Martins

Bolivia's national football team player Marcelo Martins takes part in a training session in La Paz on September 4, 2013© Getty Images

His last international goal may have been scored over two years ago, but such are the limited attacking options available to Soria, he remains Bolivia's leading striker. Indeed, of Martins's 12 goals at El Verde, half have been scored against a combination of Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay. Having once played for Wigan Athletic, the 27-year-old is currently on the books of Chinese side Changchun Yatai.

Sports Mole says: It is said of Bolivia that they only win World Cup qualifying matches because they have the advantage of playing in La Paz, which is 3,600 metres above sea level. That school of thought seems to be backed up by their record in the Copa America, having not won a match in any of the last five competitions. In fact, when they have been successful in 1963 as winners and in 1997 when they finished runners-up, they were hosts.

Did you know? Only six members (Danny Bejarano, Damian Lizio, Martin Smedberg-Dalence, Sebastian Gamarra, Ricardo Pedriel and Martins) of the 23-man squad play their club football outside of Bolivia.


Group A fixtures

Thursday, June 11
Chile vs. Ecuador

Friday, June 12
Mexico vs. Bolivia

Monday, June 15
Ecuador vs. Bolivia
Chile vs. Mexico

Friday, June 19
Mexico vs. Ecuador
Chile vs. Bolivia

Prediction: 1. Chile 2. Ecuador 3. Mexico 4. Bolivia


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Chilean national team footballer Eduardo Vargas celebrates next to Arturo Vidal after scoring against North ireland during a friendly football match in Valparaiso, on June 4, 2014
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Preview: Chile vs. Ecuador
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TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
1Liverpool22183150104057
2Manchester CityMan City22172359174253
3Tottenham HotspurSpurs22160646222448
4Chelsea22145340172347
5Arsenal22125546321441
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10Everton228683331230
11Wolverhampton WanderersWolves228592328-529
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13Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton2275102430-626
14Crystal Palace2264122028-822
15Burnley2263132343-2021
16Southampton2247112339-1619
17Cardiff CityCardiff2254131941-2219
18Newcastle UnitedNewcastle2246121631-1518
19Fulham2235142049-2914
20Huddersfield TownHuddersfield2225151337-2411

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