Copa America 2016: Foot in the Door

Posted on October 24, 2012 9:28 pm

Let me start by simply sharing the big announcement:

Habemus Copa.

Today, in a meeting of Federation presidents and Executive Committee members in Buenos Aires, CONMEBOL announced that the “Copa América Centenario” will take place in July 2016 in the United States. The tournament will feature all 10 members of CONMEBOL, along with the United States, Mexico, and four other CONCACAF qualifiers to be selected through the 2015 Gold Cup.

Make no mistake: this will be a pivotal moment in the history of football in our Hemisphere. One can only applaud the efforts made by current CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb, his predecessor Alfredo Hawit, the rest of the Executive Committee and General Secretary Enrique Sanz to bury the hatchet Chuck Blazer left behind and rebuild relations with CONMEBOL so that this sort of transcendental event could take place. And as regular readers are aware, I remain hopeful that this will open the door to a permanent inclusion of six CONCACAF members in the tournament, from Brazil 2019 on.

Mind you, I do have a couple of reservations about the announcement: first, the automatic inclusion of Mexico strikes me as unnecessary (the US already gets in as the host). Who here honestly thinks Mexico might finish outside of the top five in the 2015 Gold Cup (however that is determined; my guess is that CONMEBOL will defer to CONCACAF on that issue)? The only reason I can find for adding such a wrinkle is to avoid inadvertently encouraging Mexico to prioritize the 2015 Gold Cup over the Copa America to be held a month later in Chile. Furthermore, the inclusion of “Centenario” in the name implies a presumption on the part of CONMEBOL that this expanded Copa América will be a one-time extravaganza before returning to the 12-team norm.

But in the end, the dream of a Copa América-enhanced World Cup cycle for CONCACAF teams must begin somewhere. I will share my thoughts on how to consolidate the 16-team Copa América next week; for now, I am convinced that this tournament will simply crush the current expectations of both CONCACAF and CONMEBOL’s leadership, leading them to seek negotiations for extending this level of partnership.

On a side note: CONMEBOL also announced that Mexico and Japan had received invitations to the 2015 Copa América, but don’t count on the East Asians showing up just yet. The Japanese FA had similarly been invited to the 2011 edition of the tournament, and the unique circumstances that forced a lengthy suspension of the J.League did contribute to their eventual decision to pull out. Another factor, however, will repeat itself in three years’ time: the Japanese have already qualified for the 2015 Asian Cup, to be held in Australia during the month of January. European clubs will be obligated to release players for that commitment; and unless their attitude towards international football shifts dramatically, they will refuse to hand over the likes of Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa for a Japanese guest appearance in the Copa América just as vehemently as they did last year. Should the JFA decide to excuse themselves again, there may be a backup invitation in the cards for the United States or a Central American nation.

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