South American sides once again impressed at the World Cup and, with no minnows left in Conmebol and some of the world's biggest stars on show, next year could be vintage
Chile 2015 could well be the greatest of the Copa America's long and illustrious history. Even if guests Mexico once again decide to play an experimental side - leaving sponsorship dollars as their only real contribution to the tournament - and Jamaica find themselves outclassed, the remaining 10 South American nations are as competitive as ever.
Brazil and Argentina are once again set to enter the tournament in a state of transition and are not certainties to improve on their quarter-final exits in 2011. Jose Pekerman has got Colombian football back on track with a little help from James Rodriguez, hosts Chile can claim to be as good as anyone else on the continent right now and nobody has won more titles than reigning champions Uruguay, leaving very little to split the tournament's five favourites. So what can we expect from next summer's finals?
|MINNOWS NO MORE
Arriving off the back of what was surely the most competitive World Cup qualification process in tournament history, it was no surprise to once again see South American sides star in Brazil. The introduction of a single qualifying group ahead of World Cup 1998 was key, with regular competitive matches now having completely eliminated the concept of the minnow in Conmebol.
Ecuador made their World Cup debut four years after its introduction and have now made it to three of the last four finals, while Venezuela, once the San Marino of the Americas, were deserved Copa America semi-finalists in 2011 and were left genuinely disappointed to have failed to make it to Brazil 2014. For the second World Cup running, the continent had five teams in the knockout stage, while two appeared in the semi-finals, with the remaining three having been knocked out by a fellow South American side.
|HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS
This summer once again proved how important the role of host nation can be in putting on a truly a top-drawer international tournament. Brazil's trend of the a capella national anthem not only continued from last year's Confederations Cup but was adopted by a number of other nations this summer, making for some electric atmospheres. The Chileans were as impressive as anyone, with their rendition against Spain particularly rousing.
With Jorge Sampaoli having replaced the naive and romantic Bichi Borghi on the bench, La Roja also got their Bielsan groove back. A dominant victory over Spain was enough to silence any remaining doubters of their true pedigree, and back at home they will be more than just the neutrals' favourites this time - with their brightest modern generation at their disposal, 2015 will be the first time that they have ever entered a senior international competition as favourites to lift the crown.
|THE GAME'S BRIGHTEST
Three of World Cup 2014's five top-scorers were South American. The continent took the Golden Ball and the Golden Boot and made up seven of Fifa's team of the tournament. Lionel Messi is now a regular goalscorer for his country and Neymar has grown into a consistent performer and impressively taken on the burden of leadership responsibilities for Brazil. James Rodriguez has proven himself as a world-class talent and will no doubt continue to improve should he complete a move to Real Madrid this summer.
Moreover, the likes of Thiago Silva, Arturo Vidal, Javier Mascherano, Luis Suarez and Radamel Falcao could all lay legitimate claims for being the best the world has to offer in their respective positions. Suarez may miss the competition following his heavy suspension but Falcao will return and be desperate to make up for the disappointment of missing out on the World Cup through injury.
|LOCAL SCORES TO SETTLE
When Uruguay saw off Paraguay in 2011 they became the kings of the continent, stepping clear ahead of Argentina with 15 Copa Americas. To have done it in their old enemy's backyard, with the Buenos Aires-born Fernando Muslera having starred as Argentina were shrugged aside on penalties, added insult to injury. Their chances of making it 16 may depend on whether Suarez has returned to the fold by then.
Argentina, meanwhile, could be looking for a new coach should Alejandro Sabella step aside but his two years in charge have laid a solid foundation for a side that came into the 2011 edition muddled and unbalanced. Brazil have just eight titles – though they will remind you they have appeared in fewer tournaments some of their neighbours – but since 1997 the Selecao have won four Copa America titles, more than Argentina and Uruguay combined in that period.
Colombia, meanwhile, have emerged under Pekerman as genuine contenders and will be among as many as five favourites to claim what would be only their second title.