Many of the players would rather not be here, and that applies to some of the coaches as well. But the preamble is coming to the end of its long and winding road, and the controversial 47th version of the Copa America will kick off in Brazil on Sunday.
One reason for opposition to the tournament, of course, is the coronavirus pandemic. During the course of the competition Brazil will reach the gruesome death toll of half a million. It is hardly a surprise that three of the sponsors do not want their brands to be associated with the Copa.
And there is another angle of attack. The European based players -- which means almost all of the big names -- are giving up their holidays to take part. They would rather do it for a more compelling reason -- such as catching up with South America's World Cup qualification campaign. As it stands it is unclear how the remaining twelve rounds can be crammed in before the end of March. Some of them could be played now.h1">
- img src="https://a.espncdn.com/combiner/i?img=/photo/2021/0609/r865107_1296x1296_1-1.jpg&w=130&h=130&scale=crop&location=center" width="65" height="65"">Who are the top young players to watch at the Copa America?
- img src="https://a.espncdn.com/combiner/i?img=/photo/2019/0628/r562865_1296x1296_1-1.jpg&w=130&h=130&scale=crop&location=center" width="65" height="65"">Brazil supreme court rejects bids to block Copa
- img src="https://a.espncdn.com/combiner/i?img=/photo/2021/0609/r865051_1296x1296_1-1.jpg&w=130&h=130&scale=crop&location=center" width="65" height="65"">Brazilian footballers criticise Copa America switch
Instead, priority has been given to the fourth version of the Copa since 2015 -- one of the most bizarre in the competition's 105-year history. Because there were originally going to be two hosts (Colombia and Argentina), the teams have been split into two groups. The plan was for a 12-team competition. But invited guests Australia and Qatar were forced to pull out, leaving two groups of five -- and a long group phase that only eliminates the bottom team. The final week, with the knock-out rounds, should be exciting. Up until then, the tournament could drag like some endless dreary wet Wednesday.figure">
There is a key question here: Who can turn this into opportunity? As a result of the pandemic, only four rounds of World Cup qualifiers were played last year. The two rounds earlier this month were the first competitive games since November -- and it showed. In those ten games, there were only two home wins -- a strikingly low figure for South America. The evidence was clear. The teams were rusty, lacking the flow and cohesion that comes from time spent together. As a result, the balance was tilted towards the cautious, defensive sides.
Now after the famine comes the feast. There is an excess of international games over the course of the next few months. But at least it gives the coaches the precious commodity of time. And the group phase of the Copa -- competitive without being high-pressure -- gives them an environment where they both consolidate and experiment. These are some of the things to look for over the next few weeks: