Chile have never won the Copa America, but as hosts in 2015 and with their best squad in many a decade, this has to be their best opportunity yet. They begin the tournament with a potentially tricky tie against Ecuador in the capital, Santiago, in the early hours of Friday morning, where victory would provide them with a major confidence boost and perhaps the belief that they can go all the way.
The 2014 World Cup showed that Jorge Sampaoli’s side are extremely capable of competing with the very best international sides the world has to offer, comfortably delivering the knockout blow to defending champions Spain before losing to hosts Brazil in a penalty shootout, having come mightily close to winning it in extra time when Jorge Valdivia’s effort hit the crossbar.
This time around there is the added pressure of being on home turf, with the expectations of supporters higher now than ever. Fortunately, they have some big game players in their ranks, including Barcelona goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, Italian double winner Arturo Vidal and star man Alexis Sanchez, who has set the Premier League alight for Arsenal. His relentless energy and quality will be key to Chile’s chances, while having a very settled national squad full of experience may also work in their favour.
The opening match is an intriguing one, as Ecuador also have quality in their team, gaining four points from their three group matches at the World Cup last year. Enner Valencia, who has a superb record at international level, will be their biggest scoring threat, and the pace of Jefferson Montero will also cause defences numerous problems. They will at least make this game close and have a good chance of reaching the quarter-finals at least despite having a relatively poor record away from home.
Saturday morning sees the other game in Group A take place as Mexico face Bolivia in a meeting of two of the less fancied sides. Mexico normally bring a second string squad for this tournament and in 2015 is no different as they focus most of their efforts on winning the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which takes place later in the summer. As a result, Hector Herrera, Javier Hernandez and Giovani Dos Santos are among those who will not be featuring.
However, they will still be hopeful of making the last eight and in theory this match provides the ideal opportunity to get off to a winning start, as Bolivia are currently the lowest ranked team in the continent of South America at 113th in the world. Few of their players are based outside of the country, and like Ecuador they have a poor record when playing away.
As ever with opening matches, these matches provide an indication of how well a team is set to fare in the competition, but Chile should be confident after what they have achieved in the last few years.