Sunday, 19 June 2011

Kaká is not coming: Copa América in the last few years.

There was a time when the Copa América was undoubtedly the most important competition in South America's football zone. However, in recent years we saw a good number of "stars" dropping out of the event. Some because of injuries, others because they never felt the necessity to play this cup when they were after European glory (Champions League, European leagues, etc). Even in 2001, Argentina refused to attend the event because of "security issues". They claimed Colombia, the hosts, could not guarantee the safety of their stars. And Brazil sent a B-team, leaving the Ronaldos, Roberto Carlos, Cafus etc back home. For Peru 2004 and Venezuela 2007 it was already expected that the "canarinha" would mainly send their Brazil-based players. No Kaká - the best player in the world at that time- for the champions in 2007.

So, the oldest continental competition in world football was losing its appeal. The fact that it was played every two-three years and at an "inconvenient" schedule for the European audience, made the best South American footballers prefer to enjoy their vacations and instead put all their efforts in their careers away from this continent.
It is safe to say that Argentina 2011 is by far the most hyped Copa América to date. But what has changed?

First of all: The 4-year wait. We are no longer "saturated" with CONMEBOL competitions. Brazil beat Argentina in 2007 and Messi and co. want revenge on their arch-rivals. Venezuela was a fantastic host. A country whose football tradition is fairly reduced compared to its South American brothers, made sure that the event was unforgettable for fans and players alike and we could say that it turned the Copa América into a global brand. What we see of Argentina 2011 is thanks to Venezuela 2007.

Another important factor is the amount of stars that are playing. Before, we could only recognise names from Brazil and Argentina, but now some of the greatest players in the world come from the other countries in the continent. Names like Diego Forlán, Radamel Falcao, Edinson Cavani, Alexis Sánchez, Claudio Pizarro, Lucas Barrios, Antonio Valencia, Salomón Rondón and Luis Suárez are as familiar to europeans as Lionel Messi o Robinho. Argentina are hosts and the locals would want their team to win their first major trophy since 1993, plus the fact that the fans still feel that Messi, the best player in the world, still has to prove himself with country.

And global companies are finally responding to this hype. There are now sticker albums, merchandise, and now YouTube announced that they will broadcast all the matches in the competition to a larger audience. There will be no excuses for football fans to ignore what is happening on this side of the world.

All we can say is that South America is the craddle of modern football, and for that we should come up with the most exciting competition in world football. Yes, there are only 10 teams in CONMEBOL and we don't play qualifying rounds for the Copa América, but the beauty of it is that we don't need it. We are fine just as we are. That is why it's OK if the guests -Mexico and now Costa Rica- don't understand the importance of this cup. We do, and that's enough.

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