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Copa America Group B preview

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Can Lionel Messi finally guide his team to glory?

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images


Arguably the favorites to win the tournament, Argentina come in having won all but two of their matches since the World Cup, which ended with them taking Germany to extra time before falling to defeat in the final. The Albiceleste will be eager to put that disappointment even further behind them by taking this tournament by storm.

The highest-rated team in South America by both FIFA's system and the Elo ratings, Argentina will have to earn that standing in a tournament that's always tough to get through. Highlighted by the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero, Javier Mascherano and Javier Pastore, the side coached by Gerard Martino features a free-wheeling attack paired with a midfield that can grind you into a fine paste. They don't always play to their full potential in attack -- such is the nature of international football -- but they have so much talent throughout the squad that there's no match you can ever count them out of.

Star: Lionel Messi

Who else could it be? Messi is the greatest player in the world right now, though his critics point to a lack of international success as a reason to withhold him from discussions of the best players ever. Messi belongs in that conversation solely for his massive accomplishments with Barcelona, but playing lights out football in the Copa America and taking the winner's trophy home would be a nice way to start shutting up those decrying his glory.

There's not a single player in this tournament who's better or more complete than Messi. Finishing, dribbling, passing, vision, balance, sheer dogged determination, Messi has it all and then some. He's so good that goals and tricks he pulls off that would be top-five highlight reels for almost any other player on the planet are just run-of-the-mill for him. To borrow the old sporting cliche: "You can't stop him, you can only hope to contain him."

Expectations: Argentina are in a difficult group, paired with pesky Uruguay and an awkward Paraguay side, as well as tournament invitee Jamaica, who defend and counter as well as anyone in CONCACAF. Still, fans and players alike will be anticipating making the final, and even losing it would be disappointing. This is one of the best Argentina sides in recent memory, and expectations are sky high. They need to start showing tangible proof that they're as good as people think they are, and fast.

Expected Lineup (4-2-3-1): Sergio Romero; Pablo Zabaleta, Nicolas Otamendi, Martin Demichelis, Marcos Rojo; Javier Mascherano, Fernando Gago; Lionel Messi, Javier Pastore, Angel Di Maria; Sergio Agüero


The defending Copa America champions don't have quite the same luster to them as they did four years ago. Back then, they were riding the high of an unexpectedly strong World Cup performance the summer before, and had the talents of all three of Edinson Cavani, Luis Suarez and Diego Forlan to rely on in attack, sweeping aside virtually every opponent with ease.

More recently, the side managed by Oscar Tabarez hasn't been nearly as lethal. Forlan -- Uruguay's most-capped player and second-highest all-time goalscorer -- has retired from international football. Suarez is still suspended after that biting incident during the Italy game in last year's World Cup. The attack is mostly held down by Cavani, who is still an excellent player in his own right, but Uruguay struggle to reliably create chances for him in dangerous areas thanks to a midfield that's often left fans disappointed of late.

If Uruguay can solve the problems in their tepid and static midfield -- which over the last two years has also tended to be far too easy for opponents' attacks to beat -- they might just be able to make an effective run in this tournament. The trouble is, they may not have the talent to hang around with the likes of Brazil or Argentina -- while they have quite a few good players, they don't have nearly as many great players as either of South America's other two major powers. If they can't find a way to overcome that talent gap, this tournament may be much shorter than fans are hoping for.

Star: Edinson Cavani

As good as previous Uruguay teams have been, Cavani is really the only possible choice as the "star" of this Uruguay side. That's not to say that Cavani isn't a good player; he is fantastically talented, but has shown a concerning tendency to run hot and cold and struggle when the pressure is at its highest. With expectations high for Uruguay, what will Cavani do in this tournament? It's a particularly pressing question as he'll be without Suarez, with whom he has formed a wonderful international strike partnership. But that's always been Suarez as the main man and Cavani playing second fiddle. Now that the onus of Uruguay's attacking success is completely on him, will he rise to the challenge, or will he crumble?

Expectations: Anything less than a trip to the semifinals will be seen as a grave disappointment by Uruguay fans. With Argentina, Brazil and Chile all in better form and arguably more talented, it'd be hard to expect more, but in all honesty, Uruguay fans will probably only be happy with a shot at defending their title in the final. It doesn't seem probable, but if things come together right for Uruguay, it's still possible.

Expected lineup (4-4-2): Fernando Muslera; Maxi Pereira, Diego Godin, Jose Gimenez, Alvaro Pereira; Nicolas Lodeiro, Alvaro Gonzalez, Carlos Sanchez, Cristian Rodriguez; Christian Stuani, Edinson Cavani


The two-time winners of the Copa America finished as surprise runners-up four years ago, but have failed to build on that success. They've mostly struggled since losing that final to Uruguay, and finished dead bottom of the CONMEBOL World Cup qualification standings. Now it's time for manager Ramon Diaz to try to inspire his team to bigger and brighter things, hopefully starting with an impressive showing in the Copa.

While Paraguay may lack the sheer star power some of the teams around them, they've got a solid group of players who can make life difficult for their opponents. They play hard-nosed, grind-you-down football, a style that trickier or flashier teams can often struggle with. And with a couple of opportunistic goalscorers in the side, you can never count them out of a match. Nobody is going to just be able to breeze by this side, and no one should be surprised if they steal a point or two off Argentina and Uruguay.

Expectations: Realistically, Paraguay have little chance of finishing in the top two of their group. What they can do, though, is finish third -- with two of the third-placed teams in the three groups moving on to the quarterfinals, there's a good chance that Paraguay would be able to roll through and start trying for more upsets. Paraguay fans will probably be happy with a place in the quarterfinals given the team's recent struggles, but if they can at least make the semis, everyone would be thrilled.

Star: Lucas Barrios

Barrios maybe isn't a central figure with Paraguay, but on their forward line, he's the one who probably had the best season at the highest level. His 11 goals with Montpellier were a big factor in that club's successes this season: they finished firmly in the upper half of Ligue 1 after narrowly ducking relegation the season before. Even if Barrios doesn't start every match for Paraguay, he'll be a massively important figure for them, with his smart positioning, quality finish and ability to create scoring chances for his fellow striker, something that will be vital in a side expected mostly to counter-attack.

Expected Lineup (4-4-2 diamond): Justo Villar; Ivan Piris, Paulo da Silva, Pablo Aguillar, Miguel Samudio; Victor Caceres, Nestor Ortigoza, Osmar Molinas, Osvaldo Martinez; Lucas Barrios, Roque Santa Cruz


One of the two invitees from CONCACAF in this year's edition of the Copa America, Jamaica are the minnows of their group, but still offer some potential of causing an upset somewhere along the line. It would be easy for any of their opponents to overlook them and take the match less seriously than they should, which is a danger because they're a team that's perfectly suited to take advantage of any lapse in concentration.

To be realistic about the situation as a whole, Winfried Schäfer and his Jamaica side will be lucky to escape the tournament having earned more than a draw in one of their three group matches. But with a side that defends deep and has some players capable of showing explosive pace on the counter, plus Darren Mattocks' athletic gifts up top, Jamaica can create trouble if you give them any leeway to work with. The only CONMEBOL team to play the reigning Caribbean Cup champions recently is a decent Venezuela side, who Jamaica beat 2-1 back in March. Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay will all have to be on guard to not face a similar embarrassment.

Expectations: If Jamaica come out of this with a couple of points and some good performances, fans will probably be happy and satisfied. They got a pretty rough draw, and expecting more than that isn't realistic. If they manage to snag one of the two best third-place finishes and make the quarterfinals, though, you can bet that the entire Jamaican fanbase will be absolutely ecstatic.

Star: Darren Mattocks

The Vancouver Whitecaps striker has never quite lived up to the lofty expectations that greeted his rookie MLS campaign; he's athletic and skillful, but he's also streaky. That doesn't mean that Mattocks doesn't have the talent to help take over games for Jamaica, because he does -- the 24-year-old has scored in five of his last six national team matches, including the decisive goal in that 2-1 win over Venezuela earlier this year. His incredible leap coupled with his skills with the ball at his feet make him a dangerous player whom opponents will need to watch closely.

Expected Lineup (4-4-1-1): Duwayne Kerr; Adrian Mariappa, Jermaine Taylor, Wes Morgan, Kemar Lawrence; Garath McCleary, Je-Vaughn Watson, Rodolph Austin, Jobi McAnuff; Joel Grant; Darren Mattocks


Group A preview
Group C preview
Tournament predictions
Why Copa America is a launching pad for global stars


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