Copa América Centenario’s Group C will open with one of the most anticipated matches of the tournament when Mexico takes on Uruguay, at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Both teams are firm contenders for the title of the 100th edition of the oldest running international soccer tournament in the world.
This will be Mexico’s 10th consecutive participation in Copa America, having reached the final twice (1993, 2001), failing to lift the trophy against Argentina and Colombia, respectively. Since the 1993 edition, CONMEBOL decided to invite countries from other confederations in order to make up a group of at least 12 participants; out of the eight invitees so far, Mexico has been the most successful. Even though they have not made it past the group stage in the past two editions, Mexico comes to the Centenario as one of the favorites.
Uruguay holds the honor of having won the first Copa America back in 1916, when CONMEBOL organized the competition in honor of Argentina’s independence centenary celebration. La Celeste have won a total 15 titles, making it the most successful national team in tournament history.
Can El Tricolor finally win Copa América?
Ecuador hosted the 1993 edition of Copa America, and it was the first time CONMEBOL invited teams from other confederations. Argentina won the title by beating Mexico – one of the invitees, along with the United States – 2-1, in front of more than 40,000 in attendance at the Estadio Monumental in Guayaquil. In 2001, Mexico reached the final again, but weren’t able to beat the host country Colombia.
Coming into the 2016 edition, Mexico could play in front of home-heavy crowds, given the immense population of Mexican-Americans in the US, and the country’s closeness with the host nation. Copa America Centenario will also provide Mexico with its biggest test since the Colombian – and former New York Red Bulls – manager Juan Carlos Osorio took over as head coach.
Mexico’s current form is the best of any nation in the competition, having won their last eight games (seven under Osorio) without shipping a single goal in that process. After a 1-0 victory against Chile last Wednesday in their final tune-up, Mexico is unbeaten in 19 consecutive games, just two matches off the best streak in El Tri history.
Uruguay, The Almighty
Copa America history can’t be written without Uruguay. La Celeste is the national team with most appearances, most matches played, most finishes in the top four and most titles won.
Uruguay celebrated last March the 10th anniversary of “El Proceso”, Oscar Washington Tabarez’s plan to take La Celeste back to its glorified soccer status after failing to qualify for the 2006 FIFA World Cup. “El Proceso” established a comprehensive route for all the Uruguay national teams to follow, in order to develop and professionalize players ranging from the U-15s all the way to the senior squad.
As of today, eight of Uruguay’s 12 most-capped players have been part of “El Proceso”, and are part of the Copa América Centenario roster. Los Charrúas have also had their most successful start to a World Cup qualifying process since CONMEBOL moved to a round-robin format, and are currently leading the standings with 13 points, tied in first with Ecuador.
After three World Cup appearances – one including a fourth-place finish – and being elected twice as the South American Coach of the Year, as well as winning one Copa America title, Tabarez is aiming to complement “El Proceso” with a very special Copa América; which Uruguay feel they own it, due to its celebratory nature.
Midfielder Alvaro Pereira expressed it best this week: “Uruguay’s obligation is not to win the tournament, but we do have to be responsible. We have a rich history and we want to keep writing it game after game”.
Game of Thrones
Sunday’s game will probably be the most attractive one of the whole group stage. Both Mexico and Uruguay have head coaches with vast, proven experience.
Juan Carlos Osorio’s methodical approach to the sport includes the ability to surprise his own players, media and those who know the deep intimacy of the team. His experimentation using players out of position for any given game is not random, but a reflection of the opposing lineup is.
It’s fair to say that after seven wins in seven games, 14 goals scored and none against, Osorio’s notebook has the right scribbles in it.
Similar to Osorio, Tabarez's study of his opponents is comprehensive; his ability to shift tactics and lineup during games makes Uruguay a tough team to figure out. “El Maestro” has the tough task of figuring out his own team as to what to do without striker Luis Suarez, who’s recovering from an injury suffered in the final of the Copa del Rey last month with Barcelona.
The match in Glendale will be the sixth Copa America meeting between Mexico and Uruguay, with a favorable margin for El Tricolor (2-1-2) in the previous five.