Euro 2016 Quarterfinals Preview

Poland vs. Portugal

Thursday June 30th at 3:00 pm EST on ESPN2

The first quarterfinal of this competition should be a very close one with two of the biggest names in the game going head to head.  Cristiano Ronaldo will lead his Portugal side against Robert Lewandowski and Poland.  Portugal advanced to the quarterfinals thanks to their 1-0 win over Croatia after extra time.  The game ended 0-0, but Ricado Quaresma scored three minutes from the end of extra time and kept Portugal from facing a penalty shootout.  Poland, meanwhile, grabbed the early lead against Switzerland thanks to a goal from Jakub Blaszczykowski in the first half.  Xherdan Shaqiri leveled the score and the game went penalties and only Granit Xhaka missed, giving Poland a 5-4 penalty shootout win.  These two teams have only met 3 times in the last ten years, drawing twice and Poland winning in 2006.  No one is suspended for the game.  I would expect both teams to make a couple changes to their lineups, but this game might come down to which star shines brightest.  Lewandowski has not scored yet and if Poland is to win, then he will need to find his shooting boots.  Ronaldo is the key figure for this Portugal team and if he can be at his best then the Portuguese will be one game closer to their first ever Euro title.   I can really see this game needing more than 90 minutes.

Predictions

My Pick – Poland

Conor’s Pick – Portugal

Wales vs. Belgium

Friday July 1st at 3:00 pm EST on ESPN2

The next quarterfinal is a bit of an underdog team vs. a presumed big boy team.  Belgium came into this tournament as one of the hot picks to win it all.  They finally looked like the team that people expected in the Round of 16. Belgium defeated Hungary 4-0 and never really gave Hungary a chance.  Toby Alderweireld opened the scoring 10 minutes in.  Michy Batshuayi scored the second goal in the 78th minute with practically his first touch.  Eden Hazard looked great all game and scored in the 80th minute.  Yannick Carrasco finished the game in the first minute of added time.  Wales, on the other hand, are one of the Cinderella teams left.  They have over-performed everyone’s expectations and are now looking to make a massive statement.  They defeated Northern Ireland in the Round of 16 thanks to a Gareth McAuley own goal.  Belgium will be without Thomas Vermaelen for the quarterfinal since he picked up his second booking of the tournament in the Round of 16.  For Wales, the only concern is the fitness of Ashley Williams.  He should start, but he did pick up a shoulder injury against Northern Ireland.  Wales are a team full of belief and Belgium are a team full of promise.  Can the world class talents on Belgium defeat Wales, or will Gareth Bale and his country mates continue their fantastic run?  Wales did go unbeaten against Belgium in qualifying for the Euros.

Predictions

My Pick – Wales

Conor’s Pick – Belgium

Germany vs. Italy

Saturday July 2nd at 3:00 pm EST on ESPN2

This has to be the biggest quarterfinal of the tournament.  Germany is the favorites for the tournament and will now be expected to win the Euros.  Italy has been the surprise story of the tournament and one of the best teams, despite being called the worst Italian team in 50 years.  Germany advanced to the quarterfinals with a very convincing 3-0 win over Slovakia.  The only interesting note from the game was when Mesut Ozil became the first ever German to miss a penalty kick, excluding shootouts, at a European Championships.  Italy meanwhile defeated the defending champions, Spain, with an impressive team effort.  They had a plan and executed it perfectly.  Giorgio Chieliini opened the scoring when he knocked in Giaccherini’s free kick after De Gea knocked it back into the middle.  Then Graziano Pelle ended the game in the 91st minute to seal Italy’s place in the quarterfinals.  For Germany, I do not expect any changes to be made.  Jonas Hector has been ill but should recover in time.  Italy will be without Thiago Motta who is suspended and Daniele De Rossi via injury.  Italy have been great all tournament.  They should come up with a good plan for Germany, but the question is can they execute this plan.  The Germans are the best in the world and will look to advance to the quarterfinals.

Predictions

My Pick – Italy

Conor’s Pick – Italy

France vs. Iceland

Sunday, July 3rd at 3:00 pm EST on ESPN2

This is might be the one that I am looking forward to the most.  Iceland are the Cinderella of this tournament and they have a great opportunity in front of them against the hosts.  Iceland advanced to the quarterfinals thanks to a great team performance against England in which they came back from an early 1-0 deficit.  After conceding a penalty in the fourth minute, it only took Iceland 2 minutes to draw level.  Then just 12 minutes later, they were able to take the lead thanks to a poor save attempt from Joe Hart.  They held on and deserved to be the team that advanced to the quarterfinals.  France also came back from an early 1-0 deficit thanks to a penalty kick.  Ireland had 88 minutes to hold on to their lead and they could not.  In the second half, Antoine Griezmann would score two goals within 3 minutes of each other and give France the lead.  France was aided by the fact that Shane Duffy was sent off just 5 minutes after Griezmann was sent off and Les Bleus was able to easily see the game out against 10 men.  Iceland has their whole squad available to them and they should be ready to go.  France, meanwhile, will be without Adil Rami and N’Golo Kante who are both suspended.  Samuel Umtiti is likely to come into the squad for Rami and Cabaye for Kante.  These two teams have only ever met once before when France beat Iceland 3-2 in 2012 during an international friendly.  The hosts have looked okay in this tournament, but now they will be expected to easily advance to the semifinals.  Will they fall into the same trap as England?

Predictions

My Pick – France

Conor’s Pick – France

 

Copa America Recap

The Copa America has come to a close and it had a very déjà vu feel to it as Chile raised the trophy for the second time in as many years.  Chile defeated Argentina 4-2 on penalties after the game ended scoreless.  This was almost the exact score line from last summer as Chile won 4-1 last time.   The game was marred by the referee.  Heber Roberto Lopes seemed to want to be center stage in the final and he was.  He sent of Marcelo Diaz with two yellow cards within 13 minutes.  He then sent of Marcos Rojo in the 43rd minute.  The rest of the game was played 10 v 10.  It forced both teams to play differently both teams created some chances but Argentina created the most with 18 total shots compared to only 4 for Chile.  The game was very tight and it ended 0-0.  The penalties started with a shock as Arturo Vidal’s penalty was saved.  Messi stepped up with a chance to put Argentina ahead and he sent it over the bar.  From then on Chile did not miss another penalty as Castillo, Aranguiz, and Beausejour converted.  Mascherano and Aguero made both of theirs for Argentina.  Lucas Biglia then stepped up and missed his penalty.  This meant that Francisco Silva had the chance to win it and he coolly finished his penalty.  Congrats to Chile as they have added their second title to their trophy cabinet.

Here are 5 quick takeaways from the Copa America…

  1. The end of an era for Argentina. This was one of the best groups of players that have come up from the cities of Argentina and now many of them are retiring. Leo Messi and Javier Mascherano both retired after the game.  They have gone to three finals in three years and after 90 minutes; they have been tied in each of them.  However they lost all three.  Questions will now come out about Leo Messi and whether he is the greatest of all time.
  2. Chile is ready to take their game to the next level. They were great last summer and have now repeated their triumph on foreign soil. They have the star power now to be a nation that can set its sights on the World Cup so much will be expected of them in 2018.
  3. Brazil has a big rebuilding process ahead of them. You might have already forgotten but Brazil crashed out of the tournament in the group stage after they really failed to impress. Coutinho did have a hat trick but Brazil seemed to be missing something or maybe someone?
  4. The United States is getting closer to challenging on the international stage. They did get thoroughly defeated by Argentina in the semifinal but they showed a lot of positives in the tournament. John Anthony Brooks is a solid defender.  They were able to be attacking in some games and a strong defensive unit when needed.  They were missing some big players for the Argentina game and that might have played a part.  The United States showed growth and that should be focused on for the future.
  5. Mexico is at a crossroads. They were supposed to be the favorites and the first team from outside of South America to win the tournament. They looked very good in the group stage and the quarterfinals but in the semifinal it all fell apart.  Chile defeated Mexico 7-0 and the questions began.  They are going to be looking at what went wrong and where they go from this defeat.  They should not ask Brazil for help.

Copa America Centenario

It is a little late but due to an all weekend lacrosse tourney, I was unable to post about the Copa final. I will do a recap tomorrow…

Predictions 

My Pick – Argentina 3-1

Conor’s Pick – Argentina 2-1

Can Messi finally win a major tourney with Argentina?

Euro 2016 Round of 16 Preview

Here is a quick preview of each of the Round of 16 games.

Switzerland vs. Poland

June 25th at 9:00 am EST on ESPN

Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint Etienne

Referee: Mark Clattenburg (England)

Both of these teams are now looking to take their ambitions higher now that they are in the knockout stages. Poland’s Robert Lewandowski is yet to score but he could be the difference this time around. If Switzerland hopes to make a deep run then they will need to find some offense as they only scored 2 goals in the group stage.

Predictions

My Pick – Poland

Conor’s Pick – Poland

Wales vs. Northern Ireland

June 25th at 12:00 pm EST on ESPN

Parc des Princes, Paris

Referee: Martin Atkinson (England)

A battle of Great Britain as Wales and Northern Ireland meet in the Round of 16. The only real question I have is how far can Gareth Bale lead Wales. They will now be the favorites to advance so we shall see how this impacts the Welsh side and if they are able to perform up to expectation.

Predictions

My Pick – Wales

Conor’s Pick – Wales

Croatia vs. Portugal

June 25th at 3:00 pm EST on ESPN

Stade Bollaert-Deleis, Lens

Referee: Carlos Velasco Carballo (Spain)

This is one of the better Round of 16 match ups and now features two teams that if they are able to win should be favorites to make it to the final. Ronaldo seems to be scoring again which is key. For Croaita, the key is Luka Modric’s health. He is a game changer and if healthy could make them the team to beat.

Predictions

My Pick – Croatia

Conor’s Pick – Portugal

France vs. Republic of Ireland

June 26th at  9:00 am EST on ESPN

Parc Olympique Lyonnais, Lyon

Referee: Nicola Rizzoli (Italy)

The talk across the pond is how this could be the revenge game for the Thierry Henry hand ball during a 2010 World Cup qualification playoff game. Can the Irsih who had struggled in the tournament until they found the winner against Italy really push the host? How good is Dimitri Payet? We are about to find out a lot about the French and if they have what it takes to win this tournament as Their road to the final is not going to be easy.

Predictions

My Pick – France

Conor’s Pick – Ireland

Germany vs. Slovakia

June 26th at 12:00 pm EST on ESPN

Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Vileneuve-d’Ascq

Referee: Szymon Marciniak (Poland)

The World Champions will look to advance to the quarterfinals easily over Slovakia. They seemed to have found the answer up front in Mario Gomez and will look to win the World Cup and European Championship in back to back tournaments.

Predictions

My Pick – Germany

Conor’s Pick – Germany

Hungary vs. Belgium

June 26th at 3:00 pm EST on ESPN

Stadium Municipal, Toulouse

Referee: Milorad Mazic (Serbia)

This game really intrigues me as I think both of these teams have the potential to make it all the way to the final. Hungary has been the surprise team of the tournament in a good way and you could argue that Belgium has been the surprise team in a bad way. The question here is are Hungary really a talented team or will Belgium’s superstars be enough?

Predictions

My Pick – Hungary

Conor’s Pick – Hungary

Italy vs. Spain

June 27th at 12:00 pm EST on ESPN

Stade de France, Saint-Denis

Referee:

Wow, wow, wow! This is a must watch game. A repeat of the last European Championships final. Italy won their group and got the worst prize in the world, the defending European Champions. Spain meanwhile finally conceded and was defeated for the first time in what seems like forever at the Euros. Both teams suffered defeat on the final matchday, who will rebound better?

Predictions

My Pick – Spain

Conor’s Pick – Spain

England vs. Iceland

June 27th at 3:00 pm EST on ESPN

Allianz Riviera, Nice

Referee:

If you are not English, I kind of think that you must be cheering for Iceland now. This small nation has excited everyone and they can dream. They are the smallest nation to ever make the knockout stages of the Euros. England will need to figure out what their best 11 are and fast as they still are struggling to find their balance.

Predictions

My Pick – England

Conor’s Pick – England

The score after the group stage is Conor 15, Me 14. The points now double. I will be back after the round of 16 to recap and preview the quarterfinals.

Euro 2016 Group Stage Recap

The group stage is over and we are now moving on to the first ever Round of 16. The games had a different feel to them as 4 third place teams advanced to the knockout stages. One of the other major storylines has been fan violence. The Russia and English fans clashed multiple times in Marseille as well as after the game ended, Russian fans appeared to attack the English fans in the corner. The Croatian fans have used flares and firecrackers to cause delays and make trouble for the Croatia FA in protest. Let’s hope that the fan violence comes to an end and the level of play on the field increases as we go on in the competition. Here is a quick recap of each group.

Group A

France, Switzerland, Albania, Romania

The hosts started the tournament with a 2-1 win over Romania. A star was born in this game as Dimitri Payet took center stage and scored a beautiful game winner. He was the best player for France. Switzerland defeated Albania in the first game that feature brothers on different teams. In the second round Romania and Switzerland would draw and France would defeat Albania thanks to 2 very late goals. Going into the 89th minute the game was 0-0. It finished 2-0 thanks to Griezmann and Payet. The final round would see Albania score their first ever goal in a European Championship and first ever win as they defeated Romania 1-0. Switzerland and France knew they were going to finish either 1st or 2nd and they played out a boring 0-0 draw. France and Switzerland would advance. Albania finished as the first third place team and did not advance.

Group B

Wales, England, Slovakia, Russia

Group B started with a first ever tournament win for Wales thanks to a first half goal from Gareth Bale and then a late winner from Robson-Kanu. England player very well against Russia but their 1-0 lead thanks to Eric Dier was canceled out in the 92nd minute by a header from Berezutski. In the second Round, Slovakia came to life as Weiss and Hamsik would put Slovakia up 2-0 and get them their first win of the tournament as they beat Russia 2-1. Wales would get an early lead thanks to Bale again against England; however, England would bring on Vardy and Sturridge at half time and both of them would score to give England a 2-1 win. In the final round, Wales defeated Russia 3-0 and they would win the group. In the other game, Slovakia and England would draw 0-0. This was enough to get both England and Slovakia to advance. Wales would top the group, England finished second, and Slovakia would advance as the best third place team.

Group C

Germany, Poland, Northern Ireland, Ukraine

Group C featured the World Champions, as Germany would start the tournament with a 2-0 win over Ukraine. Poland also got off to a good start with a 1-0 win over Northern Ireland. In the other game on matchday 2, Northern Ireland would defeat Ukraine 2-0. This was there first ever win in a major tournament. Both Germany and Poland would run away with the group as they drew 0-0 with each other and both win 1-0 on the final matchday against Northern Ireland and Ukraine respectively. Germany won the group thanks to a better goal differential. If Poland had scored 1 more goal then it might have come down to fair play. Poland would finish second and Northern Ireland would advance as well as the fourth and final third place team. Ukraine was the only team not to score a goal in this tournament.

Group D

Croatia, Spain, Turkey, Czech Republic

This group featured two teams that played some brilliant football in the first round. Croatia defeated Turkey 1-0 thanks to a suburb volley by Modric, probably on of the better goals of the group stage. Spain would play some great football lead by Iniesta but would need a late goal from Pique to defeat the Czech Republic. In the second round, Croatia would build a 2-0 before the Czech republic would come back. Flares and fireworks that seemed to disturb the Croatia players aided their comeback. The game would end in a 2-2 draw. Spain would defeat Turkey 3-0 thanks to Morata and Nolito. In the final round, the headline game was Croatia vs. Spain, winner of this game wins the group. Morata would open the scoring but a late first half goal from Kalinic would give Croatia hope. Late in the second half, Perisic would win the game and the group for Croatia. In the other game, Turkey would finaly get on the board and defeated the Czech Republic 2-0. Turkey would finish third but they were the fifth third place team and they did not advance.   The Croatia win means that one half of the bracket is loaded with winners.

Group E

Italy, Belgium, Republic of Ireland, Sweden

This group was an interesting one as it started with a 1-1 draw between Ireland and Sweden and a shocking 2-0 win for Italy over Belgium. Not many people thought that Italy would be any good but they got off to a start.   Belgium would respond in the second round as they defeated Ireland 3-0 including 2 goals for Lukaku. Italy would continue their winning ways and clinch the group with a 1-0 win over Sweden. On the final matchday, Ireland would need a win and Belgium to win to advance. Within 2 minutes of each other, Naingolan would score for Belgium to give Belgium a 1-0 win over Sweden and Robbie Brady would score to give Ireland the win and a place in the knockout stages. Italy would win the group and their prize is Spain. Belgium would come in second and Ireland in third. The Irish have advanced to the knockout stages as the second best third place team.

Group F

Hungary, Iceland, Portugal, Austria

I am pretty sure no one saw this coming. Hungary looked great in the first game and Austria looked off the pace of the game. Hungary would start the tournament with a 2-0 win over Austria. Portugal and Iceland would play to a shocking 1-1 draw for Iceland’s first ever point in a major tournament. In the second round, Hungary would earn a late draw against Iceland. Portugal and Austria would play to a scoreless draw. During the final round, Iceland would defeat Austria 2-1 thanks to a 94th minute goal by Traustason. In the other game, Hungary would draw 3-3 with Portugal. Hungary took the lead 3 times in the game but each time Portugal found an equalizer including 2 from Cristiano Ronaldo. Portugal would advance as the third best third place team. Hungary would win the group and Iceland would finish second.

The knockout stage is set. The bracket looks a little lopsided to me. On one side there are 9 European Champions as Germany and Spain have won 3 times each, Italy has won once, and France has won twice. On the other side of the bracket, no team has won the European Championships. This is going to be a fantastic summer for one nation.

 

Copa America Semifinal Previews

Semifinal #1: United States vs. Argentina

Tuesday, June 21 at 9:00 pm EST on Fox Sports 1

The first semifinal features the hosts of the tournament and the favorites for the tournament. The United States have a chance to better their best ever performance in the Copa America. The US made the semifinals only once before in 1995. A win over the number one team in the world would be one of the biggest results ever in the history of US soccer. Argentina meanwhile has great history in the Copa America.  They have won it 14 times. However, they are on a bit of a title drought as the last time they won was in 1993. Can Messi win the title for the first time?

The United States earned their place in the semifinals thanks to a 2-1 win over Ecuador in the quarterfinals. Clint Dempsey opened the scoring in the first half. In the second half, Antonio Valencia and Jermaine Jones were sent off following a poor tackle by Valencia and a “slap” by Jones.  Gyasi Zardes would tap in Clint Dempsey’s cross and make it 2-0. Michael Arroyo would make it 2-1 and Ecuador would put the pressure on the United States for the final 15 minutes. The United States held on to win the game 2-1.  The game did come at a cost as Bedoya, Wood, and Jones are all the suspended for the semifinals.

Argentina on the other hand booked their place in the semifinals with a fairly easy 4-1 win over Venezuela. Higuain scored the opening two goals of the game the first was assisted by Messi. Just before halftime, Luis Manuel Seijas had a penalty but Sergio Romero saved it. Leo Messi made it 3-0 in the second half. Rondon would make it 3-1 with 20 minutes to go but Erik Lamela made it 4-1 just a minute later. Nicolas Gaitan will miss the semifinal since picked up a yellow card in the quarterfinal.

I think this game has the potential to be a blow out. Argentina have been the best team in the tournament and their best player has barely played. Leo Messi has only started one game in this tournament. Can he put in the type of performance that will win him that trophy? 

Predictions

My Pick: Argentina 3-1

Conor’s Pick: USA 2-1

Semifinal #2: Colombia vs. Chile

Wednesday, June 22 at 8:00 pm EST on Fox Sports 1

The second semifinal is between the winners of the last Copa America and the second highest ranked team in the FIFA rankings. Both of these teams will be looking to win their second Copa America. Chile made a huge statement in the last round that was needed following a weak start to the tournament. Colombia meanwhile have really struggled this tournament. They started the tournament with a win over the United States but they have not won a game since.

Chile earned their place in the quarterfinals with a shocking win over Mexico. Mexico was one of the hottest teams in the world coming into the game but they were destroyed 7-0. Edson Puch opened the scoring in the 16th minute. Eduardo Vargas would get his great night started just before halftime with his first goal. He would go on to score 3 more in the second half. Alexis Sanchez and Edson Puch would also score in the second half. Lots of questions will be asked of Mexico but Chile finally showed their might in this tournament and now should be favorites to make it to the final.

Colombia advanced to the final despite failing to score during regulation. Their semifinal against Peru ended 0-0. Each team only had 1 shot on target during regulation. The game went to penalty kicks. James Rodriguez, Juan Cuadrado, Dayro Moreno, and Sebastian Perez all finished off their penalty kicks for Colombia. Raul Ruidiaz and Renato Tapia scored their penalty kicks for Peru. Migual Trauco and Christian Cueva missed theirs meaning Colombia would advance to the semifinals.

This game could go either way. If Chile performs like they did against Mexico then it could get ugly. Claudio Vargas made a huge statement and Chile have a lot of weapons. If Colombia is some how able to find their form then they could pull the upset. They have some dynamic playmakers in James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado.  Chile will hope to make it to two straight finals and potentially face a rematch with Argentina in the finals.

Predictions

My Pick: Chile 2-1

Conor’s Pick: Chile 3-1

Copa America Centenario Quarterfinal Preview

The group stages of the Copa America has come to a close and boy was it filled of surprises and outstanding performances.  Before I preview the quarterfinal games, here is my biggest surprise of the group stage, best performance of the group stage, best team of the group stage, biggest disappointment of the group stage.

Biggest Surprise of the Group Stage: Venezuela – Is this the year that they finally make the final? We will see as they are on to the knockout stages for the 4th time ever.  They are definitely this year’s Cinderella team as they are the lowest ranked remaining team.  They shocked everyone when they defeated Jamaica 1-0 in the opening game.  Then the real surprise happened when they defeated Uruguay 1-0.  They almost made it 3 straight 1-0 wins but with 10 minutes left Corona scored for Mexico giving them a 1-1 draw in the final game.  This meant that Venezuela was going to finish second in the group but they will be happy and looking forward to their quarterfinal matchup.

Best Performance of the Group Stage: Lionel Messi (Argentina) vs. Panama – Messi made his Copa debut in the second round when Argentina faced Panama.  With his team up 1-0, Messi came on in the 61st minute and 26 minutes later the score was 4-0 and Messi had a splendid hat trick.  He then assisted Aguero to make it 5-0.  His team was the only team to win all three games and they look favorites now to win the whole tournament.

Best Team of the Group Stage: Mexico – While Argentina went 3-0 in the group stage, Mexico was fantastic in the group stage and has maintained their unbeaten run.  They opened the tournament with a great win over Uruguay defeating them 3-1.  Then they defeated Jamaica 2-0.  They finished the group stage on a down note as they needed a late goal to draw 1-1 with Venezuela.  Juan Carlos Osorio seems to have his team playing at their best as they have scored 6 goals and no player has more than 1 goal scored.  The question now is can Mexico become the first non-CONMEBOL team to win the tournament.

Biggest Disappointment of the Group Stage: Brazil – The great footballing nation really disappointed this tournament as they were only able to win 1 game this whole tournament despite scoring 7 goals and conceding just 2.  They started the tournament with a 0-0 draw against Ecuador.  Then it looked like they were going to get going as they defeated Haiti 7-1.  However, this would not be enough as they lost 1-0 to Peru but they should not have since Ruidiaz clearly handled the ball into the goal.  Nevertheless, Brazil is out with a whimper.  Uruguay also could have been this one as they are also eliminated.

Quarterfinal Preview

United States vs. Ecuador – Thursday June 16th at 9:30 pm EST on Fox Sports 1 at CenturyLink Field, Seattle

This should be a fascinating game.  Ecuador finished second in their group due to draws against Brazil and Peru.  They defeated Haiti 4-0.  Enner Valencia is their leading scorer with 2 goals so far.  He has been very good in this tournament.  They have great width and could really cause problems.  The United States advanced to the knockout stage by winning Group A.  They lost to Colombia in the first game but responded well with a 4-0 win over Costa Rica and a 1-0 win over Paraguay.  Clint Dempsey has scored twice but the defense has been the story of the team.  John Anthony Brooks has really stepped up and another great performance will be needed since DeAndre Yedlin is out suspended due to his red card agasint Paraguay.  The United States defeated Ecuador before the tournament, can they get the win in the tournament?

My Pick – United States

Conor’s Pick – United States in PKs

Argentina vs. Venezuela – Saturday June 18th at 7:00 pm EST on FX at Gillette Stadium, Foxborough

This is arguable the best team left against the worst team left.  Argentina has a ton of firepower as they were the highest scoring team in the group stage with 8 different players scoring a goal.  Venezuela meanwhile is the lowest scoring team to advance.  They scored just 3 goals in the group stage.  Both teams have only conceded once.  Messi might be in line for his first start of the tournament and he will look to build on his great performance against Panama and finally win his country a major trophy.

My Pick – Argentina

Conor’s Pick – Argentina

Peru vs. Colombia – Friday June 17th at 8:00 pm EST on Fox Sports 1 at MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford

Peru was the surprise winners of Group B thanks to their handball victory over Brazil.  They had a so-so group stage and were very lucky to advance.  They defeated Haiti 1-0 in the first game.  Ecuador beat Haiti 4-0 and Brazil beat them 7-1.  If they did not defeat Brazil, they would have been knocked out.  Their opponent is a team that should be considered a team that can win this tournament.  James Rodriguez has scored twice in the group stage.  Colombia should be able to advance but can Peru keep the magic going?

My Pick – Colombia

Conor’s Pick – Colombia

Mexico vs. Chile – Saturday June 18th at 10:00 pm EST on FX at Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara

This is one of the best quarterfinal matchup of the lot as Mexico faces the defending Copa champions Chile.  Both of these teams have dynamic players that can change the game in an instant.  Mexico are lead by Javier Hernandez and Jesus Manuel Corona.  Chile has the dynamic duo of Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal.  This game is going to be very tight as both teams love to attack.  Chile conceded the most goals out of any team that has advanced.  Mexico is lead by Rafa Marquez who seems to have found the fountain of youth.  At 37 years young, he has really taken command of the defense including a goal against Uruguay. This is a tough one to call but a must watch game.

My Pick – Chile on PKs

Conor’s Pick – Chile at the last minute

Copa America Centenario Group Stage Results

1 point for correctly picking a team to advance
1 point for correct place in group

Me – 9 Points
Conor – 10 Points

Euro 2016 Preview

The 15th edition of the European Championships begins this week in France.  The top European national teams will compete.  For the first time ever, there are 24 teams competing in the group stages.  The top two teams from each of the 6 groups will qualify for the knockout stage as well as the top 4 third place teams from each group.  The four best third place teams will be determined by 1) higher number of points obtained, 2) superior goal difference, 3) higher number of goals scored, 4) fair play conduct, and 5) position in the UEFA national team coefficient ranking system.  The group stage will run from June 10th to June 22nd and the round of 16 will take place on June 25th, 26th, and 27th.  The quarterfinals will happen on June 30th, July 1st, 2nd, and 3rd.  The semifinals will be in Lyon on July 6th and Marseille on July 7th.  The final will be in Saint-Denis at the Stade de France on July 10th.  Here is my quick preview of each group, plus a word from Conor and our picks…

Group A: France, Romania, Albania, Switzerland

France: The host nation will be looking to win their third European Championship and second as hosts.  They last won the title in 2000.  They are one of the favorites to win this group and win the tournament.  They are lead by Didier Deschamps who captained the 98 world cup winning French side.  They are without Karim Benzema (Real Madrid) but have two young players ready to step on to the big stage in Anotine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid) and Paul Pogba (Juventus).  Both of these two have lost the Champions League final recently, but that experience might be a nice driving force for them.  This team has the potential to win the whole tournament, or have it all blow up on themselves.

Romania: The Romanian national team returns to the European Championships after missing out in 2012.  They have only ever advanced out of the group stage once and that was in 2000.  Anghel Iordanescu is back as manager of this side.  He famously managed this team in 1994 when they made it to the quarterfinals of the World Cup.  They qualified for the tournament unbeaten, but they only managed to score 11 goals in the 10 qualifying games.  They are led from the back with the familiar names of Vlad Chirches (Napoli), Razvan Rat (Rayo Vallecano) and Costel Pantilimon (Watford) in goal.  If they continue to struggle to score goals, they will struggle in the group.

Albania: This is the first ever major tournament qualification for Albania.  In fact, the country has only played in two international competitions, 1982 Unter-18 and 1994 U-16 European Championships.  Italian manager Gianni de Biasi has this team in the tournament and will be hoping that they can play carefree and make a splash.  They are captained by Lorik Cana (Nantes), but the two players to watch are Etrit Bersha (Lazio) in goal and Elseid Hysaj (Napoli) in defense.  They also feature Shkelzen Gashi who plays in America for the Colorado Rapids.

Switzerland: This team will look to challenge France for the top spot in the group.  Their youth development program has been developing better and better players and this may be the tournament that we finally see how good the program is.  The names to keep an eye on are Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke City), Valon Behrami (Watford), Breel Embolo (Basel), Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), and Granit Xhaka who just complete his move to Arsenal a couple weeks ago.  They are coached by Vladimir Petkovic. They could set history as they look to get out of the group stage for the first time in the Euros.  They did make it to the round of 16 in Brazil.  They have a good young core, but can they take the next step and be a threat to win the tournament is still yet to be seen.

My Picks: France, Romania, Switzerland, Albania

Conor’s Picks: France, Switzerland, Romania, Albania

Group B: England, Russia, Wales, Slovakia

England: Is this the year that England finally wins the European Championships?  The English have never made it to the final of this competition, placing third in 1968 and in 1996 when they hosted the tournament.  They will hope to go farther they have in the past, having gone to the quarterfinals in 2012 and 2004 and failing to qualify in 2008.  Roy Hodgson has picked an interesting side by bringing 18 year old Marcus Rashford (Manchester United) with him to France.  They have a very young squad with a lot of talent, but where Wayne Rooney (Manchester United) will play is going to be the question of the tournament and his play will dictate how well England does.  They are in great form and should advance from the group, but can they make it all the way?  That we will have to wait and see…

Russia: This tournament is more of a warm up for the 2018 World Cup hosts as they will no doubt be looking forward to that tournament.  The Russian squad is one of the oldest squads in the tournament with 8 players 30 years or older.  Their defense is most likely going to feature 2 or 3 30+ year olds and there have to be questions regarding their ability to defend some great attacking talent in this group.  Capello was removed as coach last June when it looked like Russia might not qualify.  CSKA Moscow coach Leonid Slutsky stepped in and guided Russia to qualification, but he will struggle to get them out of the group if Aleksandr Kokorin and Artyon Dzyuba (both from Zenit Saint Petersburg) do not find the back of the net a lot.

Wales: Two Words… Gareth Bale.  Wales is very dependent on Gareth Bale (Real Madrid) and he will need to be at his best for Wales to qualify for the knockout stages.  This is Wales’ first-ever European Championships and only their second ever major championships.  They reached the quarterfinals of the 1958 World Cup in Sweden.  While all of the focus will be on Gareth Bale, there are some other big names that Chris Coleman can call upon.  Joe Allen (Liverpool), Andy King (Leicester City), Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal), and Joe Ledley (Crystal Palace) are all strong in the midfield.  Ashley Williams (Swansea City) is the captain of the side and will play in defense with Ben Davies (Tottenham), Neil Taylor (Swansea City), and James Chester (West Brom).  This is an interesting team and one that could make some noise if they play up to their potential.

Slovakia: They may have only qualified for their second major tournament, but they are not to be overlooked.  In 2010 they made it to the round of 16 in the World Cup.  They are going to be the one team that has no pressure on them in the group and that can play to their benefit. They are captained by Martin Skrtel (Liverpool) and have a dynamic playmaker in Marek Hamsik (Napoli).  Those two could guide this team to an upset or two and possibly out of the group.

My Picks: England, Wales, Russia, Slovakia

Conor’s Picks: England, Wales, Russia, Slovakia

Group C: Germany, Ukraine, Poland, Northern Ireland

Germany: The defending World Cup champions will look to do what Spain has done recently and back up a major tournament win with another.  They have won the tournament 3 times in 1972 and 1980 as West Germany and then again in 1996.  They lost the final in 2008 to Spain, which started the Spanish dynasty.  Can they start one of their own is the question now.  They are no doubt a favorite for the tournament, but there are some question marks around Joachim Low’s side.  Low included Andre Schurrle (Wolfsburg) and Lukas Podolski (Galatasaray) instead of Julian Brandt (Bayer Leverkusen) and Karim Bellarabi (Bayer Leverkusen).  Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund) also misses out due to his history with injuries.  Bastian Schweinsteiger (Manchester United) takes the armband from the retired Phillip Lahm.  They enter the tournament with just 3 forwards, but no true number 9s except for Mario Gomez (Besiktas).  Look for Low to start with a false 9.  They are the favorites for the group and favorites for the tournament.

Ukraine: Ukraine is a team that will make you play at your best as they hope to make it out of the group stage for the first time ever. They have great attacking width and will look to get at teams down the wings.  On one side is Yevhen Konoplyanka (Sevilla) and the other is Andriy Yarmalenko (Dynamo Kyiv).  Mykhaylo Fomenko will hope that these two players can lead his side, as his defense might not be as strong as he would have liked.  This, plus the heated clashes between Shakhtar and Dynamo Kyiv, might jeopardize the harmony of the squad and might mean and early exit for them.

Poland: Poland are the second one man team we will talk about as the focus of all their opponents will be on Robert Lewandowski, and it rightly should be.  The Bayern Munich striker is one of the best in the world and can seemingly score at will.  Adam Nawalka will hope that his team can find enough service for their big number 9 to see them get out of the group stage for the first time ever.  While Lewandowski is the star, there is some other talent that is worth keeping an eye on.  Grzegorz Krychowiak (Sevilla) and Piotr Zielinski (Empoli) are some good midfield talents that could use this tournament as a spring board to bigger clubs.  Arkadiusz Milik (Ajax) had a great season in the Dutch league and will look to be the Robin to Lewandowski’s Batman.  Poland should make it out of the group and could be a threat in the knockout stages if Lewandowski is scoring for fun.

Northern Ireland: Northern Ireland shocked the footballing world when they won their qualification group and ended a 30 year long wait to appear in the European Championships.  They boast the longest unbeaten run of all the teams in the tournament and hope that they can surprise a couple more teams and qualify for the knockout stages.  Martin O’Neill’s side will be lead by Kyle Lafferty (Birmingham City) up front and captain Steven Davis (Southampton) in the midfield.  They have an experienced back 3 of Jonny Evans (West Brom), Gareth McAuley (West Brom), and Craig Cathcart (Watford).  Northern Ireland will be very well disciplined and if they play their cards right, they could be within a shout of the knockout stages.

My Picks: Germany, Ukraine, Poland, Northern Ireland

Conor’s Picks: Germany, Ukraine, Poland, Northern Ireland 

Group D: Spain, Czech Republic, Turkey, Croatia

Spain: This is the final tournament for Vicente Del Bosque as he plans on retiring after the tournament ends.  Will he go out with a bang? He takes the two time defending European Champions into this tournament looking for a little redemption after they were stunned and dumped out of the World Cup very quickly.  The selection process for Spain has been interesting.  Some people argue that there are 11 players not in the squad that could advance from this group with their own team. That means there must be a lot of talent on the squad that Spain did select, and there is.  This team could make history and be the first country to win three European Championships in a row.  The decision of who plays in goal should be an interesting one with David de Gea (Manchester United) pushing for the job, but Iker Casillas (Porto) is still around and might be the number 1.  Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets (Barcelona) will lead the midfield with Fabregas (Chelsea), David Silva (Manchester City), Koke (Atletico Madrid), and Thiago (Bayern Munich) fighting for the last spot. Up front it looks like Alvaro Morata (Juventus) or Nolito (Celta Vigo) might lead the line with Pedro (Chelsea) and possibly one of the midfielders.  Personally, I am happy to see Aritz Aduriz (Athletic Bilbao) finally make the squad.

Czech Republic: The two time finalist and one time winners, Czech Republic come into this group as possibly the team favored to finish last.  They are not the same team that we are used to seeing coming from the Czech Republic.  They are led by captain Tomas Rosicky and Petr Cech (Arsenal).  They will have a strong midfield but the questions will come at attack.  A name to keep an eye on in this tournament is Vladimir Darida (Hertha Berlin).  He had a very impressive season and will need to be the playmaker for the Czechs if they are to advance out of the group stage.  They will rely on Tomas Necid (Bursaspor) and David Lafata (Sparta Prague) up front and they will need to score if they are to advance.  This will be a tough group as there will be a fight to get out of this group.  Can the Czech’s score enough to make it out?

Turkey: Turkey is back in the Euros after missing out in 2012.  In 2008, they reached the semifinals of the tournament where they lost to Germany 3-2.  In 2000 they reached the quarterfinals.  If we follow this pattern, they should reach the finals this time around 😉  Turkey will be led by midfielder Arda Turan (Barcelona).  Turan had a rocky start to his career in Catalunya but will hope that a good display in France can lead to more play time. They will also feature Hakan Calhanoglu (Bayer Leverkusen), Nuri Sahin (Borussia Dortmund), and Selcuk Inan (Galatasaray) in the midfield.  Faith Terim was the man that led Turkey to the semifinals last time they were in the Euros, can he do it again?

Croatia: Croatia might be one of the most fascinating teams to watch and it is equal parts their amazing midfield and their picnic blanket-esq jerseys.  The red and white checker jersey of Croatia is classic and iconic, but this year they have doubled down with an away kit that has the same checkered pattern but alternates between dark blue and light blue.  They have to be one of the favorites for the group and seem like perennial dark horse for every tournament.  Their midfield will feature Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona), Ivan Perisic (Internazional) and either Milan Badelj (Fiorentina) or Mateo Kovacic (Real Madrid).  The people that will benefit from this midfield are Nikola Kalinic (Fiorentina) and Mario Mandzukic (Juventus).  This will be a fun team to watch and a team that could make it all the way.

My Picks: Spain, Croatia, Turkey, Czech Republic

Conor’s Picks: Spain, Turkey, Czech Repulbic, Croatia

Group E: Belgium, Italy, Republic of Ireland, Sweden

Belgium: This was supposed to be the summer of Belgium.  Their golden generation is all reaching their prime right now and they are poised to take over international football.  However, the injury bug seems to have hit them hard.  First it was captain Vincent Kompany, then Nicolas Lombaerts, Dedryck Boyata, and Bjorn Engels.  That is four defenders that were all tipped to make the squad out injured.  But all hope is not lost since this Belgium side is very deep.  They have Thibaut Coutrois (Chelsea) in goal with Simon Mignolet (Liverpool) in reserve.  Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham), Thomas Vermaelen (Barcelona), and Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham) are all still in the squad.  The squad only features four true midfielders as Axel Witsel (Zenit Saint Petersburg), Radja Nainggolan (Roma), Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United) and Mousa Dembele (Tottenham) are all very strong on and off the ball and will give Belgium a strong central presence in the midfield.  Finally, the shining star of this team has to be the attacking power.  Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Yannick Carrasco (Atletico Madrid), Dries Mertens (Napoli) and Eden Hazard (Chelsea) will be the ones creating the plays for their stronger center forwards.  In the number 9 role, Belgium could play Romelu Lukaku (Everton), Christian Benteke (Liverpool), Michy Batshuayi (Marseille) or Divock Origi (Liverpool).  They have one of the deepest teams in the tournament but the question remains; can they put it all together and bring home some silverware?

Italy: Antonio Conte would love to end his stint as Italy manager with a big success.  However, that might be tougher than you would think.  The runners-up in 2012 have seen some big changes to their team since the last Euros as the team looks to build for the future and win now.  They will have their rock solid defense as Gigi Buffon (Juventus) is in goal with Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, and Andrea Barzagli (all Juventus) join Gigi in defense.  Graziano Pelle (Southampton) should lead the line for Italy.  Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli) and Stephan El Shaaraway (Roma) will be called up to be the young playmakers.  Daniele De Rossi (Roma) will be the leader in the midfield.  Italy has won the European Championships in 1968.  They were runners-up in 2000 and 2012. Can they make it out of the group this year? If they do then they could be a tough out in the knockout stages.

Republic of Ireland: Ireland is back in the Euros after finishing 4th in their group in 2012.  They will hope that they can have a better showing this time around.  They have made it to the quarterfinals of the World Cup in 1990 and the Round of 16 the other two times they qualified for the World Cup in 1994 and 2002. US fans will recognize the captain, Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy), as he has been dominating the MLS.  He is in fact the only player on the team not playing in England right now.  Their midfield leaders will be Glenn Whelan (Stoke City), Aiden McGeady and James McCarthy (both Everton).  Shay Given (Stoke City) should be in goal.  Manager Martin O’Neill has his team defending well, but they will need to get a good start to the tournament if they want to have any hopes of advancing.

Sweden: ZLATAN!!!! Sweden is another one of those one man international teams and he is the reason people will watch.  The big Swede has his future up in the air with a move to Manchester United rumored.  Can he carry his country to the knockout stages, or will he be joining Jose Mourinho early this summer?

My Picks: Italy, Belgium, Sweden, Ireland

Conor’s Picks: Belgium, Sweden, Ireland, Italy

Group F: Portugal, Iceland, Austria, Hungary

Portugal: is this going to be the summer of Ronaldo? He has already won his third Champions League trophy after scoring the winning penalty kick last month.  Now he sets his sight on the European Championships and Portugal can only go as far as he takes them. He did not have the greatest game in the Champions league final and has been given extra rest following this performance and manager Fernando Santos will hope this pays off.  Besides Ronaldo, Portugal has a lot of young talented midfielders that will be getting their first major tournament exposure.  The likes of Joao Mario (Sporting CP), William Carvalho (Sporting CP), Andre Gomes (Valencia), and Renato Sanches (Bayern Munich) will all get a shot in the midfield to be creative and drive Portugal to their first European Championship.  At the back, Portugal looks set to rely on experience as 6 of the 8 defenders they brought to France are over the age of 30.  They have experience but do they have the legs? Will they be able to link with the midfield that averages 23 years old?  Ronaldo is the driving force and will need to be at his best if they are to advance.

Iceland: This is the smallest country to ever qualify for the European Championships.  During qualification, they defeated the Netherlands both home and away.  They will be everyone’s darling this summer and the team that any neutral fan will want to do well.  Iceland has joint-managers in Lars Lagerback and Heimir Hallgrimsson.  Lars Lagerback was the manager of Sweden for 9 years in which he led them to the World Cup in 2002, the European Championships in 2000 and 2004 in which they made the quarterfinals, and the 2008 Euros.  Hallgrimsson is a native of Iceland and have been very successful at the club levels there. They will be lead by Eidur Gudjohnsen (Molde FK) who, at 37, is making it to his first major tournament.  Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City) and Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea) are the two to watch in the midfield.  They seem to have a nice connection and if they are able to connect in France then they could be the Cinderella team.

Austria: Austria is a nation on the rise as they have qualified for their first European Championships.  In 2008, they hosted the European Championships and exited in the Group stage, but now they could make some noise.  Marko Arnautovic (Stoke City) and Marc Janko (Basel) will lead the line for them and have posed a threat this year.  They are captained by Christian Fuchs (Leicester City), but also have Kevin Wimmer (Tottenham) and Aleksandar Dragovic (Dynamo Kyiv) in defense.  In the midfield, the star is David Alaba (Bayern Munich).  He can be the playmaker that makes the difference and could lead them to the knockout stages.

Hungary:  Hungary is back in the European Championships after 44 years of not qualifying.  In the two championships that they did qualify for, they finished third in 1964 and fourth in 1972.  How will they manage now? Their qualification was not straight forward, as they defeated Norway in the playoffs.  They now will look to extend their stay in France as they look to get back to their glory years.  They have some names that might be familiar as Krisztian Nemeth (AL-Gharafa) used to play for Liverpool and Zoltan Gera (Ferencvaros) used to play for Fulham and West Brom.  They struggled to score in qualifying, as they only scored more than once in 2 of the 10 matches.  They are back in the tournament, which is good, but I do not think that they will be as strong as the Hungary of old.

My Picks: Austria, Portugal, Iceland, Hungary

Conor’s Picks: Portugal, Iceland, Austria, Hungary

Our Predictions

My Winner: Spain

Conor’s Winner: France

My Dark Horse: Croatia

Conor’s Dark Horse: England

Schedule for the Group Stage (all times EST)

France vs. Romania – Friday June 10 – 3:00 pm – ESPN

Albania vs. Switzerland – Saturday June 11 – 9:00 am – ESPN

Wales vs. Slovakia – Saturday June 11 – 12:00 pm – ESPN

England vs. Russia – Saturday June 11 – 3:00 pm – ESPN

Turkey vs. Croatia – Sunday June 12 – 9:00 am – ESPN

Poland vs. Northern Ireland – Sunday June 12 – 12:00 pm – ESPN

Germany vs. Ukraine – Sunday June 12 – 3:00 pm – ESPN

Spain vs. Czech Republic – Monday June 13 – 9:00 am – ESPN

Ireland vs. Sweden – Monday June 13 – 12:00 pm – ESPN

Belgium vs. Italy – Monday June 13 – 3:00 pm – ESPN

Austria vs. Hungary – Tuesday June 14 – 12:00 pm – ESPN

Portugal vs. Iceland – Tuesday June 14 – 3:00 pm – ESPN

Russia vs. Slovakia – Wednesday June 15 – 9:00 am – ESPN

Romania vs. Switzerland – Wednesday June 15 – 12:00 pm – ESPN

France vs. Albania – Wednesday June 15 – 3:00 pm – ESPN

England vs. Wales – Thursday June 16 – 8:00 am – ESPN

Ukraine vs. Northern Ireland – Thursday June 16 – 12:00 pm – ESPN

Germany vs. Poland – Thursday June 16 – 3:00 pm – ESPN

Italy vs. Sweden – Friday June 17 – 9:00 am – ESPN

Czech Republic vs. Croatia – Friday June 17 – 12:00 pm – ESPN

Spain vs. Turkey – Friday June 17 – 3:00 pm – ESPN

Belgium vs. Ireland – Saturday June 18 – 9:00 am – ESPN

Iceland vs. Hungary – Saturday June 18 – 12:00 pm – ESPN

Portugal vs. Austria – Saturday June 18 – 3:00 pm – ESPN

Romania vs. Albania – Sunday June 19 – 3:00 pm – Watch ESPN

Switzerland vs. France – Sunday June 19 – 3:00 pm – ESPN

Russia vs. Wales – Monday June 20 – 3:00 pm – ESPN 2

Slovakia vs. England – Monday June 20 – 3:00 pm – ESPN

Northern Ireland vs. Germany – Tuesday June 21 – 12:00 pm – ESPN

Ukraine vs. Poland – Tuesday June 11 – 12:00 pm – ESPN 2

Croatia vs. Spain – Tuesday June 21 – 3:00 pm – ESPN

Czech Republic vs. Turkey – Tuesday June 21 – 3:00 pm – ESPN

Hungary vs. Portugal – Wednesday June 22 – 12:00 pm – ESPN

Iceland vs. Austria – Wednesday June 22 – 12:00 pm – ESPN 2

Italy vs. Ireland – Wednesday June 22 – 3:00 pm – ESPN 2

Sweden vs. Belgium – Wednesday June 22 – 3:00 pm – ESPN

Copa America Centenario Preview

Today is the start of Copa America Centenario. The Copa America is an international football tournament that features the teams in South America. This tournament is the oldest international continental football competition in the world, starting in 1916. There are 10 nations in South America: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. 8 of the 10 nations have won the tournament. The only two that have not are Ecuador and Venezuela. Uruguay has won the competition the most with 15. The Copa America typically has 12 teams play in it, which means 2 teams from other confederations are invited. Mexico has appeared in the competition the most and finished the highest of all the non-CONMEBOL team with two runners-up finishes. This summer is the 100 year celebration of the tournament and for the first time ever, the tournament is not taking place in South America. The United States will host the competition as it is expended to 16 teams. The 10 CONMEBOL teams and 6 teams from CONCACAF will play. The United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Haiti, and Panama are the 6 teams from the CONCACAF. Here is a quick preview of the groups and the teams involved.  I am also going to have my buddy Conor come on and pick the Copa America and the European Championships with me.

Group A

Teams: United States, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Paraguay

Group A has the host nation, the United States. They should have great fans at all of the venues and be looking to make a big splash in their 4th Copa America appearance. America did not have a great 2015 and they were not given any help by the draw. Any one of these four teams could make an argument to advance. The faces of the US are changing as we should see the talented Christian Pulisic, Darlington Nagbe and Bobby Wood lead this team. Their youth may be the key.

The favorite in the group has to be James Rodriguez and Colombia. They made it to the quarterfinals in Rio but have struggled since the tournament. There is a lot of talent, and with James looking to remind the world of his talents following a slightly disappointing season with Real Madrid, they should be the first team to advance from this group. They won the Copa America in 2001 and finished runners-up in 1975.

Costa Rica is coming into this tournament with a lot of confidence. They also made it to the quarterfinals of the World Cup in Rio. Keylor Navas has seen his star continue to rise as he helped Real Madrid win their 11th Champions League title this season. They also won the last Copa Centroamericana in 2014. They have reached the quarterfinals of the Copa America twice.

Paraguay is a defensive juggernaut. They will be very tough to break down. They have only lost 2 of their last 7 games including draws with Ecuador, Brazil, and Argentina. They will feature a staunch defense lead by Miguel Samudio. They made it to the semifinals of the 2015 Copa America and won the tournament in 1979 and 1953.

My Picks – Colombia and United States

Conor’s Picks – United States and Colombia

Group B

Teams: Brazil, Ecuador, Haiti, and Peru

Brazil are one of the most well-known and well recognized teams in this tournament, however, their talisman will be sitting this tournament out. Neymar is being rested for the Olympics, but that does not mean that there is not a lot of talent on this team. They still have Dani Alves, Casemiro, Willian, Lucas Moura, Coutinho, and Hulk. Brazil will hope to win their 9th Copa America and give a better showing then the last time they were on the international stage.

Ecuador has to be the second favorites of the group. They have never won the competition and will look to change that as they have been dominating the World Cup qualifying games. They have beaten Argentina and Uruguay and are now tied for first in qualifying. They have some amazing pace in Antonio Valencia, Michael Arroyo, and Jefferson Montero. They could be a dark horse to win the whole thing.

Peru and Haiti are not expected to make much noise. Peru is in the middle of rebuilding their ranks and looks to bring a young team. Peru did win the Copa America in 1939 and 1975. Haiti was a surprise to qualify and will be happy to earn a point at the tournament. This is Haiti’s first appearance in the tournament.

My Picks – Brazil and Ecuador

Conor’s Picks – Brazil and Ecuador

Group C

Teams: Mexico, Uruguay, Jamaica, and Venezuela

Mexico has to be one of the favorites to win the tournament not named Brazil or Argentina. They have gone unbeaten in their last 11 games and have not conceded a goal in their last 5. They are playing extremely well under Juan Carlos Osorio. All of their games are in states that border Mexico and they should have very pro-Mexican crowds. Can Chicharito lead Mexico to their first ever Copa America title?

Their top rivals for the top spot are going to be without their talisman as Luis Suarez is expected to miss the start of the tournament and possibly return for the game against Jamaica. Uruguay is the most successful team in the Copa America having won it 15 times but the last time was in 2011. Can Suarez heal in time to help win the trophy again 100 years after they won the first one?

If the injury to Suarez does have a bigger impact on Uruguay then that will open the door for Jamaica. This team has been getting closer and closer to becoming a big name in the region. They knocked off the United States in the Gold Cup last year and finished as runner’s up. Giles Barnes will need to find his form if they are to qualify.

The last team in the group is the other team that has not won the Copa America, Venezuela. They are currently last in the World Cup qualifying and a good bet to be the first team out this summer. They are struggling to put a good performance together and will face some tough competition this weekend.

My Picks – Uruguay and Mexico

Conor’s Picks – Mexico and Uruguay

Group D

Teams: Argentina, Chile, Panama, and Bolivia

The one question in group D has to be is this the summer that it finally happens. The only thing missing from Lionel Messi’s CV is a major senior title with Argentina. He has not won one with the team and his country has gone 23 years without a trophy. Since winning the 1993 Copa America, Argentina has lost a World Cup final, 2 confederations Cup finals and 3 Copa America finals.

Chile’s reign as the top team in South America will be short lived unless they are able to defend their title. This does not mean that they cannot win the title again. Fans of the La Roja will hope that they do not have to wait another 99 years for their next Copa win and will hope that behind Claudio Bravo, Gary Medel, Arturo Vidal, and Alexis Sanchez they can repeat as champions.

Panama has been steadily improving over the last couple years but they were not handed a nice draw. They will be favorites to finish third in the group since Bolivia struggles away from the heights of La Paz. Both of these teams will try to be tough to break down, but the other two teams should have just too much talent.

My Picks – Argentina and Chile

Conor’s Picks – Chile and Argentina

Early Copa America Centenario Pick

My Pick – Uruguay

Conor’s Pick – Argentina

Schedule for the Group Stage (all times EST)

USA vs. Colombia – Friday, June 3 – 9:30 pm – Fox Sports 1

Costa Rica vs. Paraguay – Saturday, June 4 – 5:00 pm – Fox

Haiti vs. Peru – Saturday, June 4 – 7:30 pm – Fox Sports 2

Brazil vs. Ecuador – Saturday, June 4 – 10:00 pm – Fox Sports 1

Jamaica vs. Venezuela – Sunday, June 5 – 5:00 pm – Fox

Mexico vs. Uruguay – Sunday, June 5 – 8:00 pm – Fox Sports 1

Panama vs. Bolivia – Monday, June 6 – 7:00 pm – Fox Sports 1

Argentina vs. Chile – Monday, June 6 – 10:00 pm – Fox Sports 1

USA vs. Costa Rica – Tuesday, June 7 – 8:00 pm – Fox Sports 1

Colombia vs. Paraguay – Tuesday, June 7 – 10:30 pm – Fox Sports 1

Brazil vs. Haiti – Wednesday, June 8 – 7:30 pm – Fox Sports 1

Ecuador vs. Peru – Wednesday, June 8 – 10:00 pm – Fox Sports 2

Uruguay vs. Venezuela – Thursday, June 9 – 7:30 pm – Fox Sports 1

Mexico vs. Jamaica – Thursday, June 9 – 10:00 pm – Fox Sports 1

Chile vs. Bolivia – Friday, June 10 – 7:00 pm – Fox

Argentina vs. Panama – Friday, June 10 – 9:30 pm – Fox

USA vs. Paraguay – Saturday, June 11 – 7:00 pm – Fox Sports 1

Colombia vs. Costa Rica – Saturday, June 11 – 9:00 pm – Fox Sports 2

Ecuador vs. Haiti – Sunday, June 12 – 6:30 pm – Fox Sports 2

Brazil vs. Peru – Sunday, June 12 – 8:30 pm – Fox Sports 1

Mexico vs. Venezuela – Monday, June 13 – 8:00 pm – Fox Sports 1

Uruguay vs. Jamaica – Monday, June 13 – 10:00 pm – Fox Sports 1

Chile vs. Panama – Tuesday, June 14 – 8:00 pm – Fox Sports 1

Argentina vs. Bolivia – Tuesday, June 14 – 10:00 pm – Fox Sports 1