The Host Nation: Mexico! Copa America Group C Preview

The Host Nation: Mexico! Copa America Group C Preview

Two groups down, two to go.

With previews already finished for Group A and Group B, Copa America experts Nate Abaurrea and Cesar Hernandez will now give us their thoughts and opinions for Group C.

Mexico and Uruguay top the bracket and appear as the current favorites to earn a place in the knockout stage. Each side will be eager to get past the group stage, but must first get past Jamaica and Venezuela. Will El Tri and La Celeste run into any trouble? Will Jamaica or Venezuela earn a surprise spot in the top two? Let’s find out.

Hernandez: Alright Nate, I’m really excited for this one. Let’s first talk about the home team for the competition. No, not the USMNT, I’m talking about Mexico. We all know that I’m biased, but I don’t think many would disagree with me when I say that this is an excellent opportunity for Mexico to do very well.

Abaurrea: Excellent opportunity? That might be an understatement. This whole thing has been aligned just for them.

After their pre-tournament friendly in San Diego against Chile, they’ve got an opening match against a likely “Suarez-less” Uruguay in Phoenix, then return to the Rose Bowl for the first time since that famous night last October, this time as they take on the Reggae Boys in a rematch of the 2015 Gold Cup Final. Then comes their group stage closer with lowly Venezuela in Houston.

I’m not saying the schedule making process was rigged, but the idea that all three Mexico games just happened to be conveniently placed at these notoriously pro-Mexican venues (with minimal travel for El Tri that never sees them leave the south) should certainly raise an eyebrow or three. They are the true hosts. There’s no denying it.

With all this in play, plus the actual quality that this Mexican side has shown under Juan Carlos Osorio, and with the Suarez injury debilitating the collective body of La Celeste, I think El Tri night win this group.

Hernandez: Even if Mexico played an official match in Alaska, there would still be at least 10,000 fans making the trip to watch El Tri.

I’m thinking they will finish in first as well. Mexico has won all six matches under Osorio and has yet to allow a goal during that run. In fact, the last time El Tri allowed a goal in any competition was during the 3-2 CONCACAF Cup win over the United States last October. The team has plenty of momentum and an immense amount of talent on the roster.

What about Uruguay? Are we ready to say that they will finish in second? La Celeste is currently sitting in first place in CONMEBOL’s World Cup qualifying and has some big names like Diego Godin, Jose Maria Gimenez, Carlos Sanchez, and Edinson Cavani in the ranks. That said, I wouldn’t be too surprised if they lose to Mexico and then struggle to find the back of the net without Suarez.

Abaurrea: First off, I’m just imagining the Pancho Villa’s Army Chapter of Anchorage, Alaska. I get your point, but this travel thing shouldn’t just get brushed aside. At the risk of sounding like a whiney gringo, I must point out that the “host” United States will log at least 2,922 miles of air-travel in Group A, with a trip from the Bay Area to Chicago, and then onto Philadelphia. Mexico, in stark contrast, will travel a measly 1,919 miles in Group C. I’ll be logging almost that much in my Volvo during the group stage, and I’m never even leaving California! Someone designed this schedule, and it’s safe to say that they didn’t hate Mexico.

I’m excited to see how Uruguay come out against El Tri in Phoenix, especially Cavani on a personal level. I just fear that they won’t have that same bite (sorry) without El Pistolero up top. Luis Suarez is as good as any player on this planet, and in addition to Uruguay, the tournament as a whole is losing out without his presence, though he has still not been ruled out for potential knockout round fixtures. (On a side note, it is possible that all three members of Barcelona’s famous front line, Messi, Neymar, and Suarez, will all be absent from the Copa. Quite a shame. Let’s hope the magic healing process starts soon for the two non-Brazilians.)
As much as Mexico and Uruguay are dominating the Group C discussion, I’m actually most intrigued by another team in this bunch, and that’s Jamaica. I had a chance to speak with San Jose Earthquakes and Reggae Boys forward Simon Dawkins last week after the Cali Clasico in Los Angeles. We discussed the idea that this might be the best Jamaican team since the 1998 World Cup squad. They are hungry, and anxious to get revenge on the Mexican side that beat them in the Gold Cup Final last summer. They’re also led by the ever-noble Wes Morgan, a 32 year-old center back who just captained a certain club called Leicester City to the most improbable league title in modern football history. I believe it’s the “law of something I learned in college” that I’m citing when I say the following: If Leicester City can win the Premier League, then Jamaica can get out of this group.
Hernandez: Let’s not forget Venezuela, and if we are bringing up the Premier League, we should probably bring up striker Salomon Rondon. The 26-year-old scored nine times for West Bromwich Albion in his first season in England. It’s actually a bit surprising that I haven’t heard much more about Rondon leading up to the tournament. In the midfield, the striker will be supported by Serie A’s Tomas Rincon. The Genoa player is excellent with his distribution and has the abilities to create a game-changing opportunity for Los Llaneros. That being said, the team is in last place of CONMEBOL’s World Cup qualifying and only has one win in the last 14 games. Ouch. Recognizing that, I’m not sure if I would really feel confident predicting a finish higher than third place. If Venezuela wishes to sneak into the next round, the team will need to hit the ground running in the first game against Jamaica.
I think that’s it then. Mexico has no excuses, Uruguay will likely miss Suarez, Jamaica might surprise a few doubters, and Venezuela is in awful form. Any last thoughts before we list our predictions?
Abaurrea: Yeah. I want to shine a light on that recent quote from Uruguay Manager Oscar Tabarez.
“It’s a very special Copa America, although I wouldn’t call it a Copa America.”
It’s a statement that is more than understandable when you get the context, but quite frankly, it insulted a lot of people. I had Uruguay winning this group until Suarez went down. I’ve still got them finishing second, but there’s a strong part of my heart that’s pulling for the Reggae Boys to get through. I can’t wait for that game on the 9th, when Jamaica take on the “host nation” at the Rose Bowl. The last time you and I covered a match together (Xolos v. Toluca in Tijuana), I lost track of how many carne asada tacos we had in the parking lot. What’s the over-under on the taco consumption bet this time around?
Hernandez: I’ll put the over-under at 10 tacos. Actually, I’m craving a taco right now. Can we incorporate more tacos into our preview pieces?
Cesar’s Group C Table
1. Mexico
2. Uruguay
3. Jamaica
4. Venezuela
Nate’s Group C Table
1. Mexico
2. Uruguay
3. Jamaica
4. Venezuela

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