Copa America Trophy

CONMEBOL – Copa America

South America produces some of the most celebrated players, teams and moments in modern football, all demonstrating true mastery of the sport. While the game was born in Europe and is now where the globe turns to see the current crop of the best talent, South American football remains at the centre of football’s elite. 

No two South American nations have the same footballing identity. While it’s easy to put them all under the same banner, each nation subscribes to its own ideas. Bound and influenced by its landscape, culture, and economy, Brazil cannot ever be confused with Bolivia, and Uruguay cannot ever be confused with Paraguay. Contributions are distinct. 

What is similar, though, and what does indeed unite the continent is that many feel football’s heart and soul can be found here. The COMNEBOL nations compete in the FIFA World Cup to demonstrate this to the world. However, in the Copa America – the key international tournament in South America, and, to some, all of America – South American countries get to go one step further and demonstrate it to each other, at home.

Copa America 101:

  • 10 nations comprise the COMNEBOL. However, 2 extra teams are invited to each tournament. These are usually from CONCACAF (The Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football) and AFC (Asian Football Confederation).
  • The structure follows the contemporary format of most national tournaments: a round-robin group stage from which teams qualify for the single-elimination knockout phase.
  • As it’s a CONMEBOL tournament, typically a South American country hosts the tournament. However, in 2016, the United States hosted the competition, marking the first time a non-CONMEBOL nation had been host. In 2024, they will do so again.
  • Argentina and Uruguay have won Copa America the most of any participating nation. Both have 15 titles, and each have only won once in the 21st century. Brazil is third with 9 titles. 
  • No non-CONMEBOL nation has won the Copa America. Mexico has come the closest, with two final appearances that ended in defeat – one in their tournament debut in 1993 and the second in 2001. 
  • Two players are tied for the most goals in the tournament’s history: Norberto Méndez of Argentina who scored 17 Copa America goals during his career with the national team from the mid-1940s to the mid-1950s, and Zizinho of Brazil who also scored 17 during the same period.
  • The theme of tied-record holders continues in the appearances category too: Chile’s Sergio Livingstone and Argentina’s Lionel Messi both have 34 appearances.

The Defining History of the Copa America

The Early 20th Century

Informally, Copa America started out life as the Copa Centenario Revolución de Mayo in 1910. Argentina organised the tournament – inviting Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay – to celebrate 100 years since the May Revolution, which led to the war for independence from Spain. Brazil pulled out of the tournament before it kicked off. The final was contested by Argentina and Uruguay, which the hosts won 4-1. It was the first time South American nations competed in an international tournament.

Following this, in 1916, another celebration of a revolution inspired the South American international tournament. On the anniversary of Argentina’s independence, they once again hosted, inviting the same four teams they did in 1910. This wasn’t a single-elimination structure, though. It was a simple league table that Uruguay eventually topped to lift the trophy. Officially, this tournament is recognised as the beginning of the Copa America, then known as Campeonato Sudamericano de Football. The competition was annual at this point in its history.

Through the 1920s, Uruguay and Argentina dominated. Paraguay joined the fold in 1921, but Brazil was the only other nation to win a tournament – which happened in both 1919 and 1922. The 1919 victory was instrumental in cementing football as Brazil’s favourite pastime, with match winner Arthur Friendenreich becoming the country’s first sporting hero – a huge feat for the Afro-Brazilian player, who was breaking racial barriers with such success.

Uruguay, though, were one of the best football teams in the world at this point in history. They won not only the 6 Copa America titles, but back-to-back Olympic Gold medals in 1924 and 1928, before hosting the first World Cup in 1930 – a year in which the Copa America didn’t participate – which they won, becoming the first World Cup winners. 

Due to tensions between the Uruguay and Argentina football federations after the 1930 World Cup, the Copa America wasn’t played again until 1935, when the tournament was used to decide who would play in the 1936 Olympics. Hosted by Peru, only Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and the hosts participated. Uruguay won, taking their total Copa America titles to 7. From 1935, the tournament was biannual.

Unlike European countries, World War II didn’t disrupt international and club football. Peru won their first Copa America title in 1939, besting Uruguay. Ecuador also made their debut in that tournament. 

The tournament continued running smoothly until after the 1942 tournament, when ‘unofficial’ tournaments were organised – though later validated by the modern-day CONMEBOL. Argentina won back-to-back-to-back titles in the ‘unofficial’ tournaments which took place annually in 1945, 1946, and 1947. Colombia made their debut in the 1945 tournament.

The Mid Century Onwards…

Paraguay won their first Copa America in 1953, before Argentina secured the 1955 competition. And then entered a period of further inconsistency. Uruguay win the Copa America in 1956 – the country’s first since its 1950 World Cup victory. Argentina lifted the trophy the following year, in 1957. 1959 was the next tournament, won again by Argentina, before a four-year break that saw the tournament return in 1963 with Bolivia securing their first title.

1967 was the last Copa America – though, the first for Venezuela – until 1975, when the competition become officially known as the Copa America. The structure was very different then. The tournament was played throughout the year, with no fixed host. The defending champions would go straight into the Semi-Final while the rest of the field had to qualify via the group stage. It followed the four-year cycle familiar to the World Cup, the Olympics, and the UEFA European Championships, which had kicked off in 1960. Peru was champion in 1975, followed by Paraguay in 1979, and Uruguay in 1983.  

The tournament saw another renewal for the 1987 tournament, which would see it become a biannual event again and hosted by a single nation. Argentina hosted the 1987 tournament, a year after Maradona led them to World Cup glory, but finished a miserable fourth, with Uruguay eventually lifting the trophy.

The Turn of the Century

The biannual competition remained consistent until 2001, the year Colombia hosted and won its very first Copa America title. During the 1990s, Argentina and Brazil asserted their dominance, winning two each, sandwiching an Uruguay win in 1995

From 2001, the tournament took place every three years. Brazil – featuring Cafu, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and co. – secured back-to-back titles in 2004 and 2007. Uruguay won their first time since the 1990s in 2011, led by Luis Suárez.

2015 saw Chile win in memorable circumstances, beating Messi’s Argentina on penalties in the final. The competition’s centennial anniversary was commemorated with a tournament in 2016 – breaking the four-year cycle – which Chile won again, beating Argentina again on penalties.

Brazil clinched the 2019 title – which kept its date due to the four-year cycle that followed the 2015 competition. They beat a Peru side that overcame Uruguay and Chile in the knockout stage. An incredible feat for the nation. Brazil beat Argentina in the semi-final before securing a 3-1 victory over Peru.

Copa America Timeline

  •     1910: Argentina host a four-nation tournament to celebrate the May Revolution, which they win.
  •     1916: the Copa America officially begins as Argentina again organises a tournament to celebrate a political event, which subsequently becomes a more regular competition. It’s known as Campeonato Sudamericano de Football. Uruguay is the inaugural champion.
  •     1919: Brazil wins Copa America for the first time.
  •     1923 and 1924: Uruguay, led by star striker Pedro Petrone, secure back-to-back titles.
  •     1929: the last tournament before a 6-year break is won by Argentina, capping off a hugely successful period for the country.
  •     1935: the competition returns and Uruguay are crowned champions. This is the first Copa America since their 1930 World Cup win.
  •     1939: Peru wins Copa America for the first time.
  •     1940s: the Copa America experiences further disruption and disturbance as the decade begins and ends with official tournaments, but, in the middle, three iterations are deemed unofficial. Argentina won all three ‘unofficial’ tournaments. However, CONMEBOL has since validated these victories.
  •     1953: Paraguay wins its first Copa America.
  •     1959: following Brazil’s World Cup win in 1958, they were favourites heading into the 1959 Copa America. It was Pele’s debut in the competition too. He was named the tournament’s best player and top scorer, but Argentina lifted the trophy.
  •     1963: Bolivia wins its first Copa America.
  •     1975, 1979, and 1983: the Copa America gains its name and reinvents itself as a year-long tournament, with no single host. Each final was contested by different teams. Peru, Paraguay, and Uruguay were champions, respectively.
  •     1987: the tournament became biannual and returned to a familiar structure: a round-robin group stage and single elimination knockouts. 
  •     2001: Colombia wins its first Copa America. This was also the last tournament of the four-year cycle, as it was decided the competition would take place every three years.
  •     2011: the three-year cycle is brought to an end. The tournament returns to being held every four years.
  •     2016: Chile win the Copa America held to celebrate the tournament’s hundredth-year anniversary. It’s the second in as many tournaments.
  •     2021: Lionel Messi and Argentina finally lift major international silverware together. It’s the first time since the early 1990s that Argentina wins the Copa America.

A Recap: Copa America 2021

Much like the FIFA World Cup 2022, the Copa America belonged to Lionel Messi and Argentina. The Argentinian team entered the tournament having lost back-to-back finals in 2015 and 2016 and a semi-final defeat to Brazil in 2019. They were looking to finally lift the trophy that had eluded them since 1993 after three near successes in as many tournaments. 

Due to the impact of COVID-19, the tournament was postponed from 2020 to 2021, and, amid protests against the Colombian government, Colombia dropped their position as co-host, leaving Brazil as sole host. 

Brazil and Argentina breezed through the group stages undefeated. Argentina was a little uninspired, securing two 1-0 victories over Uruguay and Paraguay after a 1-1 opening draw with Chile before finishing the group with a 4-1 victory over Bolivia. Brazil, however, secured 4-0 and 3-0 wins over Venezuela and Peru, before a tight 2-1 victory over Colombia and a 1-1 meaningless draw with Ecuador, having secured qualification.

Argentina’s route to the final was a 3-0 demolition of Ecuador before a penalty win over Colombia in the Semi-Final. Brazil owes its final appearance to Lucas Paquetá, who scored both winners in their two 1-0 victories in the Quarter- and Semi-Final. 

The final, as Messi orated in a viral video of his pre-match speech, was in the main stage of Brazilian football, the Estádio do Maracanã. It was Brazil vs. Argentina. It was Neymar vs. Messi. An Angel Di María goal in the 22nd minute secured Argentina’s victory, ending the team’s long drought of major international success, and beginning its ascent to being FIFA World Cup Champions in 2022. Messi fulfilled dreams and expectations.

Copa America: DAZN Bet’s Pop Quiz

How many Copa Americas did Pele and Diego Maradona Win?

You’d be forgiven for thinking these two GOATed players won numerous Copa America titles. However, neither won even a single one. While both were expected to win the tournaments that followed each’s World Cup win, both failed to capitalise on their primes. 

Which country has appeared in the most consecutive finals?

From 1923 to 1937, Argentina appeared in each of the eight finals. These appearances resulted in four titles. Most often they faced Uruguay, their fierce rival during this period.

Who has won the most Copa Americas?

The most honoured player in Copa America history is Uruguay’s Ángel Romano. He was part of Los Charrüas’ golden age. The striker was part of the team to win the first Copa America, before winning five more in 1917, 1920, 1923, 1924, and 1926. He finished two tournaments as top scorer.

Our Predictions: Copa America 2024

Copa America 2024 will see the USA host again. This will be a dry-run for the 2026 World Cup which the USA will host with Mexico and Canada.

It’s a new era for Copa America too, with the 10 CONMEBOL nations participating alongside 6 CONCACAF nations, who will qualify via their CONCACAF Nations League. 

It’s expected that after the World Cup success Messi will play in the tournament – the first major international tournament since that Triumph. Messi’s current clubmate and friend Neymar will likely turnout for Brazil, too, in what could be one of his last appearances on the international stage as his career winds down. He has never won a Copa America or a World Cup. It could be that, mirroring Messi, he uses 2024 and 2026 to cement his legacy as one of the best players to play the game.

That being said, it could be time for a new triumph. Ecuador was solid in the 2022 World Cup, boasting a new generation of talent that includes Moisés Caicedo. Uruguay, with Darwin Núñez and Fede Valverde, is a threat. Colombia, despite failing to qualify for the World Cup, have Luis Diaz in their ranks, who played a major role in their last Copa America run before a slim defeat to Argentina.

We cannot forget the CONCACAF teams, though. The USA, Mexico, and Canada will be the key teams to watch. Canada is in a golden age of men’s football, led by Alphonso Davies. Mexico is in need of rejuvenation but looked increasingly strong during its 2022 World Cup campaign, and was unfortunate to be knocked out in the group stage the way they did. The USA’s crop of young talent is establishing itself across Europe’s major league, and they’re simply waiting for the right moment that it all comes together, and they make a notable dent in international tournaments. Could 2024 be too soon for a CONCACAF team to lift the Copa America trophy?