The Copa América Centenario is almost here, and anybody can win it.
Well, just about. The tournament, featuring 16 teams, all 10 from South America plus six from CONCACAF, has a history of being much more open to favorites faltering and underdogs making runs than the Euros or especially the Gold Cup.
Heading into the tournament, which begins on Friday when the U.S. host Colombia, there are a few favorites who can't be ignored, of course. Argentina is pretty much bringing a first-choice side, and for a team that hasn't won a senior international tournament since the Copa América in 1993, this is a perfect opportunity for them to seek glory.
That's especially true because the other primary favorite, Brazil, is distracted by the upcoming Rio Olympics. To say Brazil won't be competitive is wrong, of course. But Neymar, by far their best player, won't be there as he'll play in the Olympics instead, and even when he was with them last year in the previous edition of the Copa, Brazil fell in the quarterfinals, unquestionably a poor result.
Beyond those two titans, who again, haven't looked invincible by any means in recent years, there's a big old cluster of contenders. You could make a convincing case that (in no particular order) Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Uruguay, Jamaica, Chile and the U.S. could very easily make a run to the final, and once there, win the tournament.
Again, it's not just idle prognosticating -- one of the fun features of the Copa América as a tournament is that the hierarchies so embedded in other confederations get upended for a few weeks when thrown in a tournament setting. Teams from the Americas have the potential to be transcendent in their quality. They also have the potential to fall flat on their faces.
And although the remaining seven teams (Paraguay, Ecuador, Haiti, Peru, Venezuela, Panama, Bolivia) have the outside chance, even they have shown some ability to make a run over the years. Ecuador has a decent team and is only in the underdog group because they can't seem to get out of the group stage, while Peru made the semifinals the last two tournaments even though they seem to be an also-ran in World Cup qualifying these days. Venezuela, a South American minnow, got to fourth place in 2011.
The point is that while the favorites to win the Copa América are there for a reason, most of the field has a solid shot to make a run to the title, and even those biggest of underdogs have the ability to produce a result to shake up the entire tournament.
I'm not putting my money on Haiti to win the whole thing, but if they make waves? It wouldn't be altogether shocking. It's just the nature of this tournament.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!