Colombian penalties provide the anti-Tekkers at Copa America

Carlos Tevez1
Spot on: Carlos Tevez

It was a tale of two quarter-final penalty shoot-outs, which now leave heavy favourites facing outsiders in both semi-finals of the Copa America.

Argentina, the 14-times Copa champions, went through on penalties against Colombia after their clash ended 0-0 in 90 minutes at the Estadio Sausalito.

Carlos Tevez scored the deciding spot-kick in sudden-death, which was notable for some truly horrible attempts counterbalanced by some of the best pens you will ever see.

In the final last-eight clash, Brazil were held 1-1 by Paraguay (advised in our preview as a Correct Score bet at odds of 6.40), who then repeated their 2011 Copa America penalty shoot-out win over the Selecao.

Manchester City striker Robinho gave Brazil a 15th-minute lead from a Dani Alves cross, before Thiago Silva’s second-half hand-ball allowed Derlis Gonzalez to level from the spot.


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Paraguay, who last won the tournament in 1979, went on to win 4-3 on penalties and now face Argentina in Conception early on Wednesday morning, while hosts Chile face Peru in the other semi-final on Tuesday morning.

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ARGENTINA v COLOMBIA – Your Copa America guide to the quarter-final

Gonzalo Higuain
Gonzalo Higuain: Big threat to Colombia

This game in Vina Del Mar on Friday is the one that both would have wanted to avoid so soon in Copa America.

Many had them pegged as finalists. After all, they are ranked higher by FIFA than Brazil (Argentina are ranked third, Colombia fourth and Brazil fifth).

It has not quite clicked for Argentina (odds: 1.86) at this Copa America. The favourites to win it all recorded a draw with Paraguay, followed by two laboured 1-0 wins against Uruguay and Jamaica respectively.

They topped the group with seven points and are unbeaten, the worries about their ropey defence before the start of the tournament have been masked by the problems up front.

Their three games have included two clean sheets but coach Gerardo Martino has come under fire for perceived lack of flexibility. They have managed a total of just four goals in games against Uruguay, Paraguay and Jamaica. With all due respect to those sides, the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel di Maria should be creating more than they have don thus far.

Traditionally, La Albiceleste invariably start slowly at major tournaments and come on strong. That could well be the pattern again. Defensive uncertainties aside (they were rudely awakened when Paraguay came back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 in the opener), Argentina have won eight and drawn one of their last 11 internationals since losing to Germany in the World Cup final.


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The incentive is obvious: they are without a major title since 1993, but will likely have to go through Brazil in the semi-final, should the Selecao come through their last eight clash with Paraguay, and there is the prospect of host nation Chile waiting in the final. That is a tough road.

Messi, Tevez and company now face a young Colombia (4.90) side who, whilst losing to Venezuela, have beaten Brazil and are certainly capable of raising their game.

Jose Pekerman’s Colombia lit up the last World Cup, creating numerous chances with their free-flowing, pacy football. Yet James Rodriguez and Los Cafeteros have struggled mightily to find the net.

James Rodriguez
Colombia key: James Rodriguez

They have limped into the last eight, having scored one goal in three games – and that was enough to beat Brazil and gain the three points to take them through.

Colombia’s problems centre on Radamel Falcao, who has continued his poor form that convinced Manchester United manager Luis Van Gaal to abandon thoughts of a permanent move.

The 29-year-old has attracted the attention of Chelsea – perhaps it appeals to Jose Mourinho’s ego to turn Falcao’s form around where Van Gaal has failed – but many Colombia fans want to see him dropped in favour of Jackson Martinez.

One thing to look for is a lack of discipline. In the 18 group games, at least four cards were issued in 13 of those games – and you can invariably bank on a few cards when Argentina and Colombia meet.

Their last six clashes have produced a total of 31 yellow and four red cards (an average of five yellows and a red per game).

Since they were crowned Copa America champions in 2001, Colombia have failed to progress beyond the quarter-finals and while Martinez and Carlos Bacca will pose a threat, Argentina look worthy favourites.

They also have a decent record against Colombia, winning seven and drawing three of the last 12 meetings. The draw is on offer at 3.20, but Argentina are a viable price to continue their good run.

VERDICT: ARGENTINA 2 COLOMBIA 0 @ 7.20

BEST BET: COLOMBIA FIRST YELLOW CARD @ 1.73

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EXCLUSIVE: Playing against Tevez was reason I joined Peterborough, insists Torres

Sergio Torres 7
Power Serg: Torres in action for Crawley Town

FORMER Crawley Town midfielder SERGIO TORRES knows a thing or two about big Cup competitions, having played for the Red Devils in their famous FA Cup run, which ended in a narrow defeat by Manchester United at Old Trafford.

To the proud Argentinian, nothing is bigger than the Copa América, South America’s equivalent of the European Championship, which reaches the quarter-final stage on Wednesday. Here is the second edition of his exclusive Cop blog…

AFTER watching nearly all of the Copa América group games, I came to a conclusion that there is no one team that has stood out to justify favouritism.

Argentina was the big favourite before the tournament, because of their power and creativity in attack, but they have so far failed to produce the finishing touch that we see those players doing week-in, week-out for their respective clubs.

Sergio Torres Tevez
Keep your shirt on: Tevez holds off Torres

As a proud Argentinian it pains me that La Albiceleste have not won a major tournament since 1993, when we last landed the Copa América. Yet when you look at the 12 teams involved, there should be only one winner, with firepower like Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero.

We won the group and that was the main objective before the tournament started. We played some great football in patches, but have so far failed to capitalise on the chances created.

Gonzalo Higuain scored on his first start on Saturday night, but I am a big Carlos Tevez fan. One of the main reasons I moved to Peterborough United from Wycombe Wanderers was because they had already arranged a pre-season game against Manchester United, and the thought of playing with Tevez on the same pitch made me accept the contract and sign for them (I guess Matt Tubbs had the same effect on me when I signed for Crawley!).

I did play against Carlos and it was fantastic. Naturally, we spoke to each other on the pitch and afterwards he promised to send me his shirt, but I’m a bit annoyed with him because he never did, despite texting each other a few times since.

I would like to see Carlos have more minutes on the pitch. When he came on against Jamaica, he showed the passion that makes him adored by Argentinian fans. They love his determination and commitment – he has a great attitude, wears the shirt with pride and always gives 100%.

He made things very difficult for the Jamaican defenders. It is not easy to break teams down when they put 10 men behind the ball, but we expect, with the quality of that squad, that Argentina can score few more goals.

Coach Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino mentioned that he is worried, because we cannot kill the games off, and he is hoping for a better reaction on Friday night when we play Colombia in the quarter-finals.

South American football has risen a level in the last few years. Teams like Bolivia and Peru (both qualifying for the knockout stage) used to lose every game, but now they are playing some good stuff and have done their respective counties proud.

Another giant, Brazil, have failed to show the class their players normally show for their domestic teams. I think their manager, Dunga, has to take some responsibility because since he took over we have seen some changes in their style of play.

This “new” Brazil has changed from its historic style. They used to entertain every game – it didn’t matter if they won or lost – they were always the team dominating with the ball at their feet and the players always wanted to have the ball. They call it “Jogo Bonito”, a style crafted by players like players like Zico, Socrates and Pele, then carried on by the likes of Rivaldo, Ronaldo, Ronladinho, Romario, and Bebeto.

At present, Neymar is one of their few players that fits the way Brazil always used to play. He is very attack-minded, so skilful, and people love watching him because he entertains. Now with his ban (he misses the rest of the Copa America), it will make it difficult for Brazil to win this Copa America.

Chile is looking very strong and they will have a great chance to get to the final. Their fans are very vocal and their manager, Jorge Sampaoli – one of six Argentine coaches in charge of the 12-teams at this Copa – wants them to play in a certain way: He wants people to want to watch them.

La Roja showed their potential in their last group game, beating Bolivia 5-0.

Many people were talking about Arturo Vidal’s car accident and whether or not he should play, but he is one of the best Chilean players, so it didn’t surprise me that the authorities chose to release him and he went straight in the team.

Who would I pick for the final? Initially, I felt it would be Argentina v Colombia, but that is not possible now.

Sergio Torres5
In his pomp: Torres always a fan-favourite

If Chile can beat Uruguay, they may well reach the final, as they have the winner of Bolivia/Peru in the semi.

Argentina, if overcoming Colombia, get the winner of Brazil/Paraguay in the other semi.

It’s all up for grabs. I just hope Tevez, Messi and company can start to show their true class when it matters.

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COLOMBIA v PERU – Your Copa America guide to the Group C game

Paolo Guerro
Influential: Paolo Guerro

Peru did themselves a big favour on Thursday, beating Venezuela 1-0 to keep themselves in with a chance of making the Copa America quarter-finals.

As do all the other nations in Group C, Colombia (odds: 1.57) have three points, so it is all up for grabs in the final two games.

Los Cafeteros produced an utterly abysmal performance as they lost 1-0 to Venezuela in their opening game, then promptly halted Brazil’s run of 12 consecutive victories since their World Cup semi-final humiliation, beating them 1-0.

That victory, a tetchy affair, saw the dismissal of Brazil’s superstar Neymar after the final whistle, having booted the ball into the back of Pablo Armero in frustration. The fact that Armero should have at least been cautioned for simulation – he went down as if shot – was lost in the furore.

The upshot for Colombia, despite their first win over Brazil for 24 years, is that Carlos Bacca will be missing against Peru, as he was dismissed for a retaliatory shove.

Peru (7.00), who finished third in 2011, have one of the most veteran-laden squads at the tournament with the likes of Luis Advincula, Christian Ramos, Yoshimir Youtin, Claudio Pizarro, Carlos Zambra, Juan Manuael Vargas and Jefferson Farfan all possessing Copa America or World Cup qualifying experience.

Though La Blanquirroja have managed just one goal – through Pizarro – their biggest threat is arguably Paolo Guerro. The 31-year-old is enjoying one of the most fruitful periods of his career at Corinthians and will cause the Colombians more than a few problems.


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Colombia, despite losing just twice in the last 15 competitive meetings since 1999, are a short enough price to gain a victory.

With Brazil expected to bounce back against Venezuela, a draw will be good enough to take both sides through to the knockout phase. There have been four draws in the last nine competitive meetings and it is 3.80 for a draw to occur this time. That’s were our tentative punting pin lands, but it could be an entertaining encounter, nonetheless.

VERDICT: COLOMBIA 2 PERU 2 @ 20.00

BEST BET: Over 2.5 goals @ 2.18

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PERU 1 VENEZUELA 0 – All the latest news and highlights from Copa America

Claudio Pizzaro
Hit-man: Claudio Pizzaro

Former Chelsea striker Claudio Pizarro gave Peru hope of qualifying for the knockout stage at Copa America, by grabbing the only goal of the game against Venezuela.

Peru’s task was made easier by the dismissal of Fernando Amorebieta for appearing to stamp on an opponent.

Pizrro’s goal came midway through the second half to leave Group C finely balanced, with all four teams on three points.

On Sunday, Brazil take on Venezuela, while Peru face Colombia.

MYCLUBBETTING.COM has teamed up with Premier Sports to become the Official Broadcast Sponsors for the biggest football tournament of the year, the 2015 Copa América.

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Copa America: Can Brazil win again?

Neymar: You can win his signed shirt (see below)

MYCLUBBETTING.COM has teamed up with Premier Sports to become the Official Broadcast Sponsors for the biggest football tournament of the year, the 2015 Copa América.

Don’t forget to place your pre-match and live, in-running bets via myclubbetting,com/copa and watch the 26 matches, broadcast live throughout the UK via Premier Sports, on SKY channel 428, Virgin 551, TalkTalk 526 and in HD via the Premier Player online.

We take a look at the big game on Wednesday evening (June 17)…

BRAZIL v COLOMBIA

Brazil (Odds: 2.06) hardly got out of second gear against Peru in their opening Copa America game. They were a goal down after three minutes, levelled two minutes later and then spent the rest of the game toying with their opponents before settling the deal in stoppage time.

Some will tell you that Brazil were unconvincing, yet their 2-1 victory did not do them justice. Their build-up play, at times, was simply mesmeric. Their finishing was poor until Douglas Costa scored a dramatic winner.

Aside from one dreadful defensive error which cost them, Dunga’s side were always in command, with Neymar starring throughout and setting up the winner.

Jose Pekerman’s Colombia (3.75) suffered a shock 1-0 defeat by Venezuela in their Group C opener, leaving them with plenty of work to do if they are to make the quarter-finals.


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And Brazil have a fantastic record against Colombia. They have lost just two of the last 27 meetings and have beaten Los Cafeteros on 17 occasions, drawing eight times.

Brazil have won the last three meetings, including a 2-1 victory in the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, and they are on an 11-game winning streak since that calamitous 7-1 semi-final defeat by Germany.

Yet while the failed to score against Venezuela, Colombia have a potent threat. Monaco striker Radamel Falcao and Seville’s Carlos Bacca are a decent strike partnership, while Real Madrid midfielder James Rodriguez and Monterray’s Edwin Cardona will always create openings.

Colombia may not only prove capable of breaking their scoring duck at this tournament, they will cause Brazil a few more problems than Peru posed.

Yet you can be sure that Dunga will have a gameplan to exploit a batch of young Colombian centre halves who have to grow up quickly now that veteran captain Mario Yepes has finally gone.

Historically, there are never too many goals when these two nations meet – 10 of the last 12 clashes saw less than three goals in total – and even with the respective attacking capabilities, the odds of 2.18 for over 2.5 goals to be scored look plenty short enough.

Brazil’s record against Colombia means they should perhaps be a shorter price than they are.

They look an all-too-obvious bet, which usually means a red flag. So we’ll take the draw (3.35) in what should be a fascinating tactical clash.

VERDICT: BRAZIL 1 COLOMBIA 1 @ 6.20

BEST BET: 2 OR 3 GOALS TO BE SCORED @ 1.99

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Sergio Torres: Put your shirt on Argentina… if you can get one!

Sergio Torres 1

Argentinian midfielder Sergio Torres knows a thing or two about big Cup competitions, having played for Crawley Town in their famous FA Cup run, which ended in a narrow defeat by Manchester United at Old Trafford. To him, nothing is bigger than the Copa América, South America’s equivalent of the European Championship, which kicks off on Friday…

Sergio Torres 2
Cup kings: Wayne Rooney battles Torres

As a proud Argentinian, it pains me that La Albiceleste have not won a major tournament since 1993, when we last landed the Copa América.

Yet when you look at the 12 teams involved, there should be only one winner.

Argentina kick off their campaign on Saturday night when they take on Paraguay, who were beaten finalists in 2011. They reached the World Cup quarter-finals the year before, but coach Ramon Diaz has undertaken something of a rebuilding process after they finished bottom of their 10-nation World Cup qualifying group last year.

How can you go against Argentina’s class when they have firepower like Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero? That is some strike-force and any of them are welcome to play up front at Whitehawk whenever they like.

I love Tevez. He has had a great season in Serie A, but I’m still a bit annoyed with him because, when we played a friendly (I was at Peterborough and he at Manchester United), he promised me his shirt and he never sent it to me!

Argentina can start slowly in these tournaments, but you have to think they will beat an ageing Paraguay.

Messi is the best player in the world; a player who can change the course of the game in a split second. Personally, I would like to see Tevez playing up front. I love his determination, his attitude – and he wears that Argentinian shirt with pride, never giving less than 100%. He is the Argentinian fans’ favourite, together with Javier Mascherano. But, of course, Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain are proven goal-scorers and they can make a difference any time they are on the pitch.

I think Tevez proved he is a champion by winning titles with almost every team he played: Boca Juniors, Corinthians, Man Utd, Man City, Juventus, and he scored that goal against Man Utd which allowed West Ham to stay in the Premier League, so is also a legend at Upton Park.

Tevez
Great season: Tevez

At least there is a 50-50 chance of an Argentinian lifting the trophy as, for the first time in the tournament’s history, there will be six Argentinian managers from 12 teams: Ramon Diaz (Paraguay – some people might recognise his name, as he was the manager of Oxford United a few years ago), Gerardo Martino (Argentina), Jorge Sampaoli (Chile), Jose Pekerman (Colombia), Gustavo Quinteros (Ecuador) and Ricardo Gareca (Peru).

Brazil, who take on Peru on Sunday, are second favourites and they have been unbeaten in their last nine matches under defensive-minded Dunga. Their 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat by Germany (that still sounds good) rocked the Selacao to the core and they still appeared to lack a bit of confidence when beating Mexico 2-0 at a very quiet Allianz Park last weekend.

Philippe Coutinho has had a tremendous season for Liverpool and, with Neymar up front, you always have to fear them and they should be in the final. To be fair, I would love to see a final between Argentina and Brazil – with us coming out as winners, of course!

Chile has an ideal opportunity to make some history. They play at home and maybe they have their best generation together now, players like Claudio Bravo, Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez – all main players at their clubs. Sampaoli is very positive – he is always thinking about attacking football and has a similar style to Marcello “El loco” Bielsa, whom I admire a lot.

Sergio Torres 3
Crawley Town legend: Torres

Chile went through probably the hardest group in the last World Cup, so they are high in confidence.

They have not won the Copa América since it started 99 years ago and Sampaoli is worried that they be crushed under the pressure of being a host nation, just as Brazil were. Alexis, who scored 28 goals for Arsenal last season, needs to continue that form, because Chile have not been scoring too many recently. I see them as finishing maybe as runners-up, but realistically they will be third.

The level of football played in the continent is up a level in the last few years. No-one will be very surprised if teams like Chile, Colombia, Uruguay, Paraguay or Mexico have a great Copa America.

Another team who could surprise is Venezuela who, 15 years ago, were losing every game and now they can give any team a game on their day.

Some would have Ecuador as a dark horse, but while they have West Ham striker Enner Valencia, they have a few key players injured, such as Antonio Valencia (Man Utd), Felipe Caicedo (Espanol) and Angel Mena (Emelec).

Colombia have a great chance, however. They have real class in James Rodriguez, Radamel Falcao (despite his difficulties at Man Utd), and Edwin Cardona, who is a gifted midfielder – plus I really like Pekerman. His philosophy is brilliant.

It looks an Argentina v Colombia final to me, but we would all like to see Brazil there, wouldn’t we?

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COPA AMERICA PREVIEW – myclubbetting.com

COPA

MYCLUBBETTING.COM has teamed up with Premier Sports to become the Official Broadcast Sponsors for the biggest football tournament of the year, the 2015 Copa América, which starts on Thursday (June 11).

The 44th edition of the Copa América features 12 Latin American nations battling it out to a momentous finale on July 4.

The tournament, which kicks off with hosts Chile taking on Ecuador, features 10 teams from South America’s CONMEBOL along with two guest nations from CONCACAF. They will compete in three Groups across nine venues.

Don’t forget to place your pre-match and live, in-running bets via www.myclubbetting.com/copa and watch the 26 matches, broadcast live throughout the UK via Premier Sports, on SKY channel 428, Virgin 551, TalkTalk 526 and in HD via the Premier Player online.

We take a look at the world’s biggest football tournament this summer.

ARGENTINA

ODDS – 2.94

Argentina seek their first Copa since 1993 and there are three good reasons to think they will triumph: Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero. Messi is arguably the best player in the world, Tevez, back in favour with La Albiceleste, has become the best striker in Serie A and Aguero has been a revelation for Manchester City. Yet players such as Xavier Mascherano and defenders Pablo Zabaleta and Marcos Rojos will be equally influential to Geraldo Martino’s side.

Key player: Nicolás Otamendi – While all eyes will be on Messi, Tevez and Aguero, Valencia central defender Otamendi is reliable, rarely caught out of position and a pivotal figure in the strong spine of the team.

Prediction: The World Cup runners-up will only fail through tactical errors and a lack of pace at the back. They should go all the way.

BRAZIL

ODDS – 4.00

Even now it seems like a fairy-tale that never happened. The 7-1 World Cup semi-final humiliation by Germany on home soil will haunt generations to come. Brazil are unbeaten in their last nine matches under Dunga, yet they still lack confidence and their 2-0 win over Mexico in Sao Paulo last Sunday was a pedestrian display. Neymar, who scored 22 goals in La Liga this season from the left side of Barcelona’s attack, is the captain and talisman for a side who have made plenty of changes since their World Cup exit. The Selecao will go as far as he can take them in Chile.

Key player: Philippe Coutinho – The outstanding Liverpool midfielder has developed into one of the best players in the world. With Oscar injured, this youthful side will need all of his experience.

Prediction: In his second spell in charge, Dunga has been more adventurous with his formations, yet his defensive tendencies will come to the fore at some stage. Brazil are building for the future and while they should reach the semi-finals, expectations have been lowered.

CHILE

ODDS – 4.20

We saw what the pressure of being a host nation could do in the last World Cup and Chile have never won the Copa America in 99 years. Coach Jorge Sampaoli has been worried that Chile’s best side for decades might succumb in the same way as Brazil did and he has packed them off to train in a converted monastery near Santiago. Runners-up four times, they should waltz through their Group but while Alexis Sanchez has scored 28 time for Arsenal this season, the goals have dried up for the national side in recent months.

Key player: Jorge Valdivia has already retired from international football once, but the Palmeiras midfielder’s experience and technical ability can unpick any defence.

Prediction: In the six previous times they have hosted this tournament, Chile finished third on four occasions and were runners-up in 1955. A semi-final place is virtually guaranteed and they are the value pick to contest the final.

COLOMBIA

ODDS – 4.90

Colombia’s issue is not the lack of firepower – it is their ability to plug the gaps at the back with veteran captain Mario Yepes finally gone. Los Cafeteros, who reached the World Cup quarter-finals, have a batch of young centre halves who have to grow up quickly. Coach Jose Peckerman has made it clear that they will have to lean on a talented generation of strikers who include Radamel Falcao and the most important player in the side, James Rodriguez. Colombia are an exciting side to watch, with Edwin Cardona a gifted and young attacking midfielder who will soon be attracting the attention of some top European clubs.

Key Player: Carlos Bacca had a great season for Sevilla, netting 28 times, and Premier League big guns Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham all looking to lure him away.

Prediction: Colombia enter this tournament not as dark horses, but as one of the favourites. Their group is a tough enough, comprising Brazil, Peru and Venezuela, but it will be a shock if they did not reach the knockout stages.

URUGUAY

ODDS – 12.00

Uruguay gate-crashed the 2011 tournament, beating Paraguay in the final and the Sky Blues are the current Copa América champions. However, this is a side that is in a rebuilding phase and they won’t have Luis Suarez in the side as he is still serving his suspension following his biting antics in the World Cup. World Cup semi-finalists in 2010, they reached a peak in the intervening years and age set in, which culminated in second-round elimination four years later. Nine players have been given debuts by coach Oscar Tabarez since the World Cup and seven have made the Copa squad, including Bordeaux striker Diego Rolan. The loss of Juventus full-back Martin Cacares, recovering from ankle surgery, is almost as big a blow as losing Suarez. They will also miss World Cup captain Diego Lugano.

Key player: Edinson Cavani has lost both his World Cup strike-partners, including retired Diego Forlan, so much will depend on the service he gets from Carlos Sanchez, who has had a fine season for River Plate.

Prediction: The 15-times Copa winners will look a shadow of the side that knocked England out of the World Cup and while may reach the knockout stage, they should not go on the shortlist.

MEXICO

ODDS – 19.00

Mexico have been invited as guests since 1993 and as their presence does add weight to the tournament. They even reached the final at the first time of asking and in 2007 upset Brazil before losing to Argentina in the semi-finals. This time round, they may not be as productive, as the upcoming Gold Cup tournament in the US will be the priority. Coach Miguel Herrera has been forced to select a squad of fringe players, who include 36-year-old central defender Rafael Marquez. It is surprising that the Mexican Football Federation accepted the invitation in the first place.

Key player: Luis Montes suffered a broken leg in their World Cup warm-up match with Ecuador but some of his performances for Leon in the Liga MX have been outstanding.

Prediction – This is an experimental side and they are unlikely to get past the group phase.

ECUADOR

ODDS – 19.00

Ecuador were the only South American side eliminated from the Group stages in the World Cup and there were reports that players were bickering over bonus money. This tournament has not been kind, as Ecuador have been eliminated at the first hurdle since 1997 and have not won any game in their last three Copa América games. They have to go back to 2001 to find their last victory. There will be plenty of interest for British bettors, with Swansea winger Jefferson Montero and West Ham striker Enner Valencia among the starting line-up. Manchester United right-back Antonio Valencia will miss the tournament as he recovers from ankle surgery.

Key player: Enner Valencia will reportedly cost upwards of £30million for anyone who wishes to prise him away from Upton Park after a productive first season in the Premier League. His pace can unsettle the most water-tight defences and his stock should continue to rise.

Prediction: Despite their lack of Copa pedigree, Ecuador are dark horses who should not be dismissed lightly as they have the flair to cause an upset or two.

PARAGUAY

ODDS – 28.00

Beaten finalists in 2011 after reaching the World Cup quarter-finals in 2010, Paraguay did not fare so well four years later after coach Gerardo Martino quit and they finished bottom of their 10-nation South American qualifying group. Ramon Diaz has undertaken something of a rebuilding process since, with a solid defensive foundation. Centre-back Paulo da Silva is the glue that holds things together, while experienced captain Roque Santa Cruz will always be the focal point of a fair attack.  Emerging midfield talent Oscar Romero and striker Raul Bobadilla could emerge as leading lights.

Key player: Former Blackburn Rovers and Manchester City striker Roque Santa Cruz now plies his trade for Cruz Azul. While he is at the veteran stage at 33, he is a big target and still nimble enough to cause plenty of problems for opposing defenders.

Prediction: Twice Copa winners, the expectations are not high this time, but a successful tournament would constitute finishing as one of the two best third-placed teams before departing in the knockout stage.

VENEZUELA

ODDS – 50.00

Venezuela have never been to the World Cup and their sights are firmly set on Russia 2018 after two near misses in the last qualifying tournaments. Tough they have made some strides in the past decade and were Copa semi-finalists four years ago, this is an aging side whose window is closing fast. Top playmaker Juan Arango is 35 and forward Salomon Rondon is no longer a first-choice at Zenit St Petersburg. Middlesbrough defender Fernando Amorbrieta provides some interest for British bettors.

Key player: Salomon Rondon scored 13 goals in 26 games for Zenit, who cruised to the Russian title. Pacy and powerful, he has the ability to hold the ball up, too.

Prediction: Hopes of reaching the last four will rest a great deal on the ability of Rondon to find the net at regular intervals. Venezuela are always a tough nut to crack, but their lack of effective wide players and lack of pace at the back means they should not get past the group phase.

PERU

ODDS – 42.00

The halcyon days of Teofilo Cubillas, who led Peru to Copa glory in 1975, are long gone. While they went close last time, falling at the semi-final stage, this is one of the weakest of the CONMEBOL teams. A smattering of quality does still exist, although Claudio Pizzaro is now 36, and hopes wrest on the shoulders of promising talents like Sporting Lisbon’s André Carrillo and Red Bull Leipzig’s Yordy Reyna.

Key player: André Carrillo, 23, who plays as a winger or second striker for Sporting Lisbon, is ready to make the breakthrough at the top level. An emerging player to watch.

Prediction: Peru are in a tough group with Brazil and Colombia likely to fill the first two places and a defence that is unreliable will not help their cause. Also-rans on this occasion. Paddington Bear is not pleased.

JAMAICA

ODDS – 200.00

Jamaica qualified for the 1998 World Cup in France and even defeated Japan 2-1, but that’s about as good as it is likely to get. While they reached the quarter-finals of the Gold Cup in 2003, 2005 and 2011, they have failed to qualify for the past four World Cups. Invited guests to the Copa, Jamaica beat Venezuela and Cuba in friendlies, and they do possess some quality in the side with Leicester defender Wes Morgan, Crystal Palace defender Adrian Mariappa, Leeds midfielder Rudolph Austin, Derby striker Simon Dawkins and Houston Dynamo striker Giles Barnes.

Key player: Reading winger Gareth McCleary received is international call-up two years ago alongside teammates Jobi McAnuff and Mariappa. Capped nine times and scoring once, he has a great football brain that brings others into the game.

Prediction: With plenty of players who have experience in the English Championship, they will be well organised and have the potential to cause an upset and will be entertaining. However, they will not progress beyond the group stage.

BOLIVIA

ODDS – 70.00

It is now five Copa Americas and counting since Bolivia won a game at the tournament. Having had three different managers in charge in the last four games perhaps tells us all we need to know (Mauricio Soria is currently in charge). Bolivia have had just one warm-up game – against Argentina – after pulling out of a clash with Nigeria over security fears and historically, they don’t travel well. Their best Copa results have come at home, which is no surprise, as they have the advantage of playing in La Paz, which is 3,600 metres above sea level.

Key player: Marcelo Martins was the leading scorer in the Libertadores Cup for Cruzeiro in 2008. Now 27, the former Wigan forward has won titles in Brazil and Ukraine and is now playing in China with Changchung Yatai.

Prediction: Bolivia are bereft of star performers and the lack of preparation will no doubt find them out. They will do well to secure a point.

COPA

KEY BETTING STAT

Since the competition was brought back from disuse in 1987, in 11 subsequent tournaments there have been only two in which the winner did not come from the triumvirate of the three seeded teams. In this year’s competition the seeds are Argentina, Brazil and Chile.

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