Colombia v Costa Rica – Saturday 2 July – Jujuy, Argentina (20:30)
The Copa America kicks off with hosts Argentina playing against Bolivia. That opening match will be followed by the other two teams in Group A going against each other in what should be a much tighter affair than Argentina’s expected demolishing of Bolivia.
Rarely, over the last couple of decades, have Colombian teams lacked talent. The most famous failing of the team is the 1994 World Cup, in which a world class Colombian side was upset by the United States, resulting in the tragic murder of Andres Escobar, but it is only their most high profile failing. The Colombian national team has underachieved at every single major tournament except for Copa America 2001, which they hosted and won. Many consider this victory tainted, as Argentina did not participate in the tournament due to safety concerns. Colombia has a new generation of stars, and they are perhaps the most talented since the 1994 World Cup team. They open their campaign against Costa Rica’s B team, and anything less than an emphatic win will get the alarm bells ringing in Colombia. Radamel Falcao has been unbelievable over the last two seasons for FC Porto, culminating in him setting the scoring record for European competition in one season and winning the Europa League. He won’t have to do it alone, though, as Wigan Athletic’s star man Hugo Rodallega will play alongside him in what is a dangerous pairing for opposition defenders.
Costa Rica are two of twelve teams, along with Mexico, participating in this year’s Copa America that do not hale from South America. Japan were originally invited but due to the tragic earthquake and tsunami that damaged the island nation last March, Japan had to pull out and with short notice Costa Rica were invited to participate in the tournament. The Central American side are fielding an almost full U-23 team and should have no realistic goals of making a significant impact in this tournament. However with the Costa Rican senior side suffering a disappointing quarter-final exit from the Gold Cup, pressure is building on their Copa America team to restore some pride. No player since Bryan Ruiz (FC Twente) has managed to capture the imagination back home quite like Joel Campbell is doing at the moment. The 19 year-old comes to Argentina fresh from playing in the Gold Cup where he rammed home an empathetic left-foot shot to open his account for the senior side and it’s a matter of time before he is snatched up by a club outside of Coast Rica.
Colombia beat Senegal 2-0 on Saturday in a final preparation match for the Copa America and are looking sharp. They should get a win over their inexperienced opponents.