Brazil is the big name, but expect the unexpected in Group B of Copa America Centenario

We’re just 48 hours from the start of Copa America Centenario and things are starting to get real for all teams involved. Group B is no different, except that it features one of the all-time great national teams in soccer history — Brazil.

However, something will be very different about this group given Brazil’s importance lying elsewhere this summer. Could that mean Brazil being ousted in a group stage or will it mean the football factory talent pool is just that deep that nothing will matter.

Ecuador, a rising national team with players playing in the top leagues the world over will have a thing or two to say about that, while the rest of the group provides two of the biggest underdog stories in the tournament.

It all adds up to what could be a really crazy Group B.

 

The Teams (odds according to bwin.com)

Haiti – 71st in FIFA Rankings – Best finish in Copa America: N/A (1st appearance) – 501/1 odds to win
Peru – 46th in FIFA Rankings – Best finish in Copa America: Champions (1939, 1975) – 67/1 odds to win
Brazil – 7th in FIFA Rankings – Best finish in Copa America: Champions (1919, 1922, 1949, 1989, 1997, 1999, 2004, 2007) – 5.5/1 odds to win
Ecuador – 12th in FIFA Rankings – Best finish in Copa America: 4th place (1959, 1993) – 34/1 odds to win

 

Best goalkeeper – Alisson (Brazil)

Few players have taken advantage of opportunity the way this 23-year-old goalkeeper has. With first-choice keeper Jefferson out of the squad earlier this year, the Internacional player has stepped up big time. Look for him to be the choice in this tournament and if he performs well it could be awhile before anyone else is seen between the sticks for the Selecao.

Brazil isn’t totally loaded with options in the outfield, but this is one position that Dunga is absolutely loaded at. Most teams would love to take on even a player like Diego Avles (Valencia) or Marcelo Grohe (Gremio).

Also be on the lookout for Hati’s Johnny Placide, who was absolutely on fire in last year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup and held a clean sheet against Trinidad & Tobago to get a berth in this Copa America.

 

Best outfield player – Willian (Brazil)

In a group that features a pretty good amount of outfield talent, Willan stands above the crowd. No doubt names like Jefferson Montero (Ecuador), Duckens Nazon (Haiti), Enner Valencia (Ecuador) and Hulk (Brazil) are going to be fun to watch.

Still, no player runs the game better than Willian does in the midfield. He was an absolute rock for Chelsea in what was a disaster of a season in the EPL, but his individual play was a shinning moment for the club. His free kick expertise could be crucial in this group and was a big part of the reason he was named Chelsea fan’s Player of the Year.

It also helps that he is one of the most experienced players on the squad, making 30 appearances for the national team and scoring six goals in those matches.

 

Player to watch – Duckens Nazon (Haiti)

Who doesn’t love a cinderella story? There’s no doubt that Haiti is the biggest underdog in the Copa America Centenario, but that doesn’t mean it is devoid of a few talented players who could make a name for themselves in this tournament. Every other team has established stars playing in the top leagues of Europe.

Meanwhile, Nazon has burst on to the scene for his national team while plying his trade for tiny French club Laval. He scored two huge goals for the national team in the 2015 Gold Cup and has four goals in 13 appearances for the Haitian national team. The combination of flare and size are fun to watch and could make him a key part to any upset hopes his side have.

 

Most important game – Ecuador vs. Peru

While it is tempting to want to avoid the winner of Group A (favorite Colombia), Ecuador also will have a lot on the line in this matchup. Win, lose or draw against Brazil — this game sets up as massive if they want to control their own destiny.

Peru could be the team that surprises in this group, and if that is going to happen they will need at least a draw out of this contest. Expect this one to be a hard-fought matchup with a winner almost guaranteeing a spot in the group stage.

 

Biggest storyline – What Will Brazil Look Like?

No top team comes in to this tournament with more questions than Dunga’s Brazilian squad. Given that a vast majority of the team haven’t even hit the 10-cap plateau and the longest-serving members of the squad for this Copa America Centenario is Hulk at 49 caps, do we really know much about this squad at all?

This tournament also represents the one and only opportunity to stick as a permanent fixture in the national team for plenty of players. It all adds up to a lot of pressure on a lot of inexperienced players. There’s also the horrible start to World Cup qualifying, and the need to show progress towards getting out of that hole.

With the city of Rio hosting the Olympics, less importance is put on this tournament back home and that my help. Still, expectations are always high and this group needs to get out of the group stage and to a semi-final if Dunga has any hope of keeping his job going forward.

 

Teams to move on – Brazil and Ecuador

Ecuador could make a big case as the best team in this group and don’t be surprised to see them take it. Between the roster they are fielding and the one that has been left behind by Brazil there’s a serious argument that Ecuador is the strongest side. Still, Brazil is a football factory of talent and while it may not be as experienced or full of star-power as some previous rosters, this group is plenty good enough to get out of the group stage at the very least.

 

Schedule:

Saturday, June 4 — Haiti vs. Peru — 7:30 PM ET — Seattle, WA
Saturday, June 4 — Brazil vs. Ecuador — 10 PM ET — Los Angeles, CA
Wednesday, June 8 — Brazil vs. Haiti — 7:30 PM ET — Orlando, FL
Wednesday, June 8 — Ecuador vs. Peru — 10 PM ET — Glendale, AZ
Sunday, June 12 — Ecuador vs. Haiti — 6:30 PM ET — East Rutherford, NJ
Sunday, June 12 — Brazil vs. Peru — 8:30 PM ET — Foxborough, MA

About Andrew Coppens

Andy is a contributor to The Comeback as well as Publisher of Big Ten site talking10. He also is a member of the FWAA and has been covering college sports since 2011. Andy is an avid soccer fan and runs the Celtic FC site The Celtic Bhoys. If he's not writing about sports, you can find him enjoying them in front of the TV with a good beer!

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