Two of the best three teams on the planet (according to the sometimes dubious FIFA rankings) will share Group D at the Copa America Centenario this month.
Argentina, the 14-time champion of South America, and Chile, the most recent Copa America winners, seem destined to fight for first place while Panama and Bolivia look to play a spoiler role.
The Teams (odds according to bwin.com)
Argentina — 1st in the FIFA Rankings — Best finish in Copa America: Winner (14 combined South American and Copa America championships) – 2.75/1 odds to win
Chile — 3rd in the FIFA Rankings — Best finish in Copa America: Winner (2015) – 9/1 odds to win
Panama — 52nd in the FIFA Rankings — Best finish in Copa America: None (first appearance) – 151/1 odds to win
Bolivia — 79th in the FIFA Rankings — Best finish in Copa America: Winner (1963) – 151/1 odds to win
Best goalkeeper — Claudio Bravo, Chile
Bravo was named the most outstanding goalkeeper in the 2015 Copa America tournament after allowing only four goals in Chile’s run to the championship.
He also kept 16 clean sheets in 32 matches for Barcelona this season while sharing time with Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Best outfield player — Lionel Messi, Argentina
He scored a staggering 41 goals in 49 appearances for Barcelona this season, cementing his place (as if that were necessary) as one of the world’s best players.
Messi also serves as captain of his national team side, with 50 goals in 108 caps for La Albiceleste. It’s also worth noting that he’s six goals away from tying Gabriel Batistuta for the national team record (56) — a number he could easily reach in this tournament.
Player to watch — Alexis Sanchez, Chile
Sanchez had another strong season at Arsenal, where he scored 17 goals in 41 appearances for the Gunners. But he saves some of his best work for national team duty.
He has 31 goals in 94 career caps for his country, and in Chile’s run to the 2015 Copa America title, he had a goal and two assists before making the winning kick in the penalty shoot out in the final against Argentina.
Most important game — Argentina vs. Chile
Group D starts with a bang as the two South American giants clash on Monday (10 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1) in the group opener.
Since the 2015 final, which finished 0-0 in regulation, the two sides met in Santiago for a World Cup qualifier. Argentina came away with a 2-1 victory, thanks to first-half goals from Angel Di Maria and Gabriel Mercado.
Biggest story line — Can Messi win a senior international tournament?
Despite winning 28 trophies in his superlative career with Barcelona, and another another two with Argentina’s youth sides (the Olympics is technically a U-23 tournament), Messi has never lifted a trophy for Argentina’s senior national team.
With runner-up finishes in the 2014 World Cup and last year’s Copa America, he’s knocking on the door. He has nothing left to prove on the club level, and is already considered to be one of the game’s all-time greats.
But to reach the Pele and Maradona level of greatness, he needs some trophies for the national team. He really needs a World Cup, but winning this tournament would be good for him, too.
Teams to move on — Argentina and Chile
Monday, June 6
Panama vs. Bolivia, Orlando, 7 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1
Argentina vs. Chile, Santa Clara, Calif., 10 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1
Friday, June 10
Chile vs. Bolivia, Foxborough, Mass., 7 p.m. ET, FOX
Argentina vs. Panama, Chicago, 9:30 p.m. ET, FOX
Tuesday, June 14
Chile vs. Panama, Philadelphia, 8 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1
Argentina vs. Bolivia, Seattle, 10 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1