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Copa America 2016
Copa America 2016

Once every several years, soccer fans from around the world converge upon the Americas’ largest soccer tournament: Copa America, an international event that brings together teams from around South America in a competition for the title of the American continent’s greatest soccer champion. In 2016, the Copa America will be held in the United States for the first time – giving you a unique opportunity to view this sports event without having to travel too far to see it.

About the Copa America

Held for the first time in 1916, the Copa América – Spanish and Portuguese for “America Cup,” and referred to as the Copa America in English – is a competition hosted by the men’s national teams of the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL), which determines the champion of the South American Continent. The tournament has been held 44 times since its inception, and is one of the most prestigious and most widely viewed sporting events in the world.

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Eight of the ten CONMEBOL teams have won the Copa America since 1916; Ecuador and Venezuela have yet to win any championships, while Uruguay has won 15, the most of any national team. The 2015 champion, Chile, won against Argentina in a match that drew over 45,000 fans.

In 2016, the Copa America – known as the Copa América Centenario, or the 2016 Centennial Copa America – will celebrate the 100-year anniversary of both the CONMEBOL and the tournament itself. The fact that it will be in America for the first time is significant because it is the first time it will not be in a South American country – and marks a special collaboration between CONMEBOL and CONCACAF (the football confederation for North and Central America and the Caribbean).

This year’s tournament – a special edition between the usual four-year cycle – features an expanded field of 16 teams (up from the usual 12), with ten teams from CONMEBOL and six teams from CONCACAF, including Costa Rica, Jamaica, Mexico, the US, Panama and Haiti. The tournament’s location in the US marks an increasing US interest in soccer; while American football still dominates the country’s sports scene, more and more Americans are becoming passionate fans of soccer, and thus the Copa America 2016 is expected to be packed with spectators.

Typically, the highest finishing team of CONMEBOL is invited to participate in the next edition of the FIFA Confederations Cup, but does not have to do so. However, the winner of the 2016 tournament will not receive an invitation to the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup, because Chile qualified in 2015 after winning the Copa America in that year.

History of the Copa America

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The history of soccer (or football, as it is called here) in South America is a long one, dating back to 1867 when the first recorded football match was played in Argentina by British railway workers. In 1887, Argentina saw the creation of the continent’s first football team, Gimnasia y Esgrima de La Plata, followed by the founding of the Argentine Football Association in 1893. Football grew in popularity throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries; in 1910, Argentina organized the first international competition held between national teams of the continent, which included the participation of Chile and Uruguay.

In 1916, Argentina held a tournament to celebrate 100 years of independence, in which Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Brazil participated, with Uruguay emerging as the victor. This tournament, known as the Campeonato Sudamericano de Football, was the first version of what would later come to be known as the Copa America. Following the tournament, Héctor Rivadavia, a board member of the Uruguayan Football Association, suggested establishing a football confederation between Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay.

This plan came to fruition on July 9, 1916 – independence day in Argentina – when CONMEBOL was founded. In 1917, Uruguay hosted the second Copa America and won the title again against Argentina. Brazil, which hosted in 1919 (after an outbreak of influenza in 1918 led to the cancellation of that year’s tournament), won the tournament that year, followed by a 1920 event in which Uruguay once again took home the win, this time from Chilean soil.

In 1921, Argentina won the competition for the first time, in the same year that Paraguay joined CONMEBOL and began participating in the tournament. At that time, the Copa America was the largest football tournament in the world – and over the next several years, Uruguay continued to dominate, with Argentina coming in a close second. Bolivia joined the Copa America in 1926 and Peru joined in 1927, while Argentina won the 1929 South American Championship against Uruguay.

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The first FIFA World Cup was held in Uruguay in 1930, which increased the rivalry between that country and Argentina, preventing the Copa America from taking place for a number of years. However, it was reinstated in 1939, in which Ecuador debuted and Peru both hosted and won the competition for the first time. In 1941, Chile hosted the Copa America to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the founding of its capital, Santiago, expanding the capacity of the Estadio Nacional from 30,000 to 70,000 spectators. However, Argentina won that year, to be followed by Uruguay (which both hosted and won) in 1942 and Argentina again in 1945, with Chile hosting once again.

After 1945, the Copa America experienced disruption and was not held regularly for many years. Many games were considered unofficial, but later validated by CONMEBOL. Argentina won the title for three consecutive years in 1945, 1946 and 1947, after which the competition was not played yearly, but every two, three or even four years. In 1959, on the other hand, it was held twice in one year – once in Argentina, and once in Ecuador. During this time period, some countries did not participate in every tournament, and others sent different teams in different years. In 1963, Bolivia hosted and won for the first time, only to be defeated in the first game of the 1967 tournament by Venezuela, which played for the first time that year.
In 1975, after an eight-year hiatus, the Copa America was held for the first time under that name – and ironically, it was the most scattered tournament held so far, with no set venue. Instead, different matches were played throughout the year in each country, a system that continued as the tournament was held every four years until 1987.

In that year (and until 2001) the event was hosted every two years in rotation by the ten members of the confederation, with only one country hosting per year. The tournament experienced a renewal, with greater interest from participating teams as well as increased television coverage in Europe and North America. In 1987, Uruguay (the defending champion) beat Argentina (the 1986 champion and heavy favorite), Chile and Brazil to win the title. The tournament was held in Argentina that year, making it the first time that country had hosted the Copa America in 28 years.

In 1989, Brazil hosted the Copa America and won its first official international title since the 1970 FIFA World Cup; Argentina won the next tournament, held in Chile in 1991, for the first time in 32 years. In 1993, CONMEBOL invited two CONCACAF teams – Mexico and the United States – to participate in that year’s tournament in Ecuador, rounding out the previous ten teams to today’s 12.

In 1995, Uruguay both hosted and won the tournament, defending its longstanding football tradition. Colombia, Paraguay and Venezuela hosted the tournament for the first time in subsequent years, which saw the rising success of Brazil, winning four of the five continental titles between 1997 and 2007. The country defeated host nation Bolivia in 1997 and defended its title in 1999 against Uruguay at the tournament held in Paraguay. In 2001, however, Brazil was eliminated in the quarterfinals by Honduras, and Colombia won the Copa America for the first time, marking a year of surprises for the event.

The 2004 Copa America, held in Peru, saw the resurgence of Brazil, which also defeated Argentina at the tournament held in Venezuela in 2007. The 2011 competition, hosted by Argentina, featured Uruguay in its second win in a row and its third time winning the trophy on Argentinean soil.

The 2016 Copa America games

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In 2016, the games will be held in ten venues around the United States, which were announced jointly by CONCACAF, CONMEBOL, and US Soccer in November 2015. The participating cities and venues include: Seattle, Washington’s CenturyLink Field with a capacity of 67,000; Chicago, Illinois’ Soldier Field with a capacity of 63,500; Foxborough, Massachusetts’ Gillette Stadium with a capacity of 68,756; East Rutherford, New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium with a capacity of 82,566; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s Lincoln Financial Field with a capacity of 69,176; Santa Clara, California’s Levi’s Stadium with a capacity of 68,500; Glendale, Arizona’s University of Phoenix Stadium with a capacity of 63,400; Houston, Texas’ NRG Stadium with a capacity of 71,795; Orlando, Florida’s Citrus Bowl with a capacity of 60,219; and Pasadena, California’s Rose Bowl with a capacity of 92,542.