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Copa Field is Surprisingly Strong
BBC Sport, June 26th, 2007 4:30PM

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Tim Vickory of BBC Sport with another Copa America preview, noting that this year's championship boasts "the strongest lineup that the Copa America has had for some time." Notwithstanding the absence of Brazil's Ronaldinho and Kaka, just about every other South American player has made himself available for selection, in stark contrast to the 2004 Copa America, which several of the continent's biggest stars opted to sit out.

So why is this year's field so strong? Timing is everything, Vickery says. The main event in South America is World Cup qualifying, in which the region's 10 biggest teams play 18 games over the course of two and a half years. The marathon format, introduced 11 years ago now, places a massive importance on each match; for regional powerhouses like Argentina and Brazil, everything else takes a back seat. But this year, because World Cup qualifying has yet to start, countries are sending their strongest teams.

For the weaker nations, Vickery says, "expanding the World Cup qualifiers" has allowed them "to keep a side together and grow in confidence and tactical awareness." He attributes the recent rise of Ecuador and Venezuela to this phenomenon, which has conversely devalued the Copa America for stronger nations like Argentina and Brazil, which use it as an experiment for fringe players. Meanwhile, the Ecuadors and Venezuelas of the region have become stronger and more united thanks to playing more matches. Another reason this year's field is so strong, Vickery says, is that nine of the 12 teams competing have new coaches.

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