The Copa América kicks off at 0130 UK time on Saturday 15th of June as the hosts Brazil take on Bolivia at the Estádio do Morumbi in São Paulo. I for one can’t wait as it’s a tournament that I love.

Despite the fact that CONMEBOL, the South American equivalent of UEFA, pulls stunts like inviting Japan and Qatar to play, I’m still a huge fan as the passion of the fans, coaches and players, the colours of the kits, the beautiful noises of songs being chanted in Spanish and Portuguese and the potential for explosive behaviour on and off the pitch have kept me enamoured with South American football since I was a kid. The historical rivalries between certain countries mean that even when the quality of football isn’t what it ought to be given the talent on the pitch, it’s still fascinating. The following therefore is my run through a few of the games I’m particularly excited about and why that’s the case, players to look out for and who I think will go on and win it. Please don’t use my predictions as the basis of any bets…

Bolivia v Peru (Wednesday 19.06.19 2230 UK)

I thought Peru were incredibly unlucky at the 2018 World Cup to have been drawn in a tough group alongside Denmark and France. They went in to the tournament as a possible dark horse and, although they didn’t qualify for the second round, they were unlucky in the games against France and Denmark. Players such as Christian Cueva, Luis Advíncula and Edison Flores have the ability to excite with their pace and flair. If you add to that the fact their captain and talisman Paulo Guerrero will be fully fit and available (he was only given the all clear to play in the WC a month before the tournament due to having been banned for testing positive for cocaine), the Peruvians are well capable of reaching the semi-finals and beating any of the heavyweights on their day.

Their opponents in this match are very much unfancied. I’ve had a bit of a soft spot for Bolivia since they absolutely rinsed Argentina in the 2010 WC qualifiers by a staggering 6 goals to 1. I love the fact that basically, other than Ecuador, teams struggle to play against them in La Paz given the fact that the altitude pretty much means they’re playing in the sky, thus giving the Bolivian players the lung capacities of llamas. This is a huge advantage when playing against players wholly used to playing significantly less than 11,942 feet above sea level (Buenos Aires is 101 feet above). When Brian Clough said, ‘If God had wanted us to play football in the clouds, he’d have put grass up there’, he’d clearly never heard of Bolivia. However, they’ll struggle in this tournament as they don’t have that altitude advantage.

The Bolivian squad is the only South American one at the tournament without any players based in Europe or one of the big South American leagues, i.e. Argentina, Brazil or Colombia. Their 31 striker Marcelo Martins can be useful on his day but I thoroughly expect Peru’s flair players to showcase their talents in this match and I predict a 3 goal winning margin.

Venezuela v Brazil (Wednesday 19.06.19 0130 UK)

I’m excited for this one as not only do we get to see Salo Rondón play we also get the chance to see some very exciting young Venezuelan players who could be big stars in a couple of years. Jhon Murillo, Yangel Herrera and Watford’s Adalberto Peñaranda are all very talented and can cause damage when they hit their stride. However, it’s the goalkeeper who is the real deal. Wuilker Fariñez was a vital component of the Venezuela U20 side that narrowly lost to England at the WC final in 2017. He’s going to be a big player in my opinion and he’ll no doubt be on his way from his current club in Colombia to a European league very soon.

Brazil as the hosts are the tournament favourites but I’m not convinced. I think it’s one of their weakest squads in years and despite the talents of Coutinho, Firmino and Jesus, the absence of Neymar will be hugely felt. I’d love to see the Vino Tinto pull off a massive shock here and I believe they’re capable of doing it. Also, given the absolute state of the political situation in the country at the moment, it’d be magnificent if the national team was able to give the people back home something to cheer.

Argentina v Paraguay (Thursday 20.06.19 0130 UK)

This match is ripe for a shock Paraguay victory. Not only are Argentina still in a bit of disarray after their abysmal 2018 WC showing, they’re so susceptible to quick counter attacks from mobile and nippy forwards. As talented as they might be going forward, they’re still inconsistent at the back. It seems that even having a former defender as boss, ex-West Ham loanee Lionel Scaloni, they’re still capable of horror shows. I feel that the ability of the Paraguayan midfield to stifle and strangle the opposition, together with our very own Miguel Almirón’s pace and ability to draw loads of fouls, and the solidity and doggedness of the Paraguayan defence, could see Los Guaraníes win this one by a single goal. Almirón’s first for his country. Definitely.

Chile v Uruguay (Tuesday 25.06.19 0000 UK)

Chile have won the last 2 Copas but are a bit of a declining force. Players like Medel and Vidal will ensure that they’re always competitive and determined but the absolute face like a slapped arse attitude of Alexis Sanchez over the course of the last 2 seasons in England has me convinced that they’re going to struggle in this game and against the South American juggernaut that is Japan.

Uruguay nearly always perform at this tournament (record winners with 15 titles), they’ve still got Suarez, they’ve got a defence that’s quite possibly one of the hardest in the world, they’ve got the brilliant Lucas Torreira and they’ve got the 32 years old superstar that it is Middlesbrough forward Cristhian Stuani. A player who bagged a mere 11 times in 50 odd games for Boro has smacked in 40 in just over 60 in La Liga for Girona. He’s being linked with Barcelona which is as beautiful as it is preposterous. Finally, their manager Oscar Tabarez, in charge for 13 years straight and 72 years old, is a phenomenal tactician. For a country of just over 3 million Uruguay doesn’t half produce some superb results. I think they’ll win this match and I think it’ll be a rather nasty and entertaining. In fact, I’m going to say Uruguay will reach the final.

Whatever happens during the tournament, there’ll most certainly be noise, controversy, spectacular goals, downright nastiness and the occasional utterly drab 0-0 draw (I pray Paraguay and Uruguay don’t get to play one another). Get on it.

To watch the Copa you can pay £9.99 for the month to get Premier Sports 1 and 2 of you really want too……who wouldn’t want to watch Argentina v Paraguay at half 1 on a Thursday morning?

Norman Riley