Copa stands up well vs Euro, is not ‘WC minus Brazil or Argentina’

  • Reuters, Nice, France
  • Updated: Jun 24, 2016 18:37 IST
Lionel Messi of Argentina dribbles the ball in the second half against the US during a 2016 Copa America Centenario semifinal match at NRG Stadium. (AFP Photo)

The Copa America has often been dismissed as a poor relation to the European Championship, so much so that the latter has frequently been dubbed by the media as “the World Cup minus Brazil and Argentina”.

But a comparison of the two tournaments, which are being played simultaneously for the first time since 2004, suggests it may be time to ditch the old stereotype.

The Copa America, being played in the United States, features World Player of the Year Lionel Messi, five of the top 10 teams in the Fifa world rankings and seven teams who made the knockout stages at the World Cup two years ago.

Its European counterpart in France includes Messi’s bitter rival Cristiano Ronaldo, the other five top teams in the Fifa rankings and five of the teams who played the knockout phase in Brazil.

Direct comparisons between the two tournaments are difficult.

Read | Fewer goals and defensive play but Euro 2016 not devoid of drama

The European Championship is regarded as the pinnacle of the continent’s international football and has been held on a regular basis in a tournament form since 1980.

The Copa America, its South American equivalent, has had a patchy history, although it goes back much further.

Portugal's forward Cristiano Ronaldo plays with the ball during a training session at the team's base camp in Marcoussis, south of Paris. (AFP Photo)

At one point during the 1980s, there was no tournament at all but instead teams played two-leg home-and-away ties all the way to the finals.

During the 1990s, it was held every two years that proved too often and many countries would send reserve teams Now, it takes place every four years, most recently in Chile last year.

This year’s event is a one-off to celebrate the century year of the competition and has been held jointly by South American soccer body CONMEBOL with its North and Central American equivalent CONCACAF.

Brazil’s Neymar was among those who did not take part, his country preferring to save him for the Olympic football tournament in August.

Still, it does not come out unfavourably in a comparison between the two, with attendances almost even.

Uefa said that the first 26 matches at the Euro were watched by 1.2 million fans, an average of 46,153, while the Copa’s average so far is slightly below at 45,108.

Argentina's Gonzalo Higuain (9) celebrates his goal against the United States with Lionel Messi (left) and Ezequiel Lavezzi (centre) during a Copa America Centenario football semifinal. (AP Photo)

Television viewing figures are more difficult to compare as CONMEBOL said it only currently has them for domestic US audiences, rather than worldwide.

However, it said group stage matches had average an audience of 3.8 million viewers, despite having to compete with the NHL playoffs, the NBA and Major League Baseball.

Uefa said that each of the 51 matches at Euro 2016 was expected to attract than 130 million viewers worldwide.

But it is on the field where the 16-team Copa may have come out winning, producing 90 goals, at an average exactly three per match, compared to an average of just 1.92 at the 24-team European championship.

Read | In 2007 Copa America final, Brazil adapted their way to the title

“On this side of the Atlantic, most players think firstly about dribbling and the top strikers in the teams at the Copa America have this in their soul,” said former Argentina international Diego Latorre, writing in his country’s La Nacion newspaper.

Latorre added that in the Copa, even lower-ranked teams such as Haiti had played adventurous football while in Europe, the tendency among underdogs was to defend in depth.

United States coach Juergen Klinsmann predicted that the Copa could be more interesting than the Euro following its expansion from 16 to 24 teams.

Salvadorean referee Joel Aguilar shows a red card -following a second yellow card- to Colombia's Carlos Sanchez during the Copa America Centenario semifinal football match in Chicago, Illinois. (AFP Photo)

“I almost think you have more quality in this Copa America than you have with a diluted kind of 24-team version of the European championship,” said the German. “What we’re going to see in this Copa America is very special, and it can easily compete with the European Championship.”

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