The perception of many heading into the Copa America was that Uruguay might have been the ‘best of the rest’. They were the third favorite to win the tournament but were almost ignored due to the huge public popularity of the first two teams–Brazil and Argentina. That might have changed due to Argentina’s shocking opening round defeat by Columbia. Brazil is definitely overvalued due to their status as a public ‘darling’ and as host country for this event. They’re a good team to be sure but they’re just not bettable at +100 in a very competitive field. So with Brazil a clear underlay and Argentina now a question mark after their loss the result is that Uruguay could be the ‘best bet’ to win the Copa America.
As far this game, it looks like a great opportunity for Uruguay to get an easy win in the bank. Ecuador as well as Japan are in a tough position in Group C with most observers thinking that Uruguay and Chile will advance easily. Given the strong competitive level of this group it’s tough to see either Ecuador or Japan doing enough to get to the knockout stages as a third place qualifier. Realistically, either team would have to get an upset against one of the top two–or at the very least a draw–and it’s not clear if they’ve got the talent to make that happen.
Uruguay is loaded and typically play hard for their venerable manager Oscar Tabarez. Tabarez is a force of nature and has reached near iconic status since taking the reins of Uruguay’s soccer team in 2006. At age 72, most soccer managers are thinking about retirement but not Tabarez–last year he signed a contract extension through the end of the Qatar 2022 World Cup. He hasn’t said anything about his future beyond the World Cup but there’s reason to think that he’ll finally retire at that point. That makes the next few years something of a Tabarez ‘farewell tour’ and thus competitions like this take on an added degree of significance.
Tabarez has an almost ridiculous amount of talent to work with. He’s got depth and skill at every position but Uruguay may be strongest up front. The biggest name is Luis Suarez who scored 21 goals for Barcelona in La Liga play this year. Suarez had arthroscopic knee surgery just over a month ago and Tabarez has indicated that they won’t rush him back. Fortunately, they can afford to do that since they’ve got other scoring options. Edinson Cavani plays for French Ligue 1 side Paris Saint Germain where he tallied 18 goals this year. If Suarez is held out here the start will go to Celta Vigo striker Maxi Gomez who was a 13 goal scorer this year in La Liga
The backline is deep, talented and versatile led by Martin Caceres, Diego Laxalt, Diego Godin and keeper Fernando Muslera who have all done time in Italy’s Serie A league. Godin will be paired with Atletico Madrid’s Jose Gimenez and might just be the best defensive duo in this tournament. The midfield is the same way–deep, talented and versatile. Ecuador has just a few players with European league experience with the best known being Antonio Valencia. Valencia has played throughout Europe but is most often associated with his stint in the Premier League where he made 339 appearances for Manchester United and for a time served as team captain.
With team leaders like Valencia you can expect that Ecuador will show up and play hard but the disparity in talent between the sides is just too great. Look for Uruguay to get their Copa America group play off to a strong start.