Copa America Group D: Argentina and Chile face off in 2015 final rematch
The Copa America is set to kick off, and Group D featuring Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Panama is high up on everyone's lists of games to watch. Here is what to expect.
Group D is all about the three R's: repeat, revenge and recognition. The first applies to Chile, the 2015 Copa America champions who will look to back up their home triumph with a second consecutive title.
The second is for Argentina, the team Chile defeated in penalties en route to winning the 2015 championship. La Albiceleste are desperate to rid themselves of ghosts in tournaments past and validate the international career of their shining star and greatest-ever player, Lionel Messi. The five-time FIFA Ballon d'Or winner is recognized around the globe as a phenomenal talent, but the dominant storyline continues to be his inability to win a major international title with Argentina. Their 2015 Copa America final loss came on the heels of defeat in the 2014 World Cup final, so 2016 represents a chance to break the streak and finally put to rest the notion that Messi doesn't stand up to the test of time in a head-to-head against Diego Maradona.
The third and final word applies to Bolivia and Panama, both of whom will be eager to earn the respect of the rest of the soccer world despite not being able to challenge for a spot in the knockout rounds.
Must-see game: Argentina vs. Chile
When it comes to must-see games, this one tops not only the group but the tournament table. A rematch between last year's Copa America finalists, La Albiceleste and La Roja will face off in their respective opening-group stage games on June 6 in Santa Clara, California. If last year's final is any indication of what's to come, we can expect an electric, end-to-end affair with plenty of chances for both teams, and plenty of excellent saves from Chile's Claudio Bravo and Argentina's Sergio Romero.
The talent on display makes this match worth watching, regardless of the end result. Gerardo Martino's Argentina boasts not only Messi, but Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Angel Di Maria and Javier Pastore, among other exceptional players. Chile's title defense is led by the likes of Arturo Vidal, Alexis Sanchez and Gary Medel.
The last time the two teams played was in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying, a match in which Argentina exacted a small measure of revenge with a 2-1 away win in Santiago.
Key player: Lionel Messi, Argentina
You couldn't have possibly expected anyone else, right? Not only was Messi's inclusion in the Argentina squad good news for the country's chances, it was a godsend for tournament organizers and fans alike. Messi will be the star of the show, and could reach new levels of fame in the United States should his team produce the results they are capable of.
Argentina shouldn't have any problems advancing out of the group, but all eyes will be focused on how much Messi can contribute to the cause. He has never been as comfortable playing for his country as he is with his club, so fans expecting to see the type of magic he delivers in Europe might be somewhat disappointed. Still, the talent is always there, and Messi can produce moments of pure genius out of nowhere. If Argentina hope to win the tournament, they'll want to do it with Messi leading the way; it'll surely make their job a lot easier, and maybe even help to combat some of the scrutiny the star faces at home.
Dark horse: Panama
If any team is capable of spoiling the party and barring one of the 2015 finalists from advancing, it's CONCACAF competitor Panama. Los Canaleros count among their greatest assets a resolve and defensive organization that can cause confusion for opponents who prefer intricate build-up play. Their physicality has the potential to play a role in any upset they produce; they're no strangers to hard-fought contests and don't shy away from disciplinary action.
The team is aging -- Felipe Baloy (35 years old), Blas Perez (35) and Luis Tejada (34) -- but what they lack in youth, they more than make up for in quality goalkeeping from veteran Jaime Penedo and a penchant for punching above their weight as a unit. This isn't the Panama that threatened to break into the CONCACAF elite a few years back, but on the right day and facing opponents that perhaps underestimate their strengths, they could pull off an upset and turn Group D on its head.
Prediction: 1. Argentina, 2. Chile, 3. Panama, 4. Bolivia
Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.