Argentina, Mexico top Copa America Power Rankings as quarterfinals loom
The 2016 Copa America Centenario group stages are over. As the 16-team field has been trimmed to eight, Tim Vickery ranks the quarterfinalists on their journey to the final at MetLife Stadium on June 26.
1. ARGENTINA (no change): The only team with a 100 percent record, the pre-tournament favourites have lived up to their billing so far. The defence still does not look entirely trustworthy and the injury to Angel Di Maria opened up the other worry, that the big stars might be exhausted after the club season. But coach Gerardo Martino has rationed his use of Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero, who should have some gas left in the tank for the final straight.
2. MEXICO (+1): Coach Juan Carlos Osorio is a good fit for Mexico. His emphasis on rapid transitions to wide areas can bring the best out of the country's tricky wide players. They are virtually the home team in this competition, especially with a highly favourable itinerary that has cut down their travelling time. The doubt is that they make the pitch big, so will the best teams be able to exploit the space and threaten the team's good defensive record?
3. COLOMBIA (+3): Losing the last group game to Costa Rica when coach Jose Pekerman fielded an understrength team may have done Colombia a service, bringing them back down to earth after the euphoria of two wins. The James Rodriguez-Carlos Bacca link-up will worry any defence, and the pair are surrounded with other interesting attacking options. There is, though, a lack of authority in the central-midfield positions, and much might depend on the form of keeper David Ospina
4. CHILE (+3): Do the reigning champions have their mojo back after the win over Panama? If Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal combine as they did in that game then attacking swagger is guaranteed, with the team throwing men forward at pace. They always give the opponents a chance, though; open to the counterattack, defending badly and with keeper Claudio Bravo in poor form. The quarterfinal with Mexico should be one of the tournament highlights.
5. UNITED STATES (no change): Losing the opening game has forced an "every match is a cup final" mentality that has brought the best out of Jurgen Klinsmann and co. They have now built up some momentum and have settled on an interesting identity with a strong spine of Brad Guzan, John Brooks, Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey plus two quick wide strikers. The big problem, though, is that if they get past Ecuador, the chances are that Argentina await.
6. ECUADOR (+3): The pressure is off now that they have made it out of the group for the first time since 1997, and if the U.S. overreach then Ecuador will look to smoke them on the counterattack. The priority for coach Gustavo Quinteros will be to shore up a defensive unit that is both individually weak and prone to lapses in concentration. And if they get past the U.S., Quinteros will have cause to remind his men that in a recent World Cup qualifier they beat Argentina in Buenos Aires.
7. PERU (+5): With an experimental squad, Peru have exceeded all expectations by making the quarterfinals, let alone by topping the group. A new generation -- with the likes of Christian Cueva and Edison Flores -- are reacting well to being handed responsibility, keeper Pedro Gallese has done well and the team are clearly growing in confidence. But they look outgunned by quarterfinal opponents Colombia.
8. VENEZUELA (+6): The shock story of the Copa. Disastrously bottom of the table in World Cup qualification, here they have defended doggedly and got the most from the attacking surges of Josef Martinez and Alejandro Guerra and the strong centre-forward play of Salomon Rondon. If forced out, though, the defence will surely be exposed, and they cannot always rely on keeper Dani Hernandez stopping everything that is fired at him. They can trouble Argentina, but it is hard to see how they can cope with Messi and co.
Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.