Copa America reboot features five group games, lots of travel and move to even years
It was a bizarre draw for a bizarre competition.
Twelve nations are taking part in next year's Copa America. Ten of them -- the South American countries - already knew the group they would be part of. Tuesday night's ceremony in Cartagena, then, was mainly to define the destiny of the two invited teams, with Australia drawn in the southern group, while Qatar went to the north.
The 2020 Copa America is a product of political divisions. The tournament is taking place because the four year cycle of the Copa is changing from odd to even years. Brazil staged the tournament in June and July of this year and won it on home soil. The next Copa will be in Ecuador in 2024. And the South American authorities have taken advantage of the switch to squeeze in another version in June and July of next year.
But where would it take place? Argentina were desperate to stage it. A year ago problems of crowd violence meant that the Copa Libertadores final between Buenos Aires rivals Boca Juniors and River Plate was moved to Spain -- a serious blow to the 2030 World Cup bid, where Argentina plans to stage the bulk of the games in a tournament split with Uruguay, Chile and Paraguay. This extra Copa America, then, was an excellent chance for Argentina to wipe the slate clean.
But what about Colombia? By rights, the next South American World Cup bid should be Colombia's. The country has stood aside because 2030 celebrates the centenary of the World Cup, which was first staged in Uruguay. But why should Colombia stand aside now? The only time it hosted the Copa America was back in 2001. Argentina had the competition as recently as 2011 and Colombia had wanted a piece of the action.
And so a classic compromise was agreed. The 2020 Copa America will be shared between Argentina and Colombia -- two nations at opposite ends of South America. A six hour flight separates the two capitals. The co-sharing arrangement has serious repercussions on the organisation of the tournament. Traditionally, the Copa America features three groups of four. This is not viable for 2020. Instead, each country will have a group.
Argentina will host the countries of the south -- Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile and Bolivia joined, as we learned on Tuesday night, by Australia. Colombia has the north -- Brazil (big enough to fit in to either region) along with Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela, and Qatar have been placed in with them. In this format, each side will play five group games and the group phase eliminates just four of the 12 teams. There are still quarter-finals, semis and the final to play. The finalists of a 32 team World Cup plays seven games in the course of the competition, while the finalists of this 12 team 2020 Copa America will play eight.
Then there is the travelling. The top two teams in each group will stay put for the knockout stages. The next two will have to make the long trip to the other host nation. This could end up being especially hard on a team from the northern Colombian group. Those who finish third and fourth will have to go all the way down to Argentina for the quarter and semi-finals. Get through those rounds, and it is all the way back to Colombia for the final.
The tournament takes place at an interesting time in the South American calendar. The continent's World Cup qualification campaign -- the most competitive on the planet -- will just have started. Two rounds will have been played before the Copa and six rounds are scheduled soon afterwards. The Copa, then, presents an interesting opportunity for coaches to fine tune their teams for the race to Qatar 2022.
But European clubs are unlikely to look on this extra Copa with enthusiasm. They will remember that a Copa was played in 2019. They will look at the logistics of the 2020 tournament, with its travelling and its number of games. And they may well come to the conclusion that their precious South American assets are running the risk of burnout and put pressure on their players to give the 2020 Copa a miss.