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Soccer giants set to reclaim Copa America

Brazil and Argentina are gearing up to make the 44th edition of the 99-year-old tournament more spectacular than the last one.

Argentina%27s+Lionel+Messi+%2810%29+battles+for+the+ball+with+the+Netherlands%27+Daley+Blind+in+the+FIFA+World+Cup+semifinals+on+Wednesday%2C+July+9%2C+2014%2C+at+Arena+de+Sao+Paulo%2C+Sao+Paulo%2C+Brazil.+Argentina+advanced+on+penalty+kicks.+
Argentina's Lionel Messi (10) battles for the ball with the Netherlands' Daley Blind in the FIFA World Cup semifinals on Wednesday, July 9, 2014, at Arena de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, Brazil. Argentina advanced on penalty kicks.

Argentina's Lionel Messi (10) battles for the ball with the Netherlands' Daley Blind in the FIFA World Cup semifinals on Wednesday, July 9, 2014, at Arena de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, Brazil. Argentina advanced on penalty kicks.

Wang Lili/Xinhua/Zuma Press

Wang Lili/Xinhua/Zuma Press

Argentina's Lionel Messi (10) battles for the ball with the Netherlands' Daley Blind in the FIFA World Cup semifinals on Wednesday, July 9, 2014, at Arena de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, Brazil. Argentina advanced on penalty kicks.

Josh Barajas, Sports Editor

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The most prestigious and coveted cup in South America will start on Thursday with host nation Chile taking on Ecuador at 4:30 p.m. at Estadio Nacional in Santiago.

After dismal performances from the region’s biggest national teams in 2011, favorites Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Uruguay are set to be present in the tournament’s finals.

The rest of the squads, Ecuador, Paraguay, Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia, Mexico and Jamaica, will hope for an upset somewhere, but little is expected of them. Although, little was expected from Paraguay, Venezuela and Peru in the last edition of the Copa America and all three made it to the semi-finals.

Despite the success of smaller nations in 2011, that tournament is widely considered a small aberration, one that should not happen again for the sake of South American soccer. According to Sports Media Watch, viewership in the United States for the 2011 final between Uruguay and Paraguay dropped by 46 percent from the 2007 final between Brazil and Argentina.

Also, the semi-finals in 2011 had more viewers than the final game when it should be the other way around. As the super stars fell out of the tournament, so did the world’s desire to keep watching.

This year should be different because the Copa America’s appeal depends on the elite players that participate. They are the ones that garner the soccer world’s attention.

The 2015 Copa America will feature both familiar faces that have dazzled South America and the world for some years now and some new ones ready to prove they belong in the upper echelons of South American soccer.

For instance, hosts Chile will bring back their dynamic duo of Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal to play in front of their home crowd. Both Chileans had extraordinary campaigns with their respective clubs and already have Copa America experience under their belts making Chile a favorite to win the cup.

Brazil and Argentina are always the heavy favorites going in to the South American championship. Even though neither had a good tournament in 2011, and both are coming off of crushing defeats in the 2014 World Cup, the Brazilian Neymar and the Argentine Lionel Messi will carry their respective squads with chips on their shoulders.

Colombia is the only other real contender for the title with the emergence of the world’s newest soccer super star, James Rodriguez. At 23, Rodriguez is playing his first Copa America, but he already proved in the World Cup that he is capable of leading Colombia to its second title.

Uruguay are the defending champions, and in reality should be the third favorites behind Brazil and Argentina to win the cup. But, the absence of their star striker Luis Suarez will hinder their chances of repeating; Suarez is serving his suspension after biting Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini in the 2014 World Cup last summer.

Edinson Cavani will need to play his absolute best soccer and take over as La Celeste’s leader in attack if they want to win a record 16th title. However, the Uruguayan national team already proved last summer that without Suarez the team is toothless.

The winner of the tournament earns some prize money and a trip to the 2017 Confederation’s Cup in Russia; 2011 Copa America winner Uruguay earned $7 million.

Cup action kicks off on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. on beIN Sports and the final is scheduled to be on July 4.

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