History of the Copa America

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Formerly known as the South American Championship of Nations, the Copa America is the official national tournament by the Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol (commonly known as CONMEBOL) and the competition is hosted every four years.

The Copa America is the oldest continental soccer competition in the world, starting out as the Sudamericano de Football (the South American Championship) in 1916, but initially was the Copa Centenario Revolución de Mayo in 1910. While the Copa America started in 1916, it was not until 1960 before the UEFA European Championships was launched.

The inaugural Copa America held in 1916 in Argentina to commemorate their independence after 100 years. The tournament has evolved over the years but predominantly features all 10 teams on the continent – Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela – while two other countries are invited. Over the years, these foreign invitees have been spread across members of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) with teams such as Mexico, Costa Rica, the USA, Honduras and Jamaica while Asian teams have participated such as Japan and in the 2019 edition, Qatar.

Over the years the Copa America has taken on several formats, the initial edition was in a mini-league format with four teams and Uruguay prevailed champions finishing top on points as no final was played, the tournament was held every two years. The first finals took place in 1919 with Brazil and Uruguay both finishing tied on points. The competition has since expanded to multiple groups and grown to be the premier competition in the continent.

In the 1940’s Brazil became very relevant at the Copa America and this gave birth to their epic rivalry with Argentina. A feisty pretournament meeting made the game in the 1946 tournament one for ages as Brazil’s Jair Rosa Pinto broke the leg of Argentina’s José Salomón into three different places after independente’s Ademir broke the leg of Argentina’s José Battagliero in the initial preparatory game. After losing to Argentina in 1945 and 1947, Brazil finally won the 1949 edition – their second – but were still four behind their arch-rivals.

Into the 1950s, Argentina produced probably one of their greatest sides in 1957 with an attack of Omar Sivori, Humberto Maschio and Antonio Angelillo. They were too much to handle for opposing defenses scoring eight against Colombia, six against Chile, three against Uruguay, while Ecuador and Brazil conceded three each.

While Brazil were inspired to the 1958 World Cup by Pele, he could not lead them to dominance on their continent, despite topping the goalscoring charts Argentina won the title in 1959 in a tournament which witnessed one of the brutal showings in the competition’s history, as Seven Brazilians and three Uruguayans were sent to the hospital. In the ‘60s, Bolivia won their one and only title, while the final South American championship was held in 1967 as the competition went on a break due to the federation unable to bring back stars from Europe.

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Bolivia won the Copa America on home soil in 1963

It was launched again in 1975 as the Copa America on a home and away basis every four years, with Peru winning the first edition, Paraguay next in 1979, and Uruguay in 1983. In the ‘90s, Gabriel Batistuta was the hero with Argentina winning the 1991 and 1993 editions, their most recent. Brazil have since dominated the competition in the late 90s and early 2000s, winning in 1997, 1999, 2004 and 2007, while Uruguay won in 2011 after their triumph in 1995, with Chile winning on home soil in 2015 and also the Copa America Centenario – a honorary celebration of the tournament after 100 years – in 2016.

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Lionel Messi has never won the Copa America despite having played in three finals

The small number of countries in South America means there are not so many teams and matches, but this has also led to feisty rivalries on the continent due to these teams facing up against each other on a more regular basis. With countries like Brazil and Argentina, the Copa America boasts of two of football’s real super powers with continuous flow of talents and super stars whilst the likes of Uruguay and Chile are forever mean oppositions.

In its history, the Copa America boasts of some of the game’s greatest football matches and of course, some of the world’s best ever players.

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1 thought on “History of the Copa America”

  1. I hope and pray that Leonel Messi wins this edition of COPA AMERICA in 4th participation with his country Argentina so as to add to his trophy cabinet. Also important to note is that, this may be his last COPA AMERICA because by the next edition he will be 36 or 37 years of age, and may have retires from international football, as he has already done it twice before now.

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