One of the world's great soccer tournaments kicks off tonight in La Plata, Argentina. The first game will be played in the Estadio Unico (about 20 blocks from my house), and help determine the South American champion. The tournament will be broadcast live on You Tube. The US normally participates, but isn't coming this year after sending a young team who got demolished in 2007.
Why should North American fans care?
1. Star power.
Simply put, Messi is playing.
You really don't need any other reason to watch than that.
So is the Uruguayan sensation Diego Forlan who tore up the World Cup last summer. Oh, and a bunch of guys from Brazil including young sensation Neymar, the latest in a long line of single-named wonders in green and yellow. Simply put, if you care about watching the world's most amazing performers, then the Copa America is a can't miss event.
2. Mexico is going to get thrashed.
Yes, they just humiliated the USA, but they are basically sending an under-22 squad to the Copa America. On top of that, the squad was severely cut down by a sex scandal. Mexico isn't expected to make it out of group play, so tune and get your schadenfreude on. Or in this case, "El Schandenfreudo". Still, if you are a die hard and want to see the young talent that the US will be squaring off against in the next few years, tune in to the Mexico games.
3. Intense rivalries.
International sports are typically better than any other kind of sports and there are some fierce hatreds in the Copa America. Obviously the marquee matchup would be Argentina Brazil. Brazil has owned the Copa America recently, and Argentina desperately wants to take the title after an embarrassing let down in the previous finals. It's more than just Argentina Brazil, however. Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay all field outstanding clubs that advanced to the second round of the World Cup. South American soccer is deep and it is intense.
4. Quality of play.
Before I first came to Argentina in 1997, I did not understand soccer at all. The level and style of play in South America opened my eyes to what the sport could be and why so many around the world love it.
If you are a soccer agnostic, do yourself a favor and flip on a few minutes of an Argentina or Brazil match. You witness a level of play light years beyond the Gold Cup final last week. Copa America games have the potential to produce the world's highest level of international soccer, so if you want to see elite athletes performing at their peak for their countries, then this is a can't miss event.
5. Because I'll be there. Sort of.
As complimentary as I am of the tournament, the organizers of the media pool have been a disaster. They've accredited too many journalists, and have only guaranteed entrance to a handful. The rest of us (nearly 5,000 by their count), have to show up at the stadium nine hours before the game and fight for a spot in the press room. All that's fine, but it seems they've been figuring this brilliant plan out on the fly. Yesterday, I ran around town to multiple sites as they played ping pong with me between offices. After a full day of banging my head against a wall, they finally admitted they ran out of passes, and were just going to create a media version of Lord of Flies at the gate today. "Show up at noon. Once the room is filled, we'll cut off access."
God bless you, Argentina. You always know how get on my good side.